NEW DELHI: The much-awaited Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the ₹59,000 crore Rafale fighter aircraft deal is expected to be tabled in the Parliament this week with some news reports suggesting it could be on Monday.
The significance of the report lies in the fact that the CAG has reportedly conducted a thorough review of the Rafale deal— looking into various aspects of the procurement process including pricing, the request for proposals received from all vendors and comparative pricing of other fighter jets — vis-a-vis the Rafale — available globally.
The acquisition of 36 aircraft from France’s Dassault Aviation has come under a cloud with the opposition led by the Congress trying to corner the government ahead of national polls on charges of supporting big business and helping them secure lucrative contracts as a spin off in the Rafale fighter jet deal. The opposition also contends that the price per aircraft as negotiated by the Modi government is far higher than what was originally agreed to in 2012. The Modi government on its part has contended that all rules and procedure had been followed in the acquisition process that aims to bolster the Indian Air Force’s depleted squadron strength.
The Rafale controversy had figured in the poll campaigns of the Congress in the November elections to five states including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Last week, a news report in The Hindu newspaper said that a defence ministry official had objected to the prime minister’s office entering into "parallel negotiations" with the French on the Rafale deal. The report said that the defence ministry had pointed out that these "parallel negotiations" were weakening the defence ministry's negotiating power.
The report ignited a fresh clash between the government and opposition with Congress president Rahul Gandhi holding a press conference in New Delhi on Friday and attacking the prime minister as "corrupt."
The government on its part countered the news report claim saying the note produced by the newspaper was "cropped" to hide the comments written on it by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
The tabling of the CAG report could also spark a new confrontation between the government and the opposition for another reason. On Sunday, the Congress party alleging conflict of interest, requested Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Rajiv Mehrishi to recuse himself from auditing the deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter aircraft as he, as the then finance secretary, was part of the negotiations.
In a press statement, the Congress said: "It is an act of gross impropriety for you (Mehrishi) to deal with the audit of the 36 Rafale aircraft deal on account of patent conflict of interest...You are constitutionally, legally and morally disentitled to either conduct an audit or to present a report before...Parliament. We urge upon you to recuse yourself and publicly accept the gross impropriety committed by you in initiating the audit."
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters that Mehrishi was the finance secretary from October 24, 2014 to August 30, 2015 and in between Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Paris on April 10, 2015 and announced the signing of the Rafale deal.
"The Finance Ministry plays an important role in these negotiations...Now it is clear that the Rafale deal happened under Rajeev Mehrishi. Now he is CAG. We met him twice on September 19 and October 4, 2018. We told him about the scam. We told him that the deal should be probed because it is corrupt. But how can he initiate a probe against himself," Sibal said, according to PTI.
According to procedure, the CAG report has to be first tabled in Parliament and then sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge for examination. If the report is tabled on Monday, it leaves parliament and the PAC with just two days to look at the report with the Budget session ending on Wednesday, news reports said.