The Supreme Court pronounced its verdict today on the petitions that had sought a court-monitored probe into the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal with France. A three-Judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed all the petitions, and said no Rafale probe was required.
The court said a detailed scrutiny of the deal was not required, and that it was not for the court to examine the pricing issue.
The bench had on November 14 reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking a Rafale probe.
Taking up the petitions on Friday, the CJI said the court studied the materials carefully and interacted with defence officials, and was “satisfied” with the NDA government’s decision making process.
The verdict comes as a major boost for the Narendra Modi government that had been cornered over