The Supreme Court on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, reserved its judgment on pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph perused the pricing details submitted by the government in a sealed cover.
The initial arguments were commenced by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who told the court that the Inter-Government Agreement was “illegal” and sought an investigation in the matter. Besides Mr. Sharma, another lawyer Vineet Dhanda has also filed a plea in the matter.
Former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed a joint petition. Later, AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh had also filed a petition. Mr. Singh said while as per the March 25, 2015 deal for 126 aircraft with 108 jets were to be produced by HAL, the joint statement by the two sides specified a new deal for 36 Rafale jets with the same equipment as in 2007.
The petitioners wanted the Attorney-General, representing the Centre, to reply why a joint press statement was issued by Prime Minister along with French President Francois Hollande in April 2015, well over a year before the Cabinet Committee on Security finally approved the 36 jets' deal signed in Sep 2016.
IAF officers assist SC
Deputy Chief of Air staff, Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and two other officers from Indian Air Force appeared in the Supreme Court to assist it on the issue of the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
The officers appeared before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had sought their assistance in the case.
“We are dealing with the requirements of the Air Force and would like to ask an Air Force officer on Rafale jets. We want to hear from an Air force officer and not the official of the Defence Ministry on the issue,” the Bench said when the Attorney General began his arguments on behalf of the Centre in the pre-lunch session.
'DPP condictions not complied with'
Petitioners for M/s. Bhushan, Shourie and Sinha alleged that the Centre had short-circuited the fresh tender process for 36 Rafale jets to procure them through restricted Inter Government Agreement (IGA) mechanism. Mr. Bhushan argued that the Rafale deal qualified none of the three conditions laid down by the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).
Alleging gross violation of procedure in decision making process in the deal, Mr. Bhushan asked: “Who took the decision for 36 jets? On what basis did the PM announce the deal for 36 jets? He had no authority. How was the 126 jets reduced to 36 jets?”.
Asserting that not a single aircraft was delivered till now even after three-and-a-half years, Mr. Bhushan told the Supreme Court bench that if the 126 aircraftr deal was still on, “at least 18 jets would have been delivered by April 2019”.
Three and a half years have passed since deal signed on 36 Rafale jets. No aircraft till now. The 1st jet to be delivered in Sep 2019 and delivery to continue till 2022 If the 126 aircraft deal was still on, at least 18 jets would have been delivered by April 2019.
Meanwhile, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal opposed M. Bhushan plea to submit information on secrecy clause of Rafale agreement
The government note in the Supreme Court on the Rafale deal said the prolonged impasse over the 126-aircraft deal had caused an “urgent need” to acquire 36 Rafale jets or two squadrons in a fly-away condition.
( With inputs from PTI )