The government on Wednesday rejected in the Lok Sabha the opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal with France, saying there was no corruption, and accused the Congress, “which has a legacy of scams” like Bofors and AugustaWestland, of inventing allegations against a “clean” government.
Intervening in the discussion on the controversial deal with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault, he said there was no need for a JPC since the Supreme Court had already given its verdict on the process, pricing, offset clause and HAL issue after satisfying its conscience.
A parliamentary committee can come to a consensus when it comes to policy matters but could become partisan when it comes to investigation, Jaitley said, explaining why the government was ruling out a JPC probe.
“Rafale issue is not a policy or administrative or governance matter. It is an investigation into whether it was a clean or an unclean deal. The Supreme Court has said that ‘we have satisfied our conscience’ about pricing, HAL, offset. What will JPC do in an investigation?” Jaitley said and referred to the JPC that went into the kickbacks in the Bofors deal.
“The committee headed by (late) Shankaranand gave a report saying that they were not kickbacks but winding up charges. The JPC whitewashed the fraud of corruption,” he said amid thumping of desks by party members.
“And the JPC is now being demanded by those with a legacy of corruption, wanting to invent allegations of corruption as we have given a clean government.”
Taking a dig at the Congress, he said: “The conscience of the Supreme Court was satisfied but the election needs of the Congress were not.”
The Congress, which has been demanding constitution of a JPC and staging protests in the house, on Monday suddenly offered to face a debate on the issue on which Jaitley had thrown a challenge to the party.
Launching a no-holds-barred attack on Gandhi and his family, Jaitley said one family in the country whose hands were dipped in corrupt deals was now raking up the issue of corruption in the Rafale deal, which he said was in the interest of national security and the jets were urgently required by the Air Force to strengthen its fighter squadron.
Needling Gandhi, the Minister said he had to be taught from ABC as he had described an offset partner as the manufacturer of plane.
“I did not expect to see such kind of ignorance from a party that has ruled the country for 60 years.”
Giving details of the Rafale deal, Jaitley said the current government finalised the deal for the fighter aircraft at a much cheaper price than what was negotiated by the UPA government.
He said there was a difference between the basic aircraft and the weaponised aircraft. “We have got the basic aircraft at least 9 per cent cheaper and weaponised aircraft 20 per cent cheaper than UPA’s agreement.”
Rejecting Gandhi’s charge that the deal was unilaterally decided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and regular procedures were flouted, Jaitley said all processes were followed including setting up of a Contract Negotiation Committee, Price Negotiation Committee and 74 meetings of defence officials regarding the weaponary requirements.
“The deal was finalized in 2016 after it was duly examined by the Defence Acquisition Council, the Defence Ministry and the Cabinet Committee on Security,” he said.
He justified why HAL was excluded from the deal saying the demand of the time was swift delivery of aircraft and the HAL required 2.7 times the man-days required by Dassault.
“Keeping in mind the urgent need of the Air Force, we could not have waited. And price would have also increased with more time taken to build aircraft.”
Jaitley said just as it was in national interest to have a public sector company to build aircraft, it was also national interest to ensure quick supply of aircraft to the Air Force.
Countering Rahul Gandhi’s charge of a particular company getting offset contracts worth Rs 1.3 lakh crore, the Minister asked how could that be true when the whole deal was of Rs 58,000 crore with offsets amounting to Rs 29,000 crore — distributed among 100-120 suppliers.
Jaitley accused the previous UPA government of dilly dallying on the deal because of the then Defence Minister’s indecisiveness.
He made a sarcastic reference to Antony by saying that the Minister would clear the file “on the one hand” and sought a review “on the other hand”. “One hand belonged to the Air Force and the other belonged to the Congress party.”