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Scorpene submarine data leak: Political uproar in India, France promises to investigate ‘seriously’

NEW DELHI(PTI): France said it has taken “very seriously” the issue of leak of sensitive documents on advanced submarines being built for the Indian Navy and would work with India very closely with transparency. As the Scorpene data leak report broke out shaking the Indian defence establishment, French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler said here French authorities were trying to assess the extent, nature and sensitivity of information that may have been leaked.

“Well, I have seen the report in the press. What can I tell you is that the French authorities are taking the matter very very seriously and working very seriously with DCNS, the French ship building company,” he told reporters at an event organised at Alliance Francaise here.

Six Scorpene submarines are being built in collaboration with French naval contractor DCNS at a cost of USD 3.5 billion. The data leak has prompted India to order probe into the matter.

“We (French authorities) are trying to assess the extent; the nature; the sensitivity of information that may have been leaked, and we will do work in this… in very very close cooperation (and) with full transparency with Indian authorities,” Ziegler said.

Earlier, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said the leak of documents detailing the secret combat capabilities of Scorpene-class submarines was a case of hacking.

Australian media reported a leak of 22,400 pages that enumerate the submarines designed by DCNS for the Indian Navy.

Parrikar also has ordered Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lamba to go into the entire issue and sought a report from DCNS.

The details leaked included what frequencies the submarines gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance – all sensitive information that is highly classified, the Australian report said.

Terming as “scandalous” the Scorpene submarine project leak, Congress today demanded a complete security audit of the Defence Ministry by a sitting Supreme Court judge even as it accused Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar of launching an “operation cover-up”.

Congress hits out at BJP

The audit could be in the form of a commission of inquiry and should fix responsibility of the political executive, including that of the Defence Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters.

Insisting that the inquiry should probe the Defence Minister and the Defence Ministry to see whether they had abdicated their responsibility, he said the leak has put a question mark on India’s maritime security.

Dubbing it as the “biggest defence disaster” of recent time, he said it has jeopardised the sole initiative to build six Scorpene submarines in collaboration with French company DCNS at a cost of US dollar 3.5 billion (Rs 23,500 crore approximately) by government-owned Mazagaon Dock Ship Builders Ltd at Mumbai.

“Despite the ‘Himalayan blunder’ that has deeply hurt India’s defence preparedness, the Modi government/Defence Minister are indulging in ‘operation cover-up’ instead of fixing responsibility,” he alleged.

Surjewala claimed that all concerned, including the Defence Minister and Indian Navy, are speaking in contradictory voices.

While Parrikar continues to describe the leaks as “hacking”, the navy states that the “source of leaks is overseas and not in India”, he said. French Company DCNS has clearly hinted that leak may have taken place in India, he said. With a coastline of 7517 kilometres to defend with merely 13 submarines and one nuclear submarine, the government appears to be living in denial, he said.

“It is in fact intriguing as to how ‘clean chits’ are being meted out without conducting a proper inquiry. For such an inquiry to be fair, it has to be headed by an independent neutral authority of the level of a sitting Supreme Court judge with officials from the armed forces, naval and Military Intelligence, IB or other specialised agencies as its members,” he said.

Surjewala contended that this is an “alarming” situation that requires a complete ‘security audit’ of Mazagaon Dock Ship Builders Limited as also of the Defence Ministry.

Such a security audit/commission of inquiry will only establish the source of the leak, which cannot be established by a mere denial on the part of either the Defence Minister or the Indian Navy, he said.

Maintaining that the Defence Minister cannot brush these issues under the carpet, he said that the responsibility of political executive, bureaucrats and officers need to be affixed for the unprecedented leaks that have harmed national interest irreparably.

More than 22,000 pages of top secret data on the capabilities of six highly advanced submarines have been leaked, raising alarm bells in the security establishment.