The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to file an affidavit within 10 days to say that the price of the fighter jets in the Rafale deal signed between India and France is "exclusive" and cannot be shared with the court. It said the petitioners in the case can respond to it in the next seven days. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 November.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph had first asked for details of the price of the aircraft in a sealed envelope, but Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that the price of the jets is "exclusive" and "can't be shared". In response, the bench asked the government to file an affidavit stating the claim of exclusivity of the pricing details.
"If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so," the bench told Venugopal in its oral observations.
The court also asked the Centre to share information with the petitioners that can be brought to the public domain, but agreed that "strategic and confidential" information need not be disclosed to the petitioners. The government must bring details of the decision-making process of the deal into the public domain, the bench said. It also directed the Centre to share details of the Indian offset partner in the deal in the next 10 days with the court and petitioners.
The attorney general expressed reservations about disclosing the details of the price of the jets, saying its cost was not even disclosed in Parliament. He added that the documents placed by the Centre before the court were covered under the Official Secrets Act.
The bench gave these orders during the hearing of a batch of petitions, including a joint plea filed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, seeking a court-monitored CBI investigation into the purchase of the 36 Rafale fighter jets in the Rs 30,000-crore agreement between India and France.
On the call for a CBI inquiry, the bench said: "You will have to wait. Let the CBI put its house in order first."
At the last hearing on 10 October, the Supreme Court had said it would not go into the pricing of the Rafale jets, but had sought details of the decision-making process behind the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets. On Wednesday, the bench noted that the government has placed before it a note giving details of these steps,
The Rafale deal is a defence agreement signed between the governments of India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the process to upgrade the equipment of the Indian Air Force. The Rafale jet is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
In August 2007, the Indian Air Force had advanced a proposal to buy 126 fighter aircraft and had floated a tender. Following this, an invitation was sent to various aviation companies to participate in the bidding process.
In its order on Wednesday, the bench observed that none of the petitioners have questioned the suitability of the Rafale jets, the equipment and their utility to the Indian Air Force. "What has been questioned is the bonafide of the decision-making process and the cost at which the same was procured," the court said.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Oct 31, 2018 13:09:14 IST