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Rafale audit: Cong asks CAG Mehrishi to recuse himself

New Delhi: The much-awaited Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report on the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal is likely to be submitted to the government by the auditor on Monday for its tabling in the ongoing Budget session of Parliament which has its last scheduled sitting on Wednesday.

As per practice, once a CAG report is submitted, a copy sent to the President and one copy forwarded to the finance ministry, the government decides on the date and time of its tabling before Parliament, sometimes delayed by months. After tabling in Parliament, CAG reports are sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), headed by the Opposition leader, for evaluation and further inquiries, if needed. At present Congress leader, Mallikarjun Kharge is the PAC chairman.

The federal auditor has conducted a thorough review of the Rafale deal, the process has taken more than a year, and has gone into its pricing, request for proposals received from competitors, if any, and comparative pricing of other fighter jets available globally.

The government to government Rafale deal was signed on September 23, 2016, for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter planes in flyaway condition along with weaponry and maintenance contract. The CAG is also likely to look into a 50% offset contract given to private parties in India by Dassault, the French maker of the aircraft.

Soon after the deal was signed, the NDA government had informed Parliament in response to a written question that each of the Rafale jets would cost the government approximately Rs 670 crore.

Meanwhile, alleging a conflict of interest, the Congress on Sunday requested Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Rajiv Mehrishi to recuse himself from auditing the deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter aircraft as he, as the then finance secretary, was part of the negotiations.

The opposition party also said that it would be improper on the part of Mehrishi to present the report in Parliament.

In a press statement, the Congress has alleged that the government compromised "national interest" and "national security" in the purchase of the 36 aircraft and said the CAG has a constitutional and statutory duty to undertake a forensic audit of all defence contracts, including the Rafale deal.

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters that Mehrishi was the finance secretary from October 24, 2014, to August 30, 2015, and in between Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Paris on April 10, 2015, and announced the signing of the Rafale deal.

"He obviously cannot probe decisions he took as finance secretary. He will protect himself first and then his government. There cannot be a bigger conflict of interest than this," he said.

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