Information accessed by The Caravan shows that the seven-member Indian team that negotiated with French officials for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets was internally divided over multiple aspects of the deal, and that several of the team’s members believed the deal contained provisions contrary to Indian interests. The government, while defending the procedure behind the Rafale deal before the Supreme Court, concealed these internal disagreements from its submissions, which stated that the negotiating team followed “a collegiate process.”
As The Caravan reported earlier, one of the points of disagreement was the deal’s pricing. The initial benchmark price for the 36 jets was set at €5.2 billion—more than €2.5 billion below the value of the final deal signed in 2016. The initial price was calculated by MP Singh, the official in the team tasked with advising it on cost. Two other members of the team supported Singh’s calculation: Rajeev Verma, the joint secretary and acquisition manager (air), and Anil Sule, the finance manager (air). Of the team’s seven members, Singh, Verma and Sule had the most expertise in issues related to pricing. The team’s four other members opposed the initial price, saying it was unviable. These four members included the head of the team—the deputy chief of air staff, Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria. The pricing issue was referred to the Defence Acquisition Council—a body headed by the defence minister, and the appropriate authority for addressing technical concerns related to defence interests. The DAC, then led by Manohar Parrikar, proposed an alternative calculation, resulting in a higher benchmark price, that used methods in conflict with the Defence Procurement Procedure-2013, the procurement rules that govern the Rafale deal. The DAC passed the revised figure on to the Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by the prime minister, for a final decision. The CCS, under Narendra Modi, authorised the higher benchmark price, even though it does not have the expertise to settle technical issues such as pricing.
The negotiating team’s other internal disagreements followed a similar trajectory. The trio of Singh, Verma and Sule raised points of dissent, and were opposed by Bhadauria and the team’s other members. The contentious points were placed before the DAC, which overruled some of the dissenters’ concerns itself, and passed others on to the Modi-led CCS for its consideration. The CCS cleared the Rafale deal despite the outstanding objections of the negotiating officers.
These are all the objections to the Rafale deal raised by the dissenting members of the negotiating team: