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  Opinion   Edit  20 Dec 2018  House panel should examine Rafale deal

House panel should examine Rafale deal

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Dec 20, 2018, 12:01 am IST
Updated : Dec 20, 2018, 12:01 am IST

A probe by a parliamentary committee will help to fill gaps and further our understanding.

The Rafale deal is among the largest government defence contracts in history and plausible suspicion of wrongdoing has been raised, especially by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (Representational image)
 The Rafale deal is among the largest government defence contracts in history and plausible suspicion of wrongdoing has been raised, especially by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (Representational image)

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, which is mandated to look at how public money is spent, is reported to be preparing to take up crucial questions that form part of the Rafale fighter deal controversy, though there are some difficulties in the way.

The PAC chairman, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, can bring a subject on to the agenda, and once Rafale is taken up, the PAC can summon any official, including the Prime Minister, to answer questions. For this reason alone the BJP members on the committee, who are the majority, may be expected to resist Mr Kharge’s efforts.

But this is par for the course in parliamentary life. If the PAC chairman succeeds in having Rafale discussed before the Lok Sabha election, the committee can summon the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the attorney-general, who presented the government’s case on this matter in the Supreme Court.

Indeed, the Rafale pricing issue is already before the CAG. It is to be hoped that the work has progressed sufficiently and the CAG can offer the PAC useful perspectives, if summoned. Any delays in the CAG’s work can only further the government’s purpose — if the government’s actions and words before the Supreme Court is any guide.

The Rafale deal is among the largest government defence contracts in history and plausible suspicion of wrongdoing has been raised, especially by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. His words gain strength from former French President Francois Hollande, whose government signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on Rafale with the Narendra Modi government.

The Supreme Court’s December 14 verdict, which lets the government off the hook on key issues, appears to be based on a cavalier treatment of the known facts, and cannot bring closure to the raging controversy and suspicions of bribery, and on the way taxpayers’ money has been spent.

A probe by a parliamentary committee will help to fill gaps and further our understanding. Ideally, a Joint Parliamentary Committee should be constituted. Parliament is the right forum to question the executive, regardless of whether the Supreme Court has gone over the matter. And in this case, the court’s judgment cannot carry conviction.

It has made glaring factual mistakes in the pricing case, and in the matter of the selection of an industrialist with a poor financial and non-existent work record in the relevant field as a key offset partner (which theoretically can be a conduit for irregular payments).

Ironically, even a government that is grateful for the court’s judgment was obliged to ask it to correct some factual inaccuracies in the order. It is also astonishing why the court did not ask why the industrialist in question was at all taken to France with Prime Minister Modi. Parliament’s intervention is warranted.

Tags: public accounts committee, mallikarjun kharge, rafale deal