March 23, 2012

Defence panel MP raises red flag on $20-bn Rafale deal

Defence minister AK Antony has asked his ministry to ascertain facts on the evaluation process that led to the emergence of the French Rafale as the lowest bidder for the $20-billion combat fighter deal, after a member of the standing committee of Parliament on defence raised a few red flags in a letter in February. The member, MV Mysura Reddy, is a Telugu Desam Party MP in Rajya Sabha.

In his letter, Reddy has alleged irregularities in the evaluation process and demanded that Antony get the entire matter probed. The letter asks why the Rafale, which has not been bought by any other country, has been chosen for the Indian Air Force It also points to the fighter jet’s performance in the recent air campaign in Libya, saying “the Rafale failed in precision bombing”. Furthermore, it quotes from unspecified news reports about alleged irregularities.
“The ministry… must ensure… there has been no manipulation in the evaluation process,” the letter, dated February 27, goes on to say.
In his reply on February 29, Antony said: “I have asked the ministry to examine all the points raised by you.” He also marked Reddy’s letter to defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma for getting the matter examined.
The ministry then sent the letter to Ranjan Kumar Ghosh, joint secretary (air), acquisitions manager, and the chairman of the contract negotiating committee (CNC). “As a member of the standing committee, I brought it to the knowledge of the defence minister as it was my patriotic responsibility”, Reddy told HT.
Antony has publicly said to ministry and defence officials that he would not hesitate in cancelling a deal if any irregularities were brought to his notice.
“We will examine all the points raised in the letter… but the work on CNC is not complete,” a senior defence ministry official told HT.
“All the same, the CNC is accountable if any lapses are found in the oversight stage.”
As of now, the CNC has not shared its findings on questions relating to the evaluation process with either the defence secretary or Antony.
The Rafale emerged as the lowest bidder in the deal for the supply of 126 fighters to the IAF on the basis of extensive trials and complex calculations, including unit cost, lifecycle cost and transfer of technology.
Eighteen fighters will be supplied from mid-2015 onwards and the rest will be manufactured in India over the next six years.

- Hindustan Times

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