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India and France today inked a key agreement on protection of classified information, widening the scope of confidentiality of high-technology exchanges, including in defence procurement. The pact, which subsumes a 2008 agreement on security of confidential information, comes weeks after the government refused to share cost details in Parliament of the Rs 58,000 crore deal to procure 36 Rafale jets from that country. The agreement was exchanged between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Philippe Etienne, Diplomatic Adviser to the French President, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. According to a senior government official, the pact "subsumed the 2008 agreement and vastly enhances the scope of the protection of classified information which is critical to build an ecosystem to get major partners in high-technology area." "It is important to give confidence to your defence partners that a particular protocol is followed and their sensitive information is safe and protected," the official said. The reciprocal protection of classified or protected information pact defines the common security regulations applicable to any exchange of classified and protected information, officials said. Last month, the government had refused to give an item-wise cost and other details about the Rafale deal in Parliament citing confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact. A joint statement, issued after Modi-Macron talks, said the two leaders welcomed the signing of the pact on 'Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected Information'. It said the agreement reflected the high-level of strategic trust between the two countries. India had signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of about the Rs 58,000-crore.
The Congress has been demanding details of the deal, alleging that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper then the contract signed by the Modi government. Yesterday, the Congress accused the Modi government of "compromising" on national security and causing a loss of Rs 12,632 crore to the state exchequer while sealing the deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. Quoting from the annual report of Dassault Aviation, makers of the fighter aircraft, the party alleged that the company sold each jet to India at a cost that was Rs 351 crore higher than the price on which it sold the jets to Qatar and Egypt 11 months ago. Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Randeep Surjewala said while 36 Rafale jets were sold to India at 7.5 billion Euros in 2016, 48 jets were sold to Qatar and Egypt at 7.9 billion Euros in 2015. This amounted to Rs 1,670.70 crore per aircraft for India and Rs 1,319.80 crore to Egypt and Qatar. There was a difference of Rs 351 crore for each aircraft, the party claimed.
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