After the Congress started raising allegations over the Narendra Modi government's 2015 decision to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, most of the charges have related to lack of transparency, non-adherence to procedures and the role of industrialist Anil Ambani in the deal.
On Saturday, however, the Congress took to pointing out technical aspects of the deal to question the Modi government over the rise in price of each aircraft, claiming the country had “lost Rs 41,000 crore” in the deal for 36 Rafale jets.
The Modi government has repeatedly said the euro 7.8 billion price of the deal for 36 Rafale jets included modifications that were specific to the Indian Air Force and performance guarantees that were not present in a deal that was being negotiated by the previous Manmohan Singh government for 126 fighters.
On Saturday, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala presented documents at a press conference to show that 'India-specific' enhancements for the Rafale that were reportedly purchased by the Modi government were drafted during the UPA's tenure.
"It is now clear that the 'India-specific enhancements' mentioned by Modi and [Defence Minister Nirmala] Sitharaman on the floor of Parliament and outside are those that were pre-decided by IAF at the time tender of 126 Rafale fighter aircraft was issued by Congress-led UPA government," Surjewala said.
Media reports have claimed that the Rafales being built for India will have 13 enhancements that are not even found on French Air Force jets. Surjewala presented documents to show that the 13 India-specific enhancements for the IAF were drafted by the Indian Air Force's air staff qualitative requirements during the UPA's term.
These enhancements include upgrades to the radar of the Rafale, a helmet-mounted sight system, towed decoys to protect the aircraft against missiles and the capability to start and operate from high-altitude airfields.
"If these specifications had been pre-decided during UPA government and these are the same on which the Modi government is buying Rafale fighter aircraft, then why Rs 41,000 crore loss was being caused to public?" Surjewala asked.
Country-specific enhancements are not unusual in arms purchases as nations try to maximise their capabilities for their unique requirements. For example, the Rafale jets being purchased by Qatar will reportedly have an Israeli helmet-mounted sight system and an American-built targeting pod for guiding laser-guided weapons.
Surjewala slammed the Modi government for its modified contract for 36 Rafales, claiming that the India-specific enhancements would start rolling out only after 2022 after all the aircraft are delivered. The Modi government had sought to justify the Rafale purchase as an “urgent” purchase.
Surjewala also attacked the Modi government for claiming that the UPA's deal for 126 Rafale jets did not include any transfer of technology and showed a PIB release on the request for proposals for 126 aircraft in 2007, that specified transfer of technology, licence manufacturing and maintenance support from the manufacturer.
(With PTI inputs)