Denying any cronyism in the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday that details about offset partners will be known only when the procurement begins.
“…Dassault and two or three companies are participating in the supply of Rafale. So each one of them will have an offset obligation to be fulfilled,” she said at the ‘India Summit: Status of the nation’, organised by the Economist magazine.
Asked about the controversy surrounding Dassault Aviation’s choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offset partner, Sitharaman said each company involved in the supply will have its offset partners in India.
“Now for Dassault alone to come back to me to say that their offset is getting fulfilled completely, through one, two, three or any number of companies with whom they either go with investments or go for buying of a product or a service, (it) is left to Dassault to come to me to claim it. Till such time they claim each and every one of them, I will not know whether they are with one, or ten or with hundred (Indian offset partners),” the minister said.
“The offset partners’ details will be known when they approach me with bills detailing what kind of service is being received, whether it is in the form of equipment or investment,” she said.
While the Congress has alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal and accused the government of favouring Ambani’s firm, the government, as well as Anil Ambani, have vehemently denied the opposition party’s allegations.
Sitharaman noted that the commencement of the delivery of Rafale jets has not begun.
“They still have time to come back to me to say look, my offset is getting fulfilled through these routes. They will have to submit transaction details of who got the money, for what purpose. Till all that is done, I cannot even claim how many people they (Dassault) are going with,” the minister added.
She said the previous UPA government had floated a global tender for procurement of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
“They never bought it (the aircraft) but always claim that they bought it at one particular amount,” she said, rebutting the Congress allegation that the price of the aircraft shot up in the deal signed by the NDA government.
“The emergency number (of planes) which UPA required was 18 but with more time passing, the emergency number what we wanted was 36, which is equal to two squadrons,” the defence minister said.
She said the UPA government went for an open tender but the present government opted for an inter-governmental tender.
“For the 18 and for the rest, they (UPA government) went for a tender. What we have done is that we have gone for inter-governmental tender for first 36 emergency number while rest of the procurement will be through a strategic partnership,” Sitharaman said.
She added that there will be an overseas manufacturer along with an Indian partner for manufacturing of rest of the planes.
“So, the processes have been simplified, (made) much transparent now. That is why there is so much information available in the public domain. There is no scandal or crony (capitalism) anyway,” the defence minister insisted.
Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attacked the opposition Congress for “brazenly misleading” the nation on the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Pointing out that all the doubts and questions raised by opposition parties have already been answered, Sitharaman charged them with changing the ‘milepost’ repeatedly.
Earlier on Wednesday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had removed Alok Verma as the CBI chief as the premier investigative agency was raising questions on the Rafale jet deal.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too attacked the government and wondered if there was a “correlation between the Rafale deal and removal of Alok Verma”.
The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating procurement of 126 Rafale jets.
PM Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters after talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.
(With agency inputs)