| Raffarin addresses the Bangalore show. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Feb. 6: Even as French Premier Jean Pierre Raffarin is in the country to sew up orders from the Indian military, a leading member of the parliamentary standing committee on defence has questioned the deal to buy six French submarines.
The Cabinet Committee on Security is understood to be considering the proposal to buy the submarines that the defence ministry had forwarded without going through competitive bidding.
Congress MP Eduardo Faleiro today alleged that the government was buying six Scorpene submarines developed jointly by DCN (French) and Izar (Spanish) for a whopping $1.8 billion at the cost of the indigenous submarine programme called Project 75.
What is more, Faleiro said, the same companies were equipping the Pakistani navy with the Agosta-90B submarines. “In the case of conflict to whom will the French give logistic support — to their old associates, Pakistan, or to their new client, India'”
India-France military ties have looked up since the French did not waver in their commitments on supplies — unlike the Americans and the British — even after the 1998 nuclear tests.
The nature of the defence business is such that not only the French, but also American and European companies are common suppliers to both India and Pakistan of defence equipment. India is also set to receive the AN/TPQ37 weapons locating radars from the US company, Raytheon. Raytheon has also been supplying the AN/TPQ36 WLRs to Pakistan.
Premier Raffarin is in Bangalore to boost French companies and hold talks with the Indian defence establishment on the sidelines of Aero India 2003. India-French military ties are set to get a major fillip next week, too, with Exercise Garuda, the first combat aircraft exercise that the Indian Air Force will hold with a foreign counterpart. (The French Air Force is likely to fly to India 10 fighters that will be based at the IAF’s home for its Mirage 2000 squadrons at Gwalior.)
Defence ministry sources said DCN-Thomson CSF, the consortium with which talks for the Scorpene submarines are on, had not yet been contracted to supply the vessels. However, talks were “progressing”, they said. The Scorpene submarines come in two variants. The costlier one — being negotiated by India — comes with the Air Independent Propulsion chamber that allows the vessel to be underwater for longer periods.
Faleiro had made a special mention on the proposed purchase of the Scorpenes in the Rajya Sabha on December 5. Under the rule, he said, the defence minister was expected to reply but has not done so as yet.
“The Scorpene submarine is neither cost-effective nor fulfils the military-effectiveness criteria for a resource-constrained country and is hugely expensive. The whole deal is reported to cost the public exchequer a sum of Rs 12,500 crore for six semi-knocked down/completely knocked-down kits intended for assembly at Mazagaon docks, when the entire cost of the 20 submarines to be made under Project 75 on both coasts was budgeted for Rs 15,000 crore,” Faleiro had stated.
He said the government had gone for the Scorpene deal flouting the convention of inviting bids and proposals from multiple companies. “What were the reasons for selecting the French submarine without any competition' It is time we did not buckle down under charges that asking questions on defence deals is unpatriotic. We cannot afford to forget the Tehelka charges and ‘coffingate’,” Faleiro said.