New Delhi: As the Congress-led Opposition continues to attack the Centre over alleged irregularities in the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, the Government on Wednesday said the details of the deal between the two countries could not be shared as India and France signed a secrecy pact this year.
''An agreement on protecting classified data was signed by India and France on March 10, 2018, replacing an earlier agreement signed in 2008,'' Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said on Wednesday.
"The agreement between India and France regarding the Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected Information was signed on March 10, 2018, during the visit of President of France to India," Bhamre told lawmakers in the Lok Sabha.
"This agreement defines the common security regulations applicable to any exchange of classified and protected information between the two countries," he added.
Bhamre said this while responding to a question by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao, who sought to know if India and France had signed any new confidentiality agreement replacing the 2008 pact.
The statement from the MoS Defence assumes significance in the backdrop of the Opposition attack on the Government as it sought details of the Rafale fighter jets deal with France.
The government has so far maintained that it cannot reveal the price of the fighter jets in the interest of national security and because of a confidentiality agreement signed by the two countries in 2008 under the UPA government.
Rahul Gandhi-led Congress has alleged that there were irregularities in the deal for buying 36 Rafale fighter jets off-the-shelf from France.
Training guns on the government over the Rafale fighter jets deal, Rahul Gandhi had alleged that it had caused a loss of Rs 36,000 crore to the state exchequer even as the Army "begs" for more money.
He also alleged that Dassault Aviation, the French company that manufactured the fighter jets, had called the "lie" of "RM" (Raksha Mantri or Defence Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman by releasing the price of the aircraft.
It also claimed that the fighter jets are being bought from France at a price higher than what was negotiated in the previous multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal under which 126 fighter jets were to be bought.
The government has, however, been maintaining that the price India is getting under the Inter-Government Agreement is lesser than the MMRCA deal.
Despite a controversy over the deal in India, French President Emmanuel Macron described the fighter jet programme as a key aspect of the bilateral defence cooperation.
"India had made a sovereign decision in this respect (Rafale fighter jet) and we are monitoring the progress in the field. We very much want to continue the programme.''
"It is a long-term contract which is mutually beneficial. I personally consider it as the heart of the strategic partnership," French President Macron said in a statement to media after talks with PM Modi earlier this month.
(With IANS inputs)