The Supreme Court on Wednesday commenced its hearing on pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph is likely to review the pricing details submitted by the government in a sealed cover.
The initial arguments were made by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who told the court that the inter-governmental agreement was "illegal" and sought an investigation in the matter. He told the apex court that negotiations were held after the deal to purchase 36 fighter aircrafts was first announced. He also said that the attorney general should file a response to the affidavit.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who spoke on behalf of the government, addressed the issue of secrecy raised by Bhushan and said that the government's secrecy over the price of the deal was justified. “The secrecy is with regard to weaponry and avionics. If these are disclosed our adversaries will be able to know about what weaponry and avionics we have,” Venugopal told the court.
He also told the Supreme Court that this is not a matter for judicial review, and that "it is a matter for experts to decide on what weaponry is to be bought."
The apex court agreed with Venugopal's statement and said that the pricing of the deal need not be discussed at the moment. "It needs to be debated only if the Court decides that aspects on pricing need to come into public domain", Bar and Bench quoted CJI Ranjan Gogoi as saying.
Former union minister Arun Shourie, who had filed a joint plea along with advocate Prashant Bhushan and union minister Yashwant Sinha, said that documents submitted by Dassault aviation show a different price than that disclosed by the government in Parliament.
He also argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi negotiated the deal without consulting the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar. "Even two days before the deal was announced by the prime minister on 10 April, 2015, the then foreign secretary had gone on record to say that talks between Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) were underway."
Bhushan, in his comments, said that that the BJP-led Centre did not meet the conditions required to go through with an inter-governmental agreement.
He claimed that the number of fighter jets were reduced from 102 to 36 because Modi wanted to give it to Reliance Industries, a company that “has no experience manufacturing aircraft and defence equipment”.
Speaking about the price of the deal, Bhushan said that the government is "hiding" behind the secrecy agreement as part of the deal, because the cost had already revealed to Parliament twice. "There cannot be any security issue regarding the pricing, when they have announced it in parliament. It is a bogus argument when they say price can't be disclosed because of secrecy," Live Law quoted him as saying before he closed his arguments.
Vineet Dhanda, who had also filed a petition in the court, was also present at the hearing. Bar and Bench quoted his legal counsel as asking: "How can the prime minister make a statement regarding purchase of aircraft before the agreement was finalised?"
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2018 12:57:11 IST