After latest Scorpène data leak, India's new defence blacklisting policy will focus on criminality

On Friday, The Australian uploaded a fresh tranche of leaked documents that contained information on operating instructions of underwater warfare system of the six Scorpène-class submarines, which are being built in India by French firm DCNS.

While the newspaper has blacked out the details which could compromise India's security interests, a top defence analyst allayed fears that it could compromise the security of the strategically important combat vessels.

A few days ago, the Ministry of Defence had cleared a new blacklisting policy for defence firms. “The file has been cleared. It is now with the Attorney-General for legal vetting. It will be issued as soon as his office clears it,” a top defence official had told PTI.

 After latest Scorpène data leak, Indias new defence blacklisting policy will focus on criminality

File image of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. News18

The Indian Express reported that under the new policy, companies will face action only when there is clear and sufficient "evidence of corruption or criminality."

“Companies in future will not be indiscriminately blacklisted unless the charges against them are criminal in nature or they have committed a crime like stealing documents or paying a bribe," Parrikar told The Indian Express.

Reports suggest that the new norms will include heavy fines and graded blacklisting and other norms to avoid indiscriminate blacklisting of firms under a blanket rule. Moreover, the defence minister had told PTI that the government will not stop from a buying a product from a company even if any equipment or software manufactured by the blacklisted entity was embedded into it.

With the Rs 3,727-crore AgustaWestland chopper scam and now the Scorpène data leak, the new policy of not taking strict action against firms for procedural lapses, in the absence of criminality, can be significant. According to The Hindustan Times, a balance between military battle-ready and pulling up fraudulent defence contractors is what the focus of the NDA government is. The report added that the UPA government had "blacklisted six defence companies."

The new set of documents, that was released on Friday, has the Indian Navy insignia on it and marked "Restricted Scorpène India" and gives details about the sonar system of the submarines which is used to gather intelligence underwater. It talks about a wide range of technical specifications of the sonars and at what degree and frequency it will function.

The documents detail the "Operating Instruction Manual", which talks about how to select a target for weapon firing, weapon configuration selection, among others.

Although the navy has not yet officially reacted to the release of new documents, sources said that it does not compromise national security. "On the face of it, these documents are basic operating manual. You buy any goods from the market, it will come with an operating manual," defence analyst Commodore Uday Bhaskar (retd), director of Society of Policy Studies told PTI.

The Indian Navy, issued a statement on Thursday, saying the matter has been taken up with the French director-general of armaments, who has "express(ed) concern over this incident and has requested the French government to investigate this incident with urgency and share their findings with the Indian side".

The statement added that an internal audit of procedures to rule out any security breach is also being undertaken.

Over 22,000 pages of information were reportedly leaked from DCNS, the French company that designed Scorpène submarines being built in India. Parrikar has also asked the navy to discuss the matter with DCNS.

The French government, however, said that the leaked documents were stolen from French naval contractor DCNS and not leaked. "It is not a leak, it is theft," the source said. "We have not found any DCNS negligence, but we have identified some dishonesty by an individual."

The source said the documents looked to have been stolen in 2011 by a former French employee that had been fired while providing training in India on the use of the submarines.

Whether or not the new defence blacklisting policy will have any impact on this particular case remains to be seen.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2016 14:45:21 IST