At a point in time when transparency and openness are considered principled-buzzwords, the Ministry of Defence appears to be determined to perpetuate the sacred-cow image of military affairs.
True that secrecy is critical in operational matters, and perhaps all pricing details cannot be made public about the purchase of Rafale fighters since it is an ongoing arrangement (the controversy is essentially a political one), yet the MoD extending that cover to the price paid to Russia for its obsolete aircraft-carrier ~ re-commissioned as INS Vikramaditya ~ confirms a degrading determination in South Block to deny the Indian people the right to know how their money is being expended in the effort to keep national security intact.
When defence purchases since the mid-1980s have been mired in scams and corruption, the MoD’s challenge in the Delhi High Court to a directive from the Central Information Commissioner to disclose details of the carrier’s cost is ludicrous ~ after all the deal was concluded years ago and the ship began its second lease of life flying the Indian ensign in 2013.
While the initial price projected in 2004 was $ 974 million, by the time the deal was concluded in 2010 the cost had snowballed to $ 2.35 billion, a matter which apparently convinced the CIC that there was merit in the case for a financial disclosure.
Yet the MoD has opted to dwell in the past. The position it has recently taken in the High Court is that the Inter-Governmental Agreement between India and Russia debars release of such details and would be protected by clauses 8 and 9 of the Right to Information Act.
Adding for good measure that such a disclosure would violate parliamentary privilege, and also be prejudicial to national interests. Opting to play diplomat-at-large, the MoD stated that the disclosure would impact the “cordial relations” that Russia and India enjoy.
It continued that “the Information Commissioner failed to consider that information bound by the IGA cannot be disclosed without prior approval of the government of Russia” and, among other things, would “expose the war preparations of the country”.
Fortunately for the MoD, the Russian media is gagged (as some would like to see in India), so the possibilities are remote there will be an encore of exposures in the Swedish and Italian media that threw such negative light on the purchase of Bofors’ howitzers and Agusta Westland helicopters for VIP transport.
Politically, the NDA should relish the dirt on the Gorshkov/Vikramaditya purchase coming to the surface ~ perhaps it is wary of creating a precedent for the Rafale jets’ purchase coming under similar scrutiny.
The defence minister has forcefully rejected criticism of the Rafale deal, was she not kept “up to speed” on the stand her ministry was taking on the carrier controversy? And does she not accept that true security lies in the hearts of an informed people.