The defence ministry has been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. While the allegations made by the Army chief about the poor state of India's defence preparedness and the bribe offer made to him in a defence deal continue to dog the ministry, here comes another shocker regarding the evaluation process that led to the emergence of the French Rafale as the lowest bidder for the supply of 126 fighter aircraft.
The jet was reportedly chosen after extensive trials and complex calculations, but member of Parliament MV Mysura Reddy, who is a member of the defence standing committee, in a letter to Defence Minister AK Antony, has questioned the evaluation process by which the $20 billion deal was clinched.
Reddy, formerly with the Congress, is now a member of the Telugu Desam Party. He says that various parameters go into a deal of this nature and, "According to my information it was manipulated".
In this interview with Vicky Nanjappa, Reddy says he has blown the whistle following which the defence ministry has instituted an inquiry, and that it is now up to them to ascertain whether there had been manipulation or not. "I have raised a couple of points regarding the Rafale. I found something wrong in this deal and think there has been some manipulation and hence decided to raise this issue," he says.
What exactly is the problem with choosing the Rafale?
I found it quite strange that the Rafale was chosen for the Indian Air Force. Now, the Rafale was not purchased by any other country. Moreover, during the recent Nato air campaign in Libya, the Rafale jet failed in precision bombing and this according to me ought not to have been overlooked by the evaluation committee.
Has the defence minister been receptive to your complaint?
Yes, he has been. He has initiated an inquiry into the matter on a departmental level. The ministry should, however, probe the matter seriously and ensure that such deals should not be clouded by manipulation in the evaluation process. Let us see how the inquiry would shape up. The minister has told me that all the points that I have raised will be examined.
Could you tell us what the magnitude of the scam is?
That will be hard for me to say. I have raised issues pertaining to manipulation. Let the inquiry report come out first. Moreover, the amount in question cannot be ascertained at this very moment. If the departmental inquiry finds that there has been manipulation per se, then the rest of the matters would be looked into.
You speak about manipulations. Of what sort?
In such a deal there are various parameters. There is technical evaluation and also other aspects. My allegation is that while calculating these parameters, some issues were allegedly given a skip and the process was manipulated. All aspects may not have been examined and this is what was the manipulation according to me.
Are you 100 per cent sure about your allegations?
I have made the complaint on the base of the information that I have got. The information that I have stated is what I have on me. According to me this is not a non-issue and prima facie there a major problem on hand. Such deals need to be carefully observed and a callous attitude will not help as it not only involves the lives of our pilots but also a lot of tax payers' money is at stake.
The big question is, who exactly has manipulated this deal according to you?
It would be unfair for me to take names at this moment as the inquiry is underway. There is an evaluation committee which is involved in these matters. The committee comprises six persons and there are persons from the armed forces and also the finance wing. My information suggests that two persons in this committee have allegedly manipulated this deal.
Do you feel that we are meek when we seek fighter jets?
At times, yes. We are in a much better position today and can afford to demand the best. When we go into such deals we ought to demand for the best and ensure that there is no compromise on quality. India deserves the best and we should not let such shortfalls occur. We need to look at the money the taxpayer is investing and also the security of the nation on the whole. Moreover, we should also procure when it is necessary only and when we do so we should go for the best.
India's defence system is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Do you feel it is completely corrupted?
That is too harsh a statement to make. There are black sheep everywhere. Sometimes there are procedural lapses and through an inquiry it needs to be set right. Yes, there are quite a few issues with the defence system today and the government appears to have initiated a clean-up process.
Do you think this government will clean up the armed forces or is it an eyewash?
We should have confidence in the government. Let us wait and see how they go about this job. It is our job to bring to the notice of the government in case of such irregularities.