The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed all petitions demanding a probe into the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, asserting that the pricing and decision-making process of the deal were not in doubt. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, "Our country cannot afford to be unprepared when it comes to fighter aircrafts." The bench also observed that defence preparedness needs to be looked after.
Meanwhile, reports have said that home minister Rajnath Singh has ruled out the need for a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Rafale deal. The Supreme Court verdict came at a time when Parliament's Winter Session is underway and reports said that while Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pushed for a debate in the House, BJP ministers raised slogans against Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Disruptions caused by MPs forced adjournments of both the Houses — Rajya Sabha till 11.30 am and Lok Sabha till 12 pm.
The bench pointed out that it was "not correct" for the apex court to sit as an "appellant authority" and scrutinise all aspects. Gogoi said, "(The court) cannot sit in judgment over the decision to go in for the purchase of 36 aircraft in place of 126."
According to reports, the bench ruled out a probe into the details of the deal, and asserted that the Rafale deal was not a case of "commercial favouritism". The CJI also said, "It’s not a case of commercial favouritism as offset doesn't require to be chosen by Indian government. The perception of individuals can't be a subject matter of initiating inquiry."
The bench said, "We studied the materials carefully, interacted with the defence officials, we are satisfied with decision-making process."
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Advocate Prashant Bhushan, while addressing the media, rejected the Supreme Court's judgment and called it "completely wrong" and added that the petitioners had been asking for details of the deal, but the government had denied access. “How can the government say that Dassault gave the deal to Reliance without consulting it, when all the guidelines clearly say that such a deal cannot happen without the Defence Ministry’s approval?” he asked.
The bench had earlier reserved its verdict on petitions on 14 November. The apex court was to decide on whether the government followed the correct procedure in making the deal, and the induction of the offset partner.
Advocate ML Sharma was the first petitioner in the case. Later, another lawyer Vineet Dhanda had moved the apex court with the plea for court-monitored probe into the deal. AAP leader Sanjay Singh has also filed a petition against the fighter jet deal.
After the three petitions were filed, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist advocate Prashant Bhushan had moved the apex court with a plea for a direction to the CBI to register an FIR for alleged irregularities in the deal.
The Centre had defended the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets and opposed public disclosure of the pricing details. India signed an agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment. The deal is estimated to be about Rs 58,000 crore (about $8 billion).
While reserving the verdict, the apex court had said that the pricing details of Rafale jets could only be discussed after it decides on whether to make it public.
The observation by an apex court bench had come after the government refused to publicly divulge pricing details of the deal, saying it would give an advantage to India's enemies.
While hearing a bunch of pleas alleging criminality in Rafale deal and seeking court-monitored probe into it, the apex court had asked wide-ranging questions from the government on issues including lack of sovereign guarantee from the French government, selection of Indian offset partner by the Dassault Aviation and need of entering into Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with France.
The court had taken note of submissions and counter-arguments on the pricing of the fighter jets with the petitioners alleging that the government has been giving "bogus arguments" and "hiding behind the secrecy clause".
Vehemently defending non-disclosure of price publicly, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for Centre had said that the cost of a bare Rafale jet as per 2016 exchange rate was Rs 670 crore and the disclosure of price of a "fully loaded" aircraft would give an "advantage to the adversaries".
Bhushan had claimed that the Union Law Ministry had red-flagged two issues — the absence of sovereign guarantee by France and the international arbitration clause in IGA as per which the arbitration seat would be at Geneva — but the government went ahead with the deal.
Venugopal had admitted that there was no sovereign guarantee, but said that France has given a 'letter of comfort' which would be good enough as a governmental guarantee.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2018 13:56 PM