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Rafale deal: Not even FIR, much less CBI probe, government tells Supreme Court

A Rafale jet performing, during the AERO INDIA 2019 at IAF station Yelahanka, in Bengaluru. File   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

There is no question of an FIR, much less a CBI investigation, into the 36 Rafale aircraft purchase, the government told the Supreme Court on May 25.

There is no need for a probe as the Supreme Court itself, in a December 14, 2018 judgment, found it unnecessary to intervene in the sensitive defence purchase, it said.

“Once the Supreme Court had come to the conclusion that on all the three aspects i.e., the decision-making process, pricing and Indian Offset Partner, there is no reason for intervention on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by the government, there is no question of registration of FIR much less any investigation by the CBI,” the Union of India said in its 39-page written submission filed in the Supreme Court.

The submission is in response to the review and perjury petitions filed by petitioners and former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan alleging the government had concealed crucial facts and misled the apex court into giving a verdict favourable to the Rafale deal.

 

The petitioners had said their detailed complaint with the CBI for a probe was ignored. There had not been an attempt to even register an FIR or enquire into the complaint.

But the government countered there was no element of criminality as the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) had rubbished claims that each jet was priced ₹1,000 crore more than the earlier aborted deal by the UPA government with Dassault for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), the government said.

“In fact, the CAG has held that the 36 Rafale aircraft deal is 2.86% lower than the audit aligned price and in addition, there would be benefits on account of non-firm and fixed price. This itself negates the case of the petitioners of a prima facie criminal offence having been committed due to the payment of higher prices,” the government, represented by Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and R. Balasubramaniam, submitted.

The government said an enquiry need to be launched only if the complaint prima facie disclosed commission of cognizable offence. Even this, according to the government, was “lacking in the present case”.

 

The government denied misleading the court into believing that the CAG report was already submitted in Parliament before the December 14 verdict was rendered. The petitioners had said the court was made to believe this by the government when the reality was there was no such report at that point of time. The report was filed in Parliament only on February 15, 2019.

‘Petitioners’ claim completely false and preposterous’

But the government dismissed the error as “misunderstanding of language” about which the petitioners had created a “big hue and cry”. The Centre said the petitioners’ claim that the government tried to mislead the court was “completely false and preposterous”.

The government claimed it was as transparent as it could be while dealing with a sensitive defence purchase. It said the basic price of the aircraft was informed to Parliament as approximately ₹670 crore at the prevailing exchange rate of November 2016 without associated equipment, weapons, India-specific enhancements, maintenance support and services. The price built up and a comparison with the price of the flyaway aircraft in the MMRCA bid was submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. All pricing details, files, documents and records were made available to the team of the CAG which worked out its own aligned cost.

A review petition should not be a nomenclature for a “fishing and roving enquiry” on the basis of individual perceptions, the Centre said.

The government dismissed contentions by the petitioners about the benchmark price being exorbitantly high as a completely misleading allegation based on incomplete file noting and faulty assertions.

It said the waiver of sovereign/bank guarantee in government to government agreements/contracts was not unusual. “So far as the selection of Indian Offset Partners (IOPs) is concerned, there is no mention of any private Indian Business House(s) in IGA or Offset Contract,” it said.

The deal was based on the final decisions taken by competent authorities, i.e., the Defence Minister, the Defence Acquisition Council and the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The Centre said allegations like “Defence Minister was not consulted, Reliance Group paid €1.48 million to then French President Francois Hollande’s partner’s venture and RAL was not a legitimate offset partner” were based on unsubstantiated media reports.

The agreement for the jets’ procurement was “between the two sovereign nations and the implementation of the project which is on schedule is being closely monitored by both the governments”. Any delay in the implementation would affect the operational preparedness of the Air Force, the government said.


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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 9:17:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rafale-deal-not-even-fir-much-less-cbi-probe-government-tells-supreme-court/article27248559.ece

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