CAG Mehrishi ineligible to audit Rafale deal: Congress
Jaitley: Attack By Institution Wreckers Based On Falsehood
New Delhi: Congress and the government engaged in a fresh war of words over the Rafale deal with the opposition party raising questions over comptroller and auditor general Rajiv Mehrishi as he had been finance secretary when the defence contract was being worked out and senior minister Arun Jaitley hitting out, calling the criticism another instance of “institution wreckers” relying on falsehoods.
With the much awaited CAG report on Rafale contract due to be tabled in the ongoing budget session, Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal submitted a memorandum to Mehrishi saying the cardinal principle of law was that “no one can be a judge in his own case”. They said Mehrishi was finance secretary from October 29, 2014, to August 30, 2015, the period when UPA-2’s 126 aircraft acquisition process was scrapped and a new 36 aircraft deal negotiated between Indian and French governments.
Jaitley hit back at the Congress leaders and said, “After 10 years in government, former UPA ministers still don’t know that finance secretary is only a designation given to the senior most secretary in the finance ministry... Defence ministry files are dealt with by secretary (expenditure) and secretary (economic affairs) has no role in expenditure files of the defence ministry.” He added, “Another attack on the institution of CAG by the ‘institution wreckers’ based on falsehood.”
Indicating that Congress is not giving up on the Rafale issue and is seeking to deny the government any advantage from a CAG “clean chit”, the party said, “This means that at the time of unilateral announcement for purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore by PM Modi, you (Mehrishi) were the finance secretary. Even at the time of cancellation of the126 aircraft MMRCA deal on June 24, 2015, you were the finance secretary.”
However, the Indian negotiating team for the deal was set up only in mid-2015 and concluded its negotiations a little more than a year later, said government sources. They also pointed out that announcement of a deal under an intergovernment agreement by PM Modi and then French president Francois Hollande could not be mistaken for the final contract. Mehrishi was not in government when the contract was finalised.
Jaitley said it was about time that India and its institutions were protected from ‘institution wreckers’. BJP spokesperson G V L Narsimha Rao said, “Fake protectors of institutions attacking CAG again! UPA appointed former defence secretary (2011-13) as CAG. Did we ever say UPA did it to cover up defence scandals during its tenure?” He said it was common practice for former bureaucrats to be appointed CAG.
In its memorandum, Congress claimed Mehrishi failed to put on record his role in the Rafale deal to the SC, the government and the Congress delegation that met him twice, pointing to a direct “conflict of interest”, which rendered him “ineligible to conduct any audit on the Rafale deal as CAG”.
BIRD OF WAR: Youth Congress members protest against the Rafale deal at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi in this January 30 photo