The details of the defence dealings carried out by our nation with different countries and agencies are not usually known to the citizens.
The government has been of the stance that the people need not know them at all. That is why matters such as defence deals are kept outside the purview of the Right to Information Act. The references to the defence sector during the annual budget are the only means of knowing anything, though limited, related to the matter. The result is that this area has turned into a scene of corruption. The increase in India’s defence budget is over 100 per cent in the last ten years. Even in the budget presented by Union Minister Arun Jaitley last week, 2.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was allocated for defence sector. The fact that how such a large amount of money is being utilized remains a mystery, actually questions the essence of democracy. The corruption tales related to Rafale fighter jets heardfrom the capital is an instance.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi the other day alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed a ‘huge scam’ while buying Rafale fighter planes manufactured by Dassault Aviation, a French aerospace company, for the Indian Air Force. He had raised the same allegations during the recent Gujarat election campaigns as well. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied to the questions posed by the opposition related to the matter in the Rajya Sabha the other day. The Minister replied that the fighter planes would be purchased as decided and that the details of the agreement could not be disclosed in the Parliament. There is reportedly a provision in the deal to protect the classified information. That the same Minister who declared in November last year in the Parliament that she would reveal the details has now changed her stance, reinforces the suspicions about the possibility of corruption. Soon after she took office, this Minister had announced that she would ensure transparency in defence deals and make it corruption free. The Modi government is not only preparing the ground for huge corruption going back on all those assurances but also currently making attempts to persuade corporate giants like Reliance to invest in the business.
It was the UPA-2 government that made the first move for Rafale deal, which consisted of 126 fighter jets. Out of this, 18 were to be delivered by Dassault Aviation directly to Air Force. The rest would be manufactured by the public sector firm Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL). In the first contract, it was provided that the French company would transfer the technology for the same. But due to some lack of clarity, the contract got delayed for some time. Later, final agreement was signed with minor modifications, by which the company agreed to supply 126 aircraft for a price of Rs 54,000 crore. But after Modi took office, this cotract was scrapped. As per the new contract signed during Modi's visit to France in 2015, India would receive only 36 Rafale aircraft, and that too for a price of Rs 59,000 crore. If the per aircraft price in the first contract was Rs 526 crore, in Modi's contract this rose to over Rs 1,500 crore. Criticisms were raised right then that this contract was concluded without due diligence. The justification then given for this very evidently losing deal by the government was that the country urgently needed 36 fighter aircraft – a need which no one has been able to comprehend even after three years. In addition, we have to wait further to receive those 36 aircraft.
One of the chief attractions of the first deal was that HAL would get the technology of fighter aircraft manufacture. In the new contract that provision was deleted. This hasty move was to eliminate HAL, and bring in Ambani's 'Reliance Defence' thus making it part of the contract through backdoor. Now the recipient of Rafale's technical expertise will be the yet to be started 'Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited' which does not have any expertise in arms manufacture. Thus the technology which HAL should have received will now be pocketed by the cronies of Modi. If this gift materializes, private foreign corporates backed by foreign capital will start handling defence technology which is bound to endanger national security. Therefore, in Modi's India, transparency in defence deals is linked not only to corruption, but it also has national security implications.