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Rafale deal: Reports find loopholes in Centre’s explanation submitted to Supreme Court

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Several reports have pointed out gaps and loopholes in Narendra Modi government’s submission to the Supreme Court (SC) giving details of the process by which it arrived at the decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France while cancelling a tender for 126 Rafales, of which 108 were to be built in India.

The government had also submitted details about the price and how it was arrived at in a sealed cover for the judges’ perusal only. The details of the decision making process and the pricing were submitted in response to the SC order on October 31.

A redacted version of the submission on the procurement process was shared with the petitioners as well in accordance with the court’s directions.

Dissatisfied with the government’s reply, the petitioners plan to file a rejoinder, said media reports.

The government’s reply was also analysed by some media organisations which found that the government’s submission suffered from several loopholes or discrepancies with facts.

The first aspect pointed out was that PM Narendra Modi announced purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft before Cabinet Committee on Security’s (CCS) approval. On 10 April 2015, Indo-French joint statement was issued on by the PM Modi and France President Hollande, which stated: “Government of India conveyed to the Government of France that in view of the critical operational necessity for multi role Combat Aircraft for Indian Air Force (IAF), Government of India would like to acquire 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible…”

PM Modi made the announcement first and then the negotiation kick-started between India and France, after which the CCS’ approval was obtained. PM Modi’s statement was a fait accompli, the CCS’ approval was just a formality.

The government has claimed in the documents that procedure was followed in the purchase of the Rafale aircraft.

Writing in Business Standard, defence expert Ajai Shukla said that while claiming that “all the requisite steps… have been followed”, the 16-page submission makes it clear the government did not take the most basic steps that are fundamental to any procurement and which are spelt out in detail in the Defence Procurement Policy of 2013 (DPP-2013), which governed the 36-Rafale purchase.

The government failed to involve the Indian Air Force (IAF) in formulating “service qualitative requirements” (SQRs), which specify the capabilities of the equipment being procured.

Nor was the next step taken, which is the formulation of a statement of case (SoC), in which the military must justify the procurement.

The SoC is forwarded through two key acquisition committees – the Services Capital Acquisition Plan Categorisation Committee (SCAPCC) and the Services Capital Acquisition Plan Categorisation Higher Committee (SCAPCHC) – to the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which accords an Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) to go ahead with the procurement.

The SCAPCC and the SCAPCHC decide whether the equipment is to be built in India, bought from abroad, or a mixture of the two.

Instead of going through these foundational steps, which would have involved the IAF in the decision, the government’s submission to the SC indicates that it assumed that the clearances granted for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) procurement were also valid for the 36-Rafale contract, even though these were two fundamentally different procurements. “The acquisition process for MMRCA had reached commercial evaluation stage after completion of all the standard processes as per DPP,” says the submission.

“The background of the case was brought to the notice of the DAC where it was mentioned that operational capability of 36 Rafale aircraft will be in accordance with the SQR for the procurement of MMRCA.”

This statement of the government does not square with its assertion – made to justify the higher price of the 36 Rafales – that a range of “India-Specific Enhancements” made the operational capability of the 36 Rafales significantly higher than the Rafales in the MMRCA tender.

The government has submitted, it pursued the procurement as an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with France, for which the DAC accorded clearance on May 13, 2015. The Centre informed the SC that an Indian Negotiating Team (INT) was constituted to negotiate the terms and conditions of the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft. The negotiation started between the INT and French side in May 2015, a month after PM Modi announced that Rafale aircraft will be purchased.

The INT had 48 internal meetings and 26 external meetings with the French side between May 2015 and April 2016. The INT submitted its final report on 4 August 2016 and recommended the case to be pushed for CCS’ approval and signing of the agreement with Dassault Aviation.

Finally, on 24 August 2016, the CCS gave its approval for signing of Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft.

The IGA was signed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the French Defence Minister on 23 September 2016.

On what grounds did PM Modi decide to make the announcement of the purchase of Rafale aircraft without CCS’ approval, which came more than a year later?

