Top sources have told Republic TV and Republic Bharat that the government has responded to the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG's) queries on the Rafale deal. The government's auditor will incorporate the responses in its report which will be tabled before the end of the ongoing Budget session of Parliament.
The development comes as a confirmation of Republic TV's January 30 newsbreak regarding the politically-sensitive report being tabled in this session of Parliament - the last under the current Narendra Modi government.
The report is said to be in its final stages and will essentially be published in two versions - three copies containing pricing details will be submitted to the Ministry of Defence, while another version where the pricing details are redacted will be submitted to Parliament and made public. The latter version is expected to weigh in on the pricing in some way or the other nonetheless.
The CAG report assumed significance upon being mentioned in the Supreme Court's verdict rejecting a plea that sought a probe into the intergovernmental deal between India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft. At that time, the reference was to do with the price being paid by India for the Rafale fighter jet. The Supreme Court had said that the report had been examined by the Public Accounts Committee and a redacted portion of the report had been tabled in Parliament.
At this, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the government ceaselessly by alleging crony capitalism in the deal, held a press briefing alongside Mallikarjun Kharge - the head of the Public Accounts Committee - who said that no such report had been submitted.
"Govt lied in SC that the CAG report was presented in the house and in PAC and PAC has probed it. Govt said in SC it is in public domain. Where is it? Have you seen it? I am going to take this up with other members of PAC. We will summon AG and CAG", Kharge had said.
The government's response was to say that this aspect of the Supreme Court's order required correction as it was factually incorrect and the CAG report hadn't yet been tabled.
In its order, the Supreme Court had essentially given the Rafale deal a clean chit on the decision-making process. However, Rahul Gandhi has kept up his attack regarding the pricing and choice of offset partner, this despite Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman answering copiously regarding the deal in Parliament and also to Republic TV's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in an exclusive primetime interview.
The Congress has been demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) be formed to look into the deal, though the government has rejected this on account of the Supreme Court has already given its verdict. Keeping this in mind, the tabling of the CAG report could be politically critical. With regards to pricing, heated exchanges have taken place, both over the figures being safeguarded by a secrecy clause and also, over Rahul Gandhi's varying quotations of what the UPA had 'negotiated' for the aircraft. The government has hit back on the latter front taking the Congress president to task for comparing prices of a basic version of the aircraft in a deal that never came through, with a settled price for a fully-equipped weaponized version.