As the Supreme Court Wednesday commenced its crucial hearing on pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, the Government objected to the court reviewing the deal saying, “it is for experts to review the deal, not the court”.
Taking a strong stand in the apex court, Attorney General KK Venugopal appearing for the Centre said the Rafale deal pricing details are a matter of “national security” and cannot come under judicial review.
Venugopal told the court that secrecy was not on the price of the aircraft but on weaponry and avionics.
“The price of Rafale with the break-up of weapons and avionics has been shared with the court, but the court cannot sit in judicial review on it,” he asserted.
The AG said the pricing details have been submitted in a sealed cover but there are factors like inter-governmental agreement which barred its disclosure.
The court has meanwhile, insisted on questioning a few officers of the Indian Air Force on the matter.
“Is any officer from Indian Air Force present in court to answer the queries on the issue? After all, we are dealing with the Air Force, we would have liked to ask from the officer of Air Force on the issue,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked AG KK Venugopal.
Meanwhile, in a setback to the petitioners, the Supreme Court said there was no need to disclose pricing details to the petitioners.
“Any debate on the pricing of the Rafale deal comes only if this court decides those aspects need to come in the public domain,” the CJI stated.
Petitioners had earlier on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the government had “committed serious fraud” in the purchase of 36 fighter jets from France.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph is examining the pricing details of the Rafale jets submitted by the government in a sealed cover.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for former Union minister Arun Shourie, submitted that there cannot be any secrecy in the pricing issue when the government itself had disclosed the price in the Parliament.
He further submitted that the NDA government “short-circuited” the acquisition process by taking the Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) route to avoid giving tender.
Bhushan, also told the apex court that there was no sovereign guarantee from the French government in the deal.
Bhushan submitted that nobody knows about the alleged change in the deal done by the prime minister and even the defence minister was not aware of the change.
Advocate ML Sharma told the court that the IGA was “illegal” and sought an investigation into the matter.
The Centre on Monday complied with a Supreme Court order and handed over to petitioners, who sought a court-monitored CBI probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, the document detailing the decisions taken to procure the aircraft.
The centre also submitted the pricing details of the Rafale fighter jet deal in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had on October 31 asked the Central government to place before it in a sealed cover within 10 days the pricing details and the deemed advantage in the Rafale deal.