The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the petition 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). “We are satisfied that there is no reason to doubt the process is followed and the need of aircraft is not in doubt,” the top court ruled.
“We can’t sit in judgment over the purchase of 36 aircraft against 126 fighter jets,” the court said.
“It is not correct for the court to sit as appellate authority in the aircraft purchase,” a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising justice SK Kaul and KM Joseph, said.
The court had reserved its verdict after a hearing on November 14, indicating it would not go into the contentious issue of pricing in the deal.
The petitions challenging the deal were filed by activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh and advocates ML Sharma and Vineet Dhanda earlier this year.
They had questioned the deal over the lack of transparency over the pricing of the jets; an offsets deal that seemed to favour a private firm; flouting of due process in closing the deal; and that the deal isn’t a government-to-government deal at all as it has been pitched because France refused to offer India a sovereign guarantee and instead gave it a letter of comfort. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has denied most of these charges.
The government said it cannot disclose pricing details publicly on account of a secrecy clause in its agreement with France and to ensure India’s enemies do not get to know details of the India-specific enhancements and weaponry of the Rafale. It had submitted details of the price in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court, though, and the court said it would not get into the pricing issue.
The government has also explained the process followed in an affidavit filed to the court, which has also been shared with the petitioners.
The 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 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
It 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.
The opposition has also questioned the deal over the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with a joint venture it has with Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani with this opportunity for an offset deal.
Both the government and Reliance Group have repeatedly denied this.
First Published: Dec 14, 2018 10:42 IST
Credit: Source link