New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday reserved its order on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe in the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France after nearly four-hour long hearing.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph concluded the arguments advanced by various parties which have also sought registration of FIR in connection with the alleged irregularities in the deal.
During the fiery hearing, the court asked if the deal was protected by a sovereign guarantee from France, to which the government said Paris had provided a "comfort letter".
Reports suggest the deal had been stalled over Paris' refusal to be a sovereign guarantor. In case of government-to-government deals with the US, Washington stands guarantee to ensure the contract is executed without any problem.
Justice K M Joseph asked the Attorney General as to how the Prime Minister could announce the new deal in April 2015, when the Request For Proposal(RFP) of the earlier deal was still in force. While the AG was attempting to answer the query, CJI Gogoi interjected and invited the attention of the AG to the submissions in the written note handed over by government. “Your own note says that the withdrawal process had begun in March 2015 and ended in June 2015”, the CJI said.
The apex court, which began its hearing on pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, also said it was dealing with the requirements of the Air Force and would like to hear from an Air Force officer and "not the official of the Defence Ministry".
"The decision we need to take is whether to bring the fact on pricing in public domain or not," a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.
During the hearing, Prashant Bhushan questioned Reliance as the choice of offset partner, a company with no experience in manufacturing defence aircraft. Bhushan said it was contrary to the procedure laid down as the choice was not disclosed to the Cabinet, Defence Acquisition Council nor the Defence Minister. He added that the government “short-circuited” the acquisition process, as it took the Inter-Government Agreement route to avoid giving tender.
With reference to the stand of the government that it had no role to play in the selection of offset partner by Dassault, Justice Joseph asked as to how the nation’s interests will be protected if the offset manufacturer fails to carry out production in terms of the agreement.This was with reference to the stand taken by the Government that Dassault was yet to submit the details of the offset partner to the government.
On the price of the Rafale aircraft, Bhushan, who appeared on behalf of himself and Sinha and Shourie, said the government was hiding behind the secrecy clause of the agreement.
In response to Bhushan, Attorney General K K Venugopal said “secrecy agreement has to be secret”. He added that if the price is made public, adversaries would be able to relate it to the equipment.
When asked whether the base aircraft under the new deal was same as the one that was there under the agreement signed with HAL under the UPA government, the Attorney General confirmed it was the same.
The court had set November 14 as the next date of hearing.
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