Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony has ordered a departmental inquiry into the Rs.63000 crore Raphale Jet fighter deal. The medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) was awarded to the French company Dassault which nosed past its main British competitor bidding for the Typhoon Jet fighter plane. The contract is yet to be vetted by the ministry of finance before it is finally approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Meanwhile controversy has erupted over the award of the Rs.63000 crore contract. Two senior officials of the Defence Ministry as members of the contract negotiation committee questioned how the Raphale bid could be considered to have been the lowest.
No doubts have been expressed about the high quality of the Raphael plane or the importance of strengthening India’s strategic ties with France. The worries arise from whether there might have been financial impropriety in clinching the deal. Readers might recall that on February 18 it had been pointed out in these columns that the British Leader of Opposition had made veiled criticism suggesting that influence exerted by the French may have played an undue role in deciding the fate of the deal. The British newspaper, The Guardian, was quoted suggesting further that the British bid fell through because of the Gandhi dynasty’s opposition.
One week later on February 27 Telegu Desam Rajya Sabha MP Mr. Mysoora Reddy wrote to the Defence Minister asking him to look into the complaint expressed by his ministry officials. Mr. Reddy wrote that the decision to purchase Raphael “has raised serious apprehensions not only across the country but also worldwide. If a proper decision is not taken, the country’s credibility will be at stake”. In his letter Mr. Reddy drew attention to the Statesman article that had cautioned against another scandal like Bofors erupting.
Mr. Antony promptly replied within forty eight hours on February 29 to assure the MP that the points raised in his letter would all be examined. It is learnt that the Defence Minister has ordered officials to conduct a departmental inquiry into how the Raphale deal was clinched. He is determined to prevent the UPA government already overburdened with corruption scams to be delivered a knockout blow by possibly a new mega scam. Come what may the Minister does not want to tarnish his reputation by leaving a legacy of another scandal like Bofors. If the departmental inquiry discovers any impropriety in awarding the deal to Raphale, it is expected that the deal will be scrapped. Fresh bids would then be invited to renegotiate the deal.