Council of Ministers briefed on Rafale deal

New Delhi : Facing relentless allegations of corruption and nepotism in the Rafale fighter jet deal, the Modi government is bracing to counter the opposition onslaught more effectively. On Wednesday, the Union Council of Ministers was briefed about the deal by the National Security Advisor(NSA) besides a top defence official.

A presentation was made to the Council of Ministers giving details of the deal signed by the Modi government with French company Dassault Aviation to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition, explaining how the deal was better than the one finalised by the UPA government in 2007, sources said.

The Council of Ministers was told during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting that the allegations levelled by the Opposition about favouring a private entity in giving the offset contract at the cost of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) were “baseless”.

The presentation made by NSA Ajit Doval and Secretary, Defence Production, Ajay Kumar, focused on how the deal signed by the Modi government was “at least 20 per cent” cheaper than the one signed by UPA as it entailed transfer of technology and weaponry.

“The 36 fighter jets will be delivered in a fly-away condition. Not a single equipment is being manufactured in India. So how come this private company has been favoured?” said Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in response to a question at the formal Cabinet briefing, though he refused to divulge the details of what transpired in the Council of Ministers’ meet.

“I am not supposed to disclose the details of the Council of Ministers’ meeting,” said Jaitley, who resumed office last month after a kidney transplant.

The purpose of the briefing is understood to equip the ministers with relevant information about the Rafale deal to enable them to counter the opposition’s allegations in a more informed and pointed way.

Besides, the Ministers were also asked to give details of some of the flagship schemes of the government being run by their respective ministries/departments and their impact on the ground.

The Council of Ministers, which includes the Ministers of State besides the Cabinet Ministers, was asked to take the flagship programmes like Jan Dhan Yojana (zero balance bank accounts for the poor), Ujjwala Yojana (subsidised LPG connections to rural households) and Ayushman Bharat scheme (health coverage for poor) to the public.

While the Lok Sabha elections are scheduled early next year, elections to the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh (BJP is ruling in all three states) apart from Mizoram are due in December this year.

The focus of the Council of Ministers’ meet was on how to effectively convey the government’s achievements in the last four years to the public and vociferously counter the opposition’s charges on issues of alleged corruption, price rise, the falling rupee and rising oil prices.

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