New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved judgment on pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. After hearing the arguments of the petitioners and AG KK Venugopal, CJI Ranjan Gogoi-headed bench said that it will deliver the verdict later.
The Centre had on Monday given procedural details in pursuance of the apex court’s 31 October order. The details were also shared with the petitioner ML Sharma and NGO Common Cause of Prashant Bhushan. The government had also submitted the pricing details of the deal to the court in a sealed cover.
The Centre has defended the secrecy clause related to the pricing of the 36 Rafale fighter jets in the Supreme Court on Wednesday and said it cannot divulge details of the deal. These matters are for the experts to deal with and “we have been saying that even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets”, Attorney General KK Venugopal told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The top law officer said the Centre has given in a sealed cover the complete details of the Rafale jets, the weapons to be fitted on the aircraft and other requirements.
Attorney General KK Venugopal concluded his argument saying that Rafale aircraft are potent and “had we possessed Rafale during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as Rafale is capable of hitting targets from a distance of 60 km”.
During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of himself, and former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie submitted that the NDA government “short-circuited” the acquisition process by taking the Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) route to avoid giving tender.
He said there was no sovereign guarantee from the French government in the deal.
Bhushan argued that initially the Union Law Ministry had flagged the issue, but later gave in to the proposal of entering into the IGA.
The Air Force needed 126 fighter jets and had intimated the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) about it, he said referring to the process of defence acquisition.
Initially, six foreign companies had applied and two firms were shortlisted during the earlier process.
Later the deal went to French firm Dassault and state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was part of it. But, suddenly a statement was issued and it said there will be no technology transfer, and only 36 jets would be procured, the lawyer told the court.
Advocates M L Sharma, Vineet Dhanda and AAP MP Sanjay Singh, also advanced their arguments before Bhushan.
Sharma, who opened the argument, told the court that the IGA was “illegal” and sought an investigation into the matter.
Dhanda sought a proper reply from the Centre on his plea questioning the Rafale deal.
AAP leader’s counsel Dheeraj Singh questioned as to why the government reduced the deal of 126 jets to 36.
He said the government should have increased the number of jets when there was a concern that adversaries were inducting more fighter jets.