NEW DELHI: The AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal has virtually brought India’s defence preparedness to a standstill. And the immediate fallout appears to be the much-hyped French Rafale fighter jet deal.
Negotiators from both sides have not met for nearly two months to conclude the deal for 36 warplanes, which was announced in April last year during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris.
The Union Law Ministry had red-flagged the multi-billion dollar deal over issues like liability of Paris in case of any shortfall in implementation of the deal and it being heavily loaded in favour of the French. The over-cautious government, however, has not been able to find a middle path to go ahead with the deal.
Mandarins at the South Block, responsible for the acquisition, are scared to take any decision, especially after the political war that broke out over beneficiaries of the AgustaWestland deal.
Top officials claim that before the Agusta scam resurfaced in the second week of April, negotiations for the 36 fighter jets under the government-to-government contract was well on track and a draft contract agreement was prepared. “Both sides were almost agreed to the basic points of the agreement, including price. But the furore over VVIP chopper deal made things off-track as nobody wants to discuss on new acquisitions, at least for the time being,” a top ministry official said.
But Rafale deal is not the only casualty of AgustaWestland bribery scandal. In fact, the entire modernisation programme has been plagued by the corruption row. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by the Defence Minister and comprising officials from tri-services and from the Defence Ministry, is the key body that gives nods to acquisitions and modernisation plans. But ever since the scam broke, DAC has had done any meetings. Under normal circumstances, DAC meets at least couple of times a month. For the last two years of the NDA government, DAC has given approvals of defence projects worth `2 lakh crore. “All matters are stuck as DAC has not happened for last 50 days,” an official said.
The new procurement procedures policy was unveiled in March, but some crucial chapters of the DPP remains unclear. After a prolonged delay, even the released document is not complete-a key chapter on strategic partnership and all the relevant annexures, appendices and schedules, which clear modalities, are yet to be cleared from the ministry. In the absence of a clear-cut revised procurement procedure, no acquisitions, especially under the Make in India policy, is taking place.