The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to provide in sealed covers the “details of the steps in the decision-making process” leading to the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France, even as the central government sought the dismissal of PILs on the matter calling them “political petitions”.
The apex court made it clear that that the information it sought from the Union government would “not cover the issue of pricing or the question of technical suitability of the equipment for purposes of the requirement of the Indian Air Force”.
Terming the claims made in the petitions as “grossly inadequate”, a Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asserted that the court was not issuing notice on the two PILs, but wanted to satisfy itself about legitimacy of the decisionmaking process in the Rafale deal. “We would like to be apprised by the Government of India of the details of the steps in the decision making process leading to the award of the order for the defence equipment in question i.e. Rafale Jet-Fighters (36 in number),” the Bench, comprising also Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said.
“We also make it clear that while requiring the Government of India to act in the above terms we have not taken into account any of the averments made in the writ petitions which appear to be inadequate and deficient. Our above order is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves in the matter,” the Bench said.
The top court asked the Centre to provide the information it sought by 29 October in three separate sealed covers with its Secretary General instead of the registry, fixing the hearing on the PILs, filed by lawyers Vineet Dhanda and M L Sharma, for 31 October.
As the hearing started, the Bench asked Attorney General K K Venugopal, “Suppose we ask you to give the details of the decision-making process only to the judges, how will you react.” Venugopal said it cannot be shown to anyone in the interest of national security and other issues involved in the defence procurement process. The Bench also asked, “What if we ask you to give details without technical details of aircraft?”
The AG claimed that the petitions have not raised any public interest and rather they are “political interest petitions” and that the petitioners have selectively quoted the questions answered in Parliament.
“This is a political petition and not a public interest litigation and is part of bitter fight going on between ruling and Opposition party. If notice is issued, it will go to the Prime Minister… Please don’t entertain such petitions,” he pleaded.
The court was hearing three petitions seeking several directions, including for a court-monitored probe into the deal.