New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has targeted Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for his alleged role in the grant and allocation of offsets in the multi-billion-dollar deal for Scorpene submarines, inked during the UPA government, to a company allegedly linked to his former business partner.
Stepping up the attack after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took potshots last weekend, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even called Gandhi a “defence deal pusher”. This is the latest in a series of controversies that have plagued the Scorpene deal.
ThePrint looks at the BJP’s allegations and the controversies surrounding the submarine.
The basis of the BJP’s latest allegations is a report by Business Today last week which alleged that firms linked to Gandhi’s former business associates had received contracts with regard to the Scorpene deal.
However, contrary to such claims, no offset rule was part of the negotiated contract for the conventional submarines.
An offset clause is a part of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) under which an agreed value of the deal will be ploughed back into India.
Defence sources said the deal for the indigenous construction of six Scorpene-class submarines was signed with French Group DCNS, now called the Naval Group, in 2005 but not under the DPP 2005 which had introduced the offset policy for the first time. Under the deal, all the six submarines are to be built in India only and so no offset is needed.
On 14 December 2017, INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene-class submarine, was commissioned into the Indian Navy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Khanderi, the second Scorpene-class submarine was launched in January 2017, and is currently undergoing the rigorous phase of sea trials and is also scheduled to be delivered shortly.
On Monday, the fourth Scorpene-class submarine Vela was launched.
Controversies surrounding Scorpene deal
From the infamous naval war room leak case to price escalation and delays, the Scorpene deal has often come under scanner.
Naval War Room leak case: The 2005 case involves leak of over 7,000 pages of sensitive defence information from the Naval War Room and the Air Headquarters, which had a direct bearing on national security. The prime suspect in the case was arms dealer Abhishek Verma and the scam pertained to the Navy’s submarine plans for the next 20 years, among others.
The probe was initially limited to the Naval Headquarters and was based on a tip-off from Air Intelligence. However, after media reports began to suggest that the alleged leak was linked to the Scorpene deal, the government handed over the investigations to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2006. An Indian Express story detailed the probe proceedings.
The case had such an impact on the naval establishment that Vice-Admiral Bimal Verma, who was the principal director of the Naval War Room during that period, was overlooked for the post of the next Navy chief.
Delays in delivery schedule: Under a technology transfer agreement in 2006, the state-owned Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks was to manufacture the submarines and deliver them between 2012 and 2016. However the project is running six years behind schedule.
Not just that, the submarines, one of which has been already been commissioned into the Indian Navy, is still to get the heavyweight torpedoes. This is because Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, was banned by the government following the VVIP chopper scam. The Navy had shortlisted Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes made by Finmeccanica.
Price escalation: The 2005 deal was for the purchase of six submarines for approximately $3 billion, or Rs 13,000 crore based on the exchange rate then. However, sources said the price has escalated to over Rs 22,000 crore now for various reasons, including the delay.
Scorpene leak scandal: In 2016, the defence establishment was hit by a major scandal after Australian newspaper The Australian reported the leak of more information about the Scorpene.
It claimed that a 22,000-page report — termed as an intelligence bonanza for China and Pakistan — included critical information about the submarines the French government-owned DCNS is building for the Indian Navy, said a SBS report. The leaks pertained to full technical specifications, and secret acoustic and magnetic signatures and manuals for the Scorpene submarine.
Scorpene was incorrectly referred to as a nuclear submarine. The error is regretted.
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