Supreme Court seeks report from Centre on decision-making process in Rafale deal, but says no need to include price of jets

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a report from the Centre on the details of the decision-making process involved in finalising the Rafale fighter jet deal with France. The three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph gave the order without issuing a notice to the Centre, Bar and Bench reported.

"We would like to be appraised of the details of the steps in the decision-making process in the Rafale deal," the Supreme Court said, after hearing Public Interest Litigations (PIL) against the Rs 30,000-crore agreement.

However, the three-judge bench made it clear that the Centre's report need not include details of the price of the jets or other technical information. This comes as a blow for the Congress, which has been demanding that the government reveal the price at which each of the 36 jets were purchased, but the Centre has been maintaining that a confidentiality clause in the Rafale deal did not allow them to disclose the figure.

On Monday, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a fresh PIL on Wednesday on the Rafale deal between India and France. In the PIL, the petitioner had sought a direction to the Centre to reveal details of the agreement and comparative prices agreed upon during the tenures of both the United Progressive Alliance and the incumbent National Democratic Alliance. This PIL was filed by lawyer Vineet Dhanda. The bench heard another PIL by lawyer ML Sharma, who had sought to have the hearing adjourned till Wednesday to file additional documents in the case

In his petition, Sharma alleged discrepancies in the fighter jet deal with France and sought a stay on it. His petition says that the inter-government agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed as it was an "outcome of corruption" and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 of the Constitution, as per which, Parliament has the power to make any law to implement any inter-government agreement. Sharma, on Wednesday, made submissions on the loss the State exchequer had incurred because of the contract on the fighter aircraft and the higher price paid for each unit. He also made arguments on the history of the deal. Representing the Centre, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal, on Wednesday, called the PILs filed against the Rafale deal "politically motivated".

He said the matter cannot be examined judicially as it was "about national security" and urged the Supreme Court to not entertain such petitions. "If a notice is issued, it will go to the prime minister, etc. This is political petition, not a public interest litigation, and is part of a bitter fight going on between the ruling and Opposition party. Please don't entertain such petitions," the attorney general argued.

Moreover, Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla withdrew his PIL against the Rafale deal after the court refused to accept party president Rahul Gandhi's speeches and tweets as a proof to call the agreement a scam. His plea had sought a direction against the Centre on why the Cabinet's approval was not sought as part of the Defence Procurement Procedure before the deal was signed with France on 23 September, 2016.

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.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Oct 10, 2018 12:17:07 IST