RAFALE AIRCRAFT PRICE: 'NATIONAL SECRET' THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS!
The government guarding a secret can be understood but how about one known to all and yet vehemently guarded by the government as a "national secret."
Continuing his attack on Prime Minister Modi on the Rafale aircraft deal at every poll meeting, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday took a dig at him, saying its price was a "national secret" as the government was not even willing to reveal to the Supreme Court.
In a sarcastic tweet, Rahul said: "The PM knows. Anil Ambani knows. Hollande and Macron know. Every journalist now knows. Defence Ministry babus know. All of Dassault knows. All Dassault's competitors know. But the price of the Rafale is a national secret that cannot be revealed even to the Supreme Court."
His attack comes in the wake of a report in a financial daily that the price per Rafale aircraft that the government agreed in 2016 with French company Dassault Aviation for 36 fighters is 40 per cent higher than what Dassault had offered in 2012, in a global tender for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).
Quoting two senior defence ministry sources, who were directly involved in contract negotiations with Dassault from 2012 onwards, the daily said Dassault's winning bid amounted to euro 19.5 billion for 126 Rafale fighters. This amounted to euro 155 million per aircraft, while 36 Rafale aircraft were contracted at euro 7.85 billion which is equivalent to euro 217 million per aircraft – 40 per cent higher than the earlier contract.
The Supreme Court had last week on October 31 sought more information from the government on the Rafale jet deal, including details of its pricing and its deemed advantages.
On Attorney General K.K. Venugopal bluntly telling the court that its price cannot be disclosed claiming it was not disclosed to even Parliament, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi shot back to say on affidavit the "difficulty" in sharing the information on pricing.
Since the PILs on the issue have not yet been admitted, the Court clarified that details which the government may, at this stage, consider to be "strategic and confidential" be submitted to the court in a sealed cover without sharing it with the counsel for the petitioners.
Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Minister and rebel BJP leader Arun Shourie and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan had on October 4 sought the registration of an FIR and a probe into the Rafale deal.
The PILs are to come up before the Apex Court next week on Wednesday before a Bench that is different from one that heard them in the last hearing on October 31. They will be heard by the Bench headed by the CJI with Justices K M Joseph and Sanjay Kishan Kaul as the two other judges. In the last hearing, it were Justice U U Lalit instead of Justice Kaul.
In the last hearing, the Court had also asked the government to share the documents it had submitted with the lawyers of the petitioners within 10 days. On the Attorney General invoking the Official Secrets Act (OSA) covering some of the documents, the Court said the government must share the information "except what is strategic and confidential" to enable the petitioners respond within the next seven days.