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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

On Rafale deal, SC asks Centre to submit details of decision-making process

The Supreme Court was hearing two petitions — one seeking the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets and the other seeking setting up of a special investigation team to probe the deal.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2018 22:54 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A Rafale fighter aircraft at an air show in Bengaluru.
A Rafale fighter aircraft at an air show in Bengaluru. (PTI File Photo)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to provide details of the decision-making process that led to the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.The top court said it did not want to examine the issue of pricing and suitability of the Rafale jets but only the decision-making process.

The court asked the government to file the details by October 29 with the court’s registrar general in a sealed envelope.

”It is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves“ that the court has called for details of the deal, said a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, justice SK Kaul and justice K M Joseph .The bench clarified that it did not take into account any of the points made in two petitions brought against the deal “that appear to be grossly inadequate”.

The centre’s report in the case “would not cover issue of pricing or suitability of the equipment for Indian Air Force, keeping in mind the sensitive nature” of the information, the judges added. The court only wants to examine whether due process was followed in the purchase, not the price of the jets or their suitability.

Earlier this week, the bench agreed to hear two petitions, one seeking details of the agreement India entered into with France for buying the 36 fighter jets made by Dassault Aviation of France and the other seeking the formation of a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the deal.

The government’s top law officer, attorney general KK Venugopal, argued on Wednesday that the petitions were “politically motivated” and they should be dismissed.

“Petitions have been filed close to election time. Such petitions should not be entertained as they do not involve public interest,” Venugopal said. Elections are due to take place in five states in November and December leading up to the 2019 general election.

The attorney general also argued against the court seeking details of the of the decision-making process and said the “matter pertains to national security and even he would not be supplied with any information pertaining to the deal”.

The petitions have been filed by lawyers Vineet Dhanda and ML Sharma. Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh has also moved the top court against the Rafale deal; Sanjay Singh has sought a court order for the formation of a special team to probe the matter under the Supreme Court’s oversight.

The AAP leader said SIT should probe “as to how the figure of 36 fighter jets was arrived at without the formalities associated/ with such a highly sensitive defence procurement”..

The NDA’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy the 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The deal has become controversial with the opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot. Indeed, the UPA was not able to close the deal till 2014, largely over discussions related to pricing of items not included in the initial bid.

The NDA has said that the current deal also includes customized weaponry.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Former French President Francois Hollande has said that Reliance was made Dassault’s offset partner at India’s insistence. The French and the Indian governments, and Dassault and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.

Sniffing an electoral opportunity in the Rafale deal, the Congress has been relentlessly keeping up the heat. Gandhi has claimed that it is “the corruption of the century”. The opposition party also said that it would make Rafale one of the main issues in its election campaign and claims that it resonates strongly with the electorate. The NDA government has said that it cannot disclose the details of the price on two counts: a confidentiality agreement with France, and the strategic reason of not showing its hand to India’s enemies.

First Published: Oct 10, 2018 11:25 IST