The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on four petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into 36 Rafale fighter jet deal with French firm Dassault Aviation even as the government admitted that there was no sovereign guarantee by the French government backing the deal.
On pricing, the court asked Attorney General K.K. Venugopal not to respond to the contentions raised by the petitioners until the court decides to look into it.
“The discussion on pricing will come only if we decide… so long that is not there,” the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph told the AG. The AG also opposed the judicial review of the Rafale deal.
He said that if the cost of weaponery and avionics comes in public domain, it will be used by the adverseries to make out the weaponery fitted in Rafale.
A three-hour-long hearing saw Attorney General K.K. Venugopal telling the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph that “though there is no sovereign guarantee from France (government), there is a letter of comfort.”
The hearing saw counsel Prashant Bhushan and former Union Minister Arun Shourie questioning the circumventing of the procedure for aborting the process for procuring 126 aircraft (18 in a flyaway condition and 108 to be be manufactured by HAL) in favour of procuring 36 jets in a ready-to-fly condition and unloading HAL as an offset partner.
The petitions included one by Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, and others by advocate M.L. Sharma, Vineet Dhanda and AAP MP Sanjay Singh. All of them have broadly assailed the pricing and the induction of an offset partner replacing HAL.
Defending the deal on the grounds of “urgent requirement” of national security, the Attorney General justified the scrapping of the earlier deal for 126 aircraft as it was taking a long time in reaching a conclusion.
This was contested by Bhushan who had earlier referred to March 25, 2015 statement of Dassault Chief Eric Trappier saying that the deal with HAL was 95% complete and that they were in final stages of an agreement. Bhushan said the Dassault CEO had said this in the presence of the IAF Chief and HAL Chairman.
At that point of time, Bhushan contended the Indian Air Force Chief, Dassault’s CEO and the HAL chairman were unaware of any new deal.
Bhushan wondered what happened in 15 says that on April 10,2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris the plan to procure 36 ready-to-fly Rafale aircraft.
In the beginning of the hearing, CJI inquired if any IAF officer was present in the court. The court sought their presence after Attonery General said that there was Additional Secretary Apurva Chandra and other officials.