The initial tender for 126 Rafale jets could not be concluded, the government has said, due to “unresolved issues related to 108 aircraft to be manufactured in India”.

The two main issues involved production problems and questions of contractual responsibility. According to the documents filed by the Centre, it would have taken Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd “2.7 higher man-hours” to make the jets in India, when compared to the time it would have taken Dassault to make them in France. And secondly, issues related to “contractual obligation and responsibility” for the 108 jets that would be made in India could not be resolved.

“[These] issues remained unresolved for more than three years. This delay impacted the cost  of acquisition, as the offer was with in-built escalation and was influenced by the Euro-Rupee exchange rate variations.  As the contract negotiations reached a stalemate and RFP compliance could not be ensured, the process for RFP withdrawal was initiated in March, 3 2015,” the government says.

The government version flies in the face of reports that HAL and Dassault managed to iron out any differences they had and actually signed a work-share contract. Former HAL chief Suvarana Raju is also on the record as having said this contract was given to the Modi government and that HAL would “guarantee” aircraft it made, in an allusion to the problems of contractual responsibility being resolved.

The Centre’s primary justification for this is that while the long and inconclusive MMRCA process dragged on, India’s enemies in the same time managed to induct “modern aircraft and upgraded their older versions”, and thus posed a threat to the country’s defence.

Nowhere in the documents submitted to the SC does the BJP government clarify whose decision it was to purchase 36 aircraft instead of the 126 asked for by IAF and being negotiated under the previous deal.

“The combined effect of our own reducing combat potential and our adversaries enhancing their combat potential made the situation asymmetrical and  extremely critical. An urgent need was felt to arrest the decline in the number of fighter squadrons in IAF and enhance their combat capabilities,” the document says, on why a smaller deal was then decided upon.

The BS analysis also points to the paradox of the government citing a growing enemy air threat to justify cancelling the 126-Rafale tender and replacing it with fewer fighters.

 

The Centre remains silent on how it went about it. For instance, the government meticulously lays out every part of the acquisition process from May 2015 onwards, which is when the deal was presented to the Defence Acquisition Council, but is surprisingly short of details on what happened in the weeks and months leading to the April 2015 announcement.

If there is some record, the Modi government doesn’t seem intent on sharing it. This is an important detail, because opposition parties like the Congress have alleged that the deal was changed at the last-minute to benefit Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Lok Sabha Elections: Voter turnout 62.02% in Tamil Nadu till 5pm

The voter turnout in Tamil Nadu stands at 62.02%, while Uttar Pradesh records a turnout of 57.5%. Meanwhile, in West Bengal, voter participation surges to 77.5% as of 5 pm.

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The Lok Sabha elections 2024 began today, marking the onset of the world’s largest electoral event. Voting ended in all 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu with a total voter turnout of 62.02%. State BJP chief and Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency candidate K Annamalai said, they were getting complaints from a large number of voters that their names were missing from the voters’ list.

This incident happened in many places. Annamalai said they are demanding re-poll in places where the names of a large number of voters were missing.He said they had a doubt that there was some political interference because the names of a large number of BJP caders were missing from the voters list.

 The voters in South Chennai showed lukewarm interest to participate in the election process and had a total voter turnout of 57.04% till 5pm. Although the overall percentage is poor, some areas like Thiruvanmiyur witnessed brisk polling from 7am onwards. Elderly, middle aged and young voters turned up and it was a family outing for many as they cast their vote.

Corporation volunteers assisted senior citizens with wheelchairs and guided them to their respective polling booths. The hot weather also had an impact on the polling as it reduced the voter turnout as many booths in the corporation school in MGR Nagar were seen deserted around noon. Senior citizens showed courage as they reached the polling booths in private vehicles to exercise their franchise.

Most of the polling booths had shamianas for voters so that they could wait in a queue. Some people even found refuge in the nearby buildings to save themselves from the scorching heat. The polling officials gave instructions to the voters to keep their phones switched off while they exercised their franchise. The security personnel at the polling booth also regulated traffic outside the polling booth in MGR Nagar.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Deserted by key supporters, the Kamal Nath story looks set to wind to an end in Chhindwara

Nath’s closest allies in his near 50-year reign—Deepak Saxena and Kamlesh Shah—have deserted him. His local team of corporators has also decided to jump ship leaving a gaping hole in Nath’s campaign trail.

