Supreme Court verdict on petitions for court-monitored CBI probe on Rafale today

The Supreme Court on Friday will deliver its verdict on a bunch of petitions seeking a court-monitored Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the purchase of 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets by the government for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Rafale fighter.(REUTERS File Photo)
Rafale fighter.(REUTERS File Photo)
Updated on Dec 14, 2018 08:00 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

The Supreme Court on Friday will deliver its verdict on a bunch of petitions seeking a court-monitored Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the purchase of 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets by the government for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

According to the list of business for Friday released by the Supreme Court registry, the verdict will be delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph.

Petitions challenging the deal were filed in the top court earlier this year by lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, and advocates ML Sharma and Vineet Dhanda.

They questioned how PM Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande made the agreement public well over a year before the Cabinet Committee on Security finally approved the deal in September 2016.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to enter the $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy the 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 (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned 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 Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (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 had previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot.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 customised weaponry. The agreement 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. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.

Also read | Rafale price out of Supreme Court debate, for now

Petitioners in the Supreme Court say the original deal would have been cheaper. The petitioners also allege that the deal lacks transparency and flouts government policy on defence procurement; they have demanded the registration of a criminal case under the anti-corruption law.

Exactly a month ago on November 14, the three judge-bench reserved its judgment on the petitions after interacting with senior air force officers in the courtroom. The air force officers apprised the court of the IAF’s capabilities and rated the Rafale as an aircraft positioned somewhere between a fourth and fifth generation warplane.

For the first time after the purchase of the aircraft by India, the government disclosed the pricing details of the aircraft to the court in a sealed cover. The government has opposed disclosure of the “sensitive data” on grounds of security. Attorney general KK Venugopal told the Supreme Court bench that it was out of respect for the apex court that the government placed “the entire price of the aircraft, including the weaponry details, before you.” He said the complete cost had not been shared even with Parliament and only the base cost had been revealed. “If the price of the loaded aircraft is disclosed then our adversaries could possibly be able to relate the nature of advanced weaponry we have acquired,” Venugopal submitted, rejecting the contention of the petitioners that there was nothing secretive about pricing. The government claimed to have no say in the selection of the Indian offset partner and that Dassault was yet to submit details of the partners to the government.

Read | ‘Skeletons are tumbling out’: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweets jibe at Centre over Rafale deal

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