Published On: Fri, Feb 8th, 2019

Air Marshal Sinha, who headed Rafale negotiating team, dismisses ‘leaked note’

New Delhi: Air Marshal (retd) SBP Sinha, who headed the Indian Negotiating Team that finalized the Rafale contract, on Friday dismissed a controversial leaked note, claiming interference by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the deal, as mischievous.

All the files with respect to the Indian negotiating team were air headquarter files

Air Marshal Sinha said that he has never seen the note which has nothing to do with the negotiating team. “It was, at best, an internal deliberation in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which was settled there,” he said, expressing surprise that such a document has been used to malign the contract.

Air Marshal Sinha was the deputy chief of air staff at that time. He said all the papers related to the contract was in the Indian Air Force (IAF) files. The deputy secretary who initiated the said note was never part of the process.

“I saw the note for the first time today and that too in an encrypted form where the decision of the RM (Raksha Mantri) is concealed. Unlike other procurements. This (Rafale) was being headed by me. All meetings were being held at air headquarters. All the files with respect to the Indian negotiating team were air headquarter files. All the minutes of the meetings are in air headquarters file. This (the one carrying the note) is an MoD file. It was started there and closed and shut there,” he said.

Apart from Sinha, the negotiating team comprised another air force officer and five joint secretaries of MoD, MoD (Finance) and department of defence production. All the secretarial support was provided by the office of the deputy chief of air staff.

“This note covers an area which was only the domain of the Indian negotiating team. It was made without participating in the negotiations. The deputy secretary who has done it was neither part of the negotiating team nor did he have any locus standi in the contract,” he said.

Earlier, in the Lok Sabha, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rubbished the media report and hit out at the Congress over its attack on the government, saying the party is flogging a dead horse to keep the issue alive.

Her remarks came in the Lok Sabha after the Congress and other opposition parties created pandemonium over the news report and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Probe (JPC) into the deal.

“If the newspaper wanted to bring out the truth, they would have approached the Defence Ministry and done a thorough check… Every question on Rafale has been answered thoroughly and transparently… not just here in the House, but also in court,” Sitharaman said during Zero Hour accusing the newspaper of “publishing a report without any facts” to back it.

The Minister said the Congress was raising the issue on the basis of a news report.

She said the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had replied to the Ministry of Defence note saying there was nothing to worry as everything was going alright.

“Parrikar, then Defence Minister, had very clearly said in response to the file noting of the then Defence Secretary to ‘remain calm, there is nothing to worry, things are going all right’. To that extent, a detailed reply was given by the then Raksha Mantri. In all fairness, it should have been the duty of the newspaper which has published this to also put it on record the comment of the Defence Secretary and that the reply given was this,” she said.

About suspected interference by the PMO, Sitharaman said that PMO inquiries about the progress of any work cannot be “construed as interference”.

Sitharaman then raised questions over the UPA government’s advisory body National Advisory Council (NAC), saying “what do you call the NAC led by Sonia Gandhi’s interference in the earlier PMO? What was that?

“Did she interfere? Was that interference? If that was interference then talk about it. At that time, the NAC was running the PMO. Was that an interference? Will that be reported,” she asked.

The Minister said that every question on Rafale is over and done with.

“The newspaper and the Opposition Parties are flogging a dead horse. In other words, they are like what the Prime Minister said yesterday playing into the hands of multinational corporations and with vested interests keeping the issue alive.

“They are not interested in the Indian Air Force getting powerful. They are not interested in the Indian Air Force becoming empowered. They are working to the tunes of multinational corporate warfare,” she said.

She added that the Congress is damaging the country and that “I charge them for this offence”.

She told reporters outside Parliament that the Congress was trying to provoke the armed forces against the government.

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