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By Neeraj Mishra

The Congress has lost Chhindwara only once since Independence when the wily Sunderlal Patwa was sent there by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to test Kamal Nath’s hold on the constituency. Patwa won the 1997 by-election by a slim margin in the backdrop of Nath having forced his wife to first contest and later vacate the seat for him. Nath, however, returned to his winning ways the very next year and has won the seat nine times.

It seems possible that Chhindwara, the lone surviving Congress seat, will be lost again this time and may be forever. A day ahead of polling, the town was drowned in saffron. Not so much the effect of vigorous campaigning by Vivek Sahu of the BJP but the Ram Navami festival which brought out saffron flags on every rooftop.  The effect is likely to last since the polling is today. At 77, Nath is unlikely to contest another election here and his son Nakul seems like a pale shadow of his father unable to even make a forceful speech. The days of running Chhindwara from Shikarpur kothi are gone.

Nath’s closest allies in his near 50-year reign—Deepak Saxena and Kamlesh Shah—have deserted him. His local team of corporators has also decided to jump ship leaving a gaping hole in Nath’s campaign trail. Nakul had won by a margin of 37,000 votes in 2019 and the biggest lead had come from Kamlesh’s Amarwada Assembly segment. With Saxena in control of Chhindwara and forced to show his strength in his new party, it is highly likely that Nakul will not be depending on these segments. Instead, the Congress campaign was focused on Pandhurna, Parasia and Chaurai.

Amit Shah was in the region a couple of days ago and warned all BJP workers—old and new—against lethargy. His message was clear, the BJP wants all 29 seats this time. Cabinet Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya is camped here and using all his political acumen for the desired results. One such tactic was to raid the Shikarpur Kothi of Kamal Nath for his assistant Miglani who handles almost everything for him. With Miglani temporarily neutralised, BJP is best placed to repeat its win in Chhindwara in 1997.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Lok Sabha Elections 2024:  Nearly 40% voter turnout till 1pm

Chennai recorded an average voter turnout of 34% as of 1 pm on Friday. According data released by the Election Commission of India, Chennai (North) recorded 35%, Chennai (Central) recorded 32.3% and Chennai (South) recorded 34%.

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The first phase of voting for the 18th Lok Sabha elections started taking place in 21 states and Union territories on Friday. Nearly 40% voter turnout was recorded till 1pm across the states. Seats in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Puducherry go to elections on Friday.

There has been a substantial increase in the voter turnout charts across the Northeast states, with Tripura leading at 53.04% until 1 pm, as per the data released by the Election Commission of India. Other northeast states like Manipur (46.92%) and Meghalaya (48.91%) are also witnessing high voter turnout. After Tripura, West Bengal is experiencing a high voter turnout of 50.96%.

Chennai recorded an average voter turnout of 34% as of 1 pm on Friday. According data released by the Election Commission of India, Chennai (North) recorded 35%, Chennai (Central) recorded 32.3% and Chennai (South) recorded 34%.

Over 33% voter turnout was recorded in the first 6 hours of voting on Friday in 12 parliamentary constituencies of Rajasthan. According to the Election Commission, voting started at 7 am amid tight security arrangements and 33.73 % voting took place till 1 pm. The highest voter turnout of 40.72 % was recorded in the Ganganagar Lok Sabha seat while Karauli-Dholpur saw the lowest turnout of 28.32 %. Jaipur recorded a poll percentage of 39.35 %.

Over 37 % voter turnout was recorded till 1 pm in the Lok Sabha election being held for five parliamentary constituencies in Uttarakhand on Friday. Elections began at 7 am and the five constituencies recorded an overall poll percentage of 37.33 % up to 1 pm. The Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar seat recorded the highest turnout of 40.46 %, followed by Haridwar with 39.41%, Pauri Garhwal with 36.60 %, Tehri Garhwal with 35.29 % and Almora with 32.29 %.

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