The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Narendra Modi government to submit a report with details of the decision-making process to buy 36 Rafale fighters from France by 29th October. The Supreme Court also asked the government to submit the details in a sealed cover.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by the newly inducted Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph, however declined to issue a notice to the government on the Rafale deal and declared that it did not want the “technical details” or get into pricing issues.
The Supreme Court was initially slated to take up a batch of petitions on the Rafale deal on Wednesday; however, it did not take up the pleas and fixed 31st October as the date for taking them up. Responding to the pleas, the Centre argued that the PILs were filed to gain political mileage.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the details of the Rafale deal pertain to national security and couldn’t be “reviewed judicially”.
A fresh PIL was filed on Monday by lawyer Vineet Dhanda, who argued the criticism of the Rafale deal had reached a “proverbial nadir” as opposition parties had adopted a very “ignominious and profligate way even to criticise the prime minister of the country”. Dhanda also pleaded that the details of the Rafale agreement from the government be used only for the Supreme Court’s information and not be made public.
On Monday, another plea on the Rafale deal was filed by AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh to demand a special investigation team, supervised by the Supreme Court. Singh wanted the SIT to probe why earlier negotiations to buy 126 Rafale jets were cancelled and the new deal to buy 36 jets instituted, how the price of each aircraft rose from Rs 526 crore to more than Rs 1,500 crore and how Reliance Defence was drafted into the agreement.
Earlier, another lawyer, M.L. Sharma, had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the Rafale deal, claiming it was an “outcome of corruption”.
A delegation of senior Congress leaders on 21st September had submitted a memorandum and a number of annexures to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) explaining the alleged ‘irregularities’ in the Rafale fighter jet deal and asked the auditor to prepare a report on it, as reported by the Indian Express.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that all evidence and facts relating to the Rafale deal have been submitted to the CAG and they expect the truth to prevail after the report is made public.
“We explained to the CAG how Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was removed from the deal to benefit a private player. We hope the CAG will give its report soon. The CAG has assured us that they are already examining all aspects of the deal. We expect that when the report on the deal comes out in public domain, the real scam will come out and the truth shall prevail,” PTI quoted.
The deal goes back to August 2007, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government issued tenders for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
In January 2012, the Indian Ministry of Defence announced that Dassault Rafale had won the tender for the 126 aircraft. Of these, 18 fully built aircraft were to be purchased while the remaining would be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under a transfer of technology (TOT) contract.
The Modi-led government, however, scaled back previous government’s commitment of buying 126 fighter jets citing the huge cost of the deal. During PM Modi’s official visit to France in April 2015, it was announced that India would acquire 36 fully built Rafale, citing “critical operational necessity”.
In July 2015, then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar informed the Parliament that the previous tender for 126 aircraft had been withdrawn and negotiations for 36 aircraft had commenced.
In January 2016, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to acquire 36 aircraft.
This deal was priced at about 7.8 billion euros, with nearly 15 percent being paid in advance. The deal also outlined that India will get spares and weaponry, such as the Meteor and Scalp missiles, which are considered among the most sophisticated in the world.
In November 2016, the Congress party accused the BJP government of irregularities in the deal, alleging that each aircraft was being procured at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore, against the Rs 526 crore-figure finalised by the UPA government.
Former French President Hollande also added to the allegations in September, saying
“I had no choice in this regard. It was the Indian government that proposed this service group and Dassault who negotiated with Ambani. We had no choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us. This is why, this group did not have to do me any grace whatsoever. I could not even imagine that there was any connection with a film by Juliet Gayet (his partner).”
With inputs from PTI and MoneyControl