The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to provide in a sealed cover the “details of the steps” taken in the decision making process, sans pricing and technical information, which led to the Rafale deal with France.
The government has sought dismissal of PILs on the issue, terming them “political petitions.”
Terming the averments made in the pleas as “grossly inadequate,” a bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi made it clear that the court was not issuing notice on the two PILs, but wanted to satisfy itself about the legitimacy of the decision making process.
“However, we would like to be apprised by the Government of India of the details of the steps in the decision making process leading to the award of the order for the defence equipment in question i.e. Rafale Jet-Fighters (36 in number),” said the bench, also comprising justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph.
“We also make it clear that while requiring the Government of India to act in the above terms we have not taken into account any of the averments made in the writ petitions which appear to be inadequate and deficient. Our above order is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves in the matter,” it said. The court asked the government to provide the information by October 29 in three separate sealed covers with the secretary general of the Supreme Court instead of the registry and fixed the hearing on the PILs, filed by lawyers Vineet Dhanda and M L Sharma, for October 31.
At the outset, the bench asked attorney general KK Venugopal, “Suppose we ask you (the Centre) to give the details of the decision making process only to the judges, how will you react.” It cannot be shown to anyone in the interest of national security and other issues involved in the defence procurement process, Venugopal responded. The bench then posed another query, “What if we ask you to give details without technical details of aircraft?”
In a 15-minute-long hearing, the bench heard submissions from Sharma, Dhanda and Venugopal.
The SC intervention in the sensitive Rafale deal came despite the Centre’s opposition to the PILs, which it claimed were aim-ed at scoring political points. Attorney general Venugopal drew the attention of the court to the fact that there was lot of selective quotings from the questions responded by the government in Parliament.
He termed the Rafale PILs as political interest petitions locke-d on the eve of elections. The bench also clarified that it was not going into the allegations but was merely interested in knowing the procedure that was followed to sign the deal. One of the contentious points about the Rafale contract is that the fighter jets would cost more under the agreement signed by the Modi government than what was being negotiated by the previous UPA government.
The attorney general also cited national security concerns preventing the government to share the pricing issues.
Several PILs have been moved on the Rafale deal, including the one by lawyer Vineet Dhanda seeking intervention of the SC. A petition has been filed by an AAP leader demanding the setting up of an SIT and another by lawyer ML Sharma who sought a stay on the agreement.
The Rafale deal has already become an issue ahead of the upcoming elections in five states as the Congress has hit the streets levelling allegations against prime minister Narendra Modi of wrongdoings. Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his public meetings has been talking about Modi favouring Anil Ambani group at the cost of state-run aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL). He has also raised the issue of high cost of the aircraft being paid by the Modi government.
The government, on the other hand, has denied all the allegations and claims the deal is cheaper than what was being negotiated by the Congress. The Indian Air Force has also backed the agreement saying it is the best the government could get and induction of Rafale jets in the fleet will be a “game changer” in the region.
As part of his campaign, Rahul Gandhi is likely to meet HAL’s employees association on the issue. The Congress claims that HAL was denied the contract which was given to Anil Ambani’s company, jeopardising the state-run company’s order book.