Rafale deal: Reliance got contract first, Maha govt gave land later

According to the information which has been revealed, on April 10, 2015, the day when PM Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts from France, the Reliance Defence did not have any land

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Tasleem Khan

When the storm broke out after the former French president Hollande’s interview, Dassault Aviation which manufactures the Rafale aircraft stated that it selected Reliance Defence not under the pressure from the Indian government but because this company was registered under the Corporate Affairs Ministry of India and it had land in Nagpur which was closer to the runway.

But according to the information which has been revealed, the day when PM Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts from France, that is on April 10, 2015, the Reliance Defence did not have any land at that time.

After the announcement of the Rafale deal on April 10, 2015, Reliance Defence gave a presentation to the Maharashtra government on June 2015 and demanded 289 acres of land in Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport SEZ area in Nagpur.

The Devendra Fadnavis government of Maharashtra took a quick decision on this and allotted 289 acres of land to Reliance Defense on August 28, 2015, in just 10 weeks after taking the decision on the proposal. On this land, Anil Ambani announced to build Dhirubhai Ambani Aerospace.

On August 28, 2015, the formal land allotment ceremony took place, during which Anil Ambani had announced that he would invest ₹6,500 crores in a large Greenfield Aerospace Equipment Manufacturing Centre near Nagpur. It was told that at this centre, which would house Anil Ambani's new fledgling company Reliance Defence Fixed Wing Aircraft, aero-structures for commercial transport aircrafts and helicopters, which can be used in both defence and commercial sectors, will be built. It was also informed that at the same centre, the components required for providing the after-sales service of the aircrafts would also be manufactured.

Now, Dassault Aviation’s argument that one of the reasons behind choosing Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the offset partner was the availability of land falls through.

It is significant to recall the timeline of the developments in this deal:

Rafale deal: Reliance  got contract first, Maha govt gave land later
Reliance Group chairman Anil Ambani with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari(second from right), Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis(right) and Dassault CEO Eric Trappier

  • On April 10, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris that India will buy 36 Rafael fighter aircraft from France
  • Reliance Defence had come into existence only 12 days before this announcement
  • On April 13, 2015, the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar declares on Doordarshan that this deal has been done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he has supported it
  • In June 2015, Reliance Defence gives a presentation to the Maharashtra government and asks for the land
  • On August 28, 2015, after just 10 weeks, Maharashtra Government allots 289 acres of land to Reliance
  • On September 23, 2016, the agreement to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft between India and France is signed
  • On October 3, 2016, the joint venture between Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation, the company that manufactures Rafale is announced

Once Anil Ambani’s firm got the land, Éric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, arrived in India and a programme was held in Nagpur during which Trappier laid the foundation stone of this joint factory. Apart from Trappier and Anil Ambani, the then French Defence Minister Florence Parly, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and the then French Ambassador to India Alexandre Zeigler attended this function.

On this occasion, Anil Ambani said that it (the deal and establishing the factory) would not have been possible without the constant support and help of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The most interesting thing about this entire event is that when India entered into a deal for buying 36 Rafale fighters from France in fly-away state, then why was the joint venture between Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence created? When the aircraft was not to be manufactured in India then why was the slogan ‘Make in India’ so harped about in this deal?

In fact, the entire matter seems to be going beyond these 36 Rafale aircrafts.

After the sensational statement by Francois Hollande and the furore it created, explanations and justifications have been coming in from all corners and the recent clarification was given by the law minister on Saturday, September 22, that “36 aircrafts are coming from France, rest will be manufactured here in India”. What can be understood from this statement? That the deal is not for 36 aircrafts but for more than that? Or has it been decided that in the future too, the purchase of new aircrafts will be through this new joint venture between Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation?

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Published: 28 Sep 2018, 5:40 PM