India Supreme Court seeks details of fighter jet deal

Court orders information from the Centre on the decision-making process in the transaction in a sealed cover by October 29

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to provide details of the decision making process in the Rafale deal with France in a sealed cover by October 29 but clarified that it does not want information on pricing and technical particulars.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it was not issuing a formal notice to the Centre as it has not considered the averments with regard to the allegations of corruption made in two PILs filed by two separate lawyers.

At the outset, the bench, also comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph, asked the Centre what if it sought details of the decision making process without the technical details and the prices of the Rafale fighter jets.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said details on the deal cannot be shown to anybody in the interest of national security and other issues involved in the defence procurement process.

The court sought information from the Centre on the decision making process in the deal in a sealed cover by October 29 and fixed the next hearing on the PILs to October 31.

“We are not on the issue of pricing and suitability of the Rafale jets but only on the decision making process,” it said.

It added that the court was seeking the information only to satisfy itself, without considering the averments made in the petitions.

The Centre sought dismissal of the PILs on various grounds. It said they were not public interest litigation petitions and were filed to gain political mileage. Moreover, it added, such issues cannot be reviewed judicially.

The apex court was hearing various petitions seeking directions, including asking the Centre to reveal details of the deal and the comparative prices during the UPA and NDA rule in a sealed cover to the apex court.

Congress leader and RTI activist Tehseen Poonawala, who had sought a direction against the Centre on why the Union Cabinet’s approval was not sought as part of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) before signing the procurement deal with France on September 23, 2016, withdrew his PIL against the fighter jet deal.

In his plea, lawyer Vineet Dhanda referred to the recent “controversy” over the Rs 58,000 crore deal between India and Dassault Aviation, a French company, for purchasing 36 combat jets and sought judicial intervention to put an end to the raging debate.

Lawyer M.L. Sharma, who has sought a stay on the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France, claimed in his plea that the inter-government agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed.

It was an “outcome of corruption” and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 (Parliament has power to make any law for implementing any inter-government agreement) of the Constitution, he said.

AAP Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sanjay Singh had also moved the apex court through his lawyer, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, by filing a separate petition and sought the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the Rafale deal.

Singh said the SIT should probe the reasons for cancelling the earlier deal entered into by the UPA government for the purchase of 126 fighter jets.

Rafale deal is a defence agreement signed between the governments of India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircrafts in a fly-away condition as a part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment.

The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.

Indian Air Force had advanced a proposal to buy 126 fighter aircraft in August 2007 and floated a tender. Following this, an invitation was sent to various aviation companies to participate in the bidding process.


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