The Vice Chief of the IAF Wednesday gave a strong endorsement of the Rafale fighter jets, saying it will give India an "unprecedented" combat advantage, as the Supreme Court agreed to hear next week a plea seeking a stay on the controversial deal with France.
As the government remained under attack from the Congress and other opposition parties on the escalating Rafale row, the country's top security brass also gave a briefing to the Union Council of Ministers in a bid to provide the NDA leaders with facts to counter the allegations of favouritism and corruption levelled against it.
Congress General Secretary Shakti Singh Gohil termed the Rafale deal as the "grandmother of all corruption" and said the party would take out protest rallies at district level across the country from tomorrow to "expose" the alleged irregularities committed by the Modi government.
Describing Rafale as a "beautiful" aircraft, Air Marshal S B Deo, the Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force(IAF), said those criticising the deal must understand the procurement norms.
Deo said "all discussions on the deal" were taking place as people do not have adequate information about the procurement procedure.
"We are waiting for the aircraft to come. It is a beautiful aircraft. It is a very capable aircraft. It is a capability that we need quickly," he said on the sidelines of an event when asked about the controversy surrounding the Rafale deal.
Asked about allegations relating to the Rs 580 billion deal, Deo said "all the discussions are taking place as people do not have information".
"They should read DPP (defence procurement procedure) and offset policy," he said, adding the jets will give India "unprecedented" combat advantage.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 580 billion. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, claiming the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 16 billion as against Rs 5.26 billion finalised by the UPA government. The government has rejected the charges.
At the Supreme Court, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the submissions of advocate M L Sharma that his plea on the Rafale deal be listed for urgent hearing.
In his petition, Sharma has alleged discrepancies in the jet deal and sought a stay on it.
Sharma claimed in his plea that the inter-governmental agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed as it was an "outcome of corruption" and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 (Parliament has power to make any law for implementing any inter-government agreement) of the Constitution.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
During their briefing at the meeting of the Union Council of Ministers, the country's top security brass said the cost of the Rafale jet is based on equipment and weapons that will be married to the jet.
A senior official said National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Secretary, Defence Production, Ajay Kumar highlighted various aspects of the deal at the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours.
The ministers were informed that the Rafale contract was a deal between two governments involving no private party, leaving little scope for corruption.
The security brass also highlighted the aircraft's capability which would strengthen the IAF and make the fighter jets an asset for it.
The presentation underscores Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to take all his allies, who are represented in the council of ministers, on board as the government works to counter the opposition on the issue with the Lok Sabha election being less than eight months away.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi accused the Modi government of adopting "double standards" in approving offset contracts for defence deals asking why it did not adopt the same yardstick in the Rafale deal when it had disapproved Russia's move to grant offset contracts to a private player for AK-103 rifles.
Singhvi said a "fallacious argument" of the Modi Government on Rafale has been nipped in the bud by its own recent negotiations in another defence deal with Russia for manufacturing AK-rifles.