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Records of 74 meetings vital for SC's decision on whether govt favoured Anil Ambani in Rafale deal

Rajeev Dubey     November 13, 2018

The answer to the ticklish question of whether the government of India favoured Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence in the Rafale deal lies somewhere hidden in the government's claim before the Supreme Court that the Indian Negotiating Team (INT) held 74 meetings to discuss the Rafale deal between May, 2015 and April, 2016. Forty eight of those were INT's internal meetings while 26 meetings were held with the French counterpart Director General of Armament, ministry of defense, government of France.

It would be near impossible to fabricate such a vast record of meetings and discussions as well as minutes of meetings at both the Indian and French end. As this would not just involve record of presence and discussions but also travel records of all those part of the INT. Once the SC calls the minutes of these meetings and examines them, it would have enough evidence to decide whether Anil Ambani was favoured in the deal or not.

This flies in the face of opposition's claim that the government bypassed all processes in the Rafale deal and that the deal was allegedly done at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to favour Anil Ambani.

The INT was led by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff of Indian Air Force and its other members included joint secretary and acquisition manager (Air), joint secretary (defence offset management wing), joint secretary & additional financial advisor, finance manager (Air), advisor (cost) and assistant chief of air staff (plans).

"...the INT undertook a collegiate process involving due deliberations and diligence at various levels during the negotiations. Aspects pertaining to the responsibility and obligations of French government, pricing, delivery schedule, maintenance terms, offsets, IGA terms, etc. were discussed and negotiated during these meetings," says the Centre's submission before India's apex court.

The proposal for procurement of the 36 fighters in fly-away condition was presented thrice before the DAC (Defence Advisory Council) between August 28 and September 1, 2015 and then on January 11 and July 14, 2016 to approve different aspects of the deal. The INT's report was finalised and signed on July 21, 2016 and was submitted on August 4, 2016.

Defence ministry then undertook inter-ministerial consultations with the finance ministry and the ministry of law and justice before putting it before the Cabinet Committee of Security on August 24, 2016. The inter-governmental agreement was signed on September 23, 2016 by the Raksha Mantri and French Defence Minister. This submission challenges the opposition's claim that the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar was informed about the deal post-facto.

With the government finally relenting on Monday on its stand that it can't share pricing details by submitting pricing details in a sealed envelope, the ball is now in the SC's court as it now has all possible details to decide on the crucial case that has become a political hot potato. Only, the question is, why did it take so long for the government to disclose the process in detail!

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