Supreme Court to hear review pleas on Rafale in open court
The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear in open court petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict that dismissed public interest petitions questioning the 2016 deal India signed with France to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets and seeking a court-monitored investigation of the purchase.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and comprising justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph took the decision in a chamber hearing. They allowed the prayer of former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Aam Aadmi Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh for an open court hearing of their review petitions.
“The prayer for open court hearing is allowed,” said the court, which after the hearing will decide whether its December verdict needs to be reviewed or not. The court said the petitions would be taken up along with the Centre’s application for a modification of the judgement.
The Centre wants the court to correct a paragraph wherein a reference was made about the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) having audited the Rafale deal when the CAG hadn’t yet done so. This was made on the basis of a note submitted by the Centre to the court. In the application, the government said its note had been misinterpreted. The top court will also take up a fresh application by Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan seeking perjury proceedings against government officers for allegedly misleading the court.
SC had on December 14 dismissed the petitions asking for a court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal, saying there was no occasion to “really doubt the decision making process” that went into the purchase of Rafale fighter jets .
The petitioners have claimed that the top court had relied upon “patently incorrect” claims made by the government in an unsigned note given in a sealed cover in the court.
They claimed that the agreement for 36 Rafale jets was reached in 2015 without any such requirement having been submitted by the Air Force headquarters and without the approval of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which are the mandated first steps for any defence procurement.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to enter the $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
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 ~1,670 crore for each, three times the ~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.
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 the opportunity for an offset deal. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.
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