On Rafale, Cong ac­cuses CAG of con­flict of in­ter­est

Kapil Sibal says Ra­jiv Mehrishi should’ve re­cused him­self from au­dit­ing jet deal

Hindustan Times (Bathinda) - - Nation - HT Cor­re­spon­dent let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com ■ ■

NEWDELHI: The Congress on Sun­day ac­cused the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral (CAG) Ra­jiv Mehrishi of “con­flict of in­ter­est” in au­dit­ing the Rafale jet deal. It said Mehrishi was the fi­nance sec­re­tary from Oc­to­ber 2014 to Au­gust 2015 when the de­ci­sion to buy 36 Rafale jets was an­nounced and a pre­vi­ous pos­si­ble deal for 126 air­craft was scrapped. The Congress said Mehrishi al­legedly had a role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions for the deal.

Congress leader Kapil Sibal said Mehrishi should have re­cused him­self from au­dit­ing the deal and if the CAG re­port on it is tabled in Par­lia­ment, it would amount to a scam.

“How can the CAG probe de­ci­sions he took as fi­nance sec­re­tary? First, he will pro­tect him­self and then the govern­ment. There is no big­ger con­flict of in­ter­est,” Sibal said at press con­fer­ence here.

Sibal said gov­ern­ments come and go and the Congress “had its eyes on of­fi­cials who are ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic and try­ing to show the prime min­is­ter how loyal they are de­spite a con­flict of in­ter­est”.

His press con­fer­ence came a day be­fore the na­tional au­di­tor is likely to sub­mit to Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind a much-awaited re­port on its au­dit of mil­i­tary pro­cure­ments over the last few years, in­clud­ing the ₹59,000-crore Rafale deal.

In a mem­o­ran­dum sub­mit­ted to Mehrishi on Sun­day, the Congress said the car­di­nal prin­ci­ple of law is that “no one can be a judge in his own cause.” “Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the fi­nance min­istry, i.e. mem­ber of the Cost Ac­counts Ser­vice and fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers were part of the In­dian ne­go­ti­a­tion team. Hence, you [Mehrishi] were also in­volved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions of Rafale deal,” the mem­o­ran­dum said.

“In fact, the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, bungling, and cor­rup­tion were hap­pen­ing at the high­est level with your di­rect or indi­rect com­cial plic­ity and consent. This re­flects your di­rect col­lab­o­ra­tion in the en­tire mat­ter,” the mem­o­ran­dum added. “That be­ing so, there is no rea­son or oc­ca­sion for you to au­dit the 36 Rafale air­craft deal as you can nei­ther be a judge in your own cause nor can sit in au­dit over your own ac­tions to which you were a party.”

Union min­is­ter Arun Jaitley dis­missed the Congress’s charges, call­ing them yet an­other at­tack on the in­sti­tu­tion of CAG based on false­hood. “Af­ter ten years in govern­ment, for­mer [Congress-led] UPA [United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance Govern­ment] min­is­ters still don’t know that fi­nance sec­re­tary is only a des­ig­na­tion given to the se­nior-most sec­re­tary in the fi­nance min­istry,” Jaitley tweeted. “De­fence min­istry files are dealt with by Sec­re­tary (Ex­pen­di­ture). Sec­re­tary (Eco­nomic af­fairs) has no role in ex­pen­di­ture files of the de­fence min­istry.”

Top of­fi­cials, too, con­tra­dicted the Congress’s claims say­ing only de­fence min­istry of­fi­cials were part of the ne­go­ti­at­ing team. “The ne­go­ti­at­ing team had seven mem­bers and they were all from the In­dian Air Force, MOD [the min­istry of de­fence] and the fi­nance di­vi­sion of the MOD,” said an offi- on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Of­fi­cials said there was noth­ing new in bu­reau­crats be­ing given con­sti­tu­tional posts af­ter re­tire­ment. They cited for­mer de­fence sec­re­tary Shashi Kant Sharma’s ex­am­ple. The UPA govern­ment ap­pointed Sharma as CAG in May 2013. Sev­eral re­ports came out dur­ing his ten­ure in­clud­ing a re­port on the Agus­tawest­land VVIP chop­per scan­dal, the of­fi­cials said.

A CAG spokesman was un­avail­able for com­ments. An of­fi­cial with the au­dit watch­dog said on the con­di­tion of anonymity that Mehrishi never han­dled the charge of ex­pen­di­ture sec­re­tary, who may have han­dled the Rafale file as part of rou­tine du­ties. “Mehrishi was fi­nance sec­re­tary but all sec­re­taries in the fi­nance min­istry di­rectly re­port to the fi­nance min­is­ter. Mehrishi, while be­ing in the fi­nance min­istry, did not han­dle the ex­pen­di­ture depart­ment. Even the fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor re­ports to the ex­pen­di­ture sec­re­tary,” the of­fi­cial added.

The Congress’s ob­jec­tions came two days af­ter The Hindu re­ported that the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice (PMO) had con­ducted par­al­lel talks with the French govern­ment over the Rafale deal.

Kapil Sibal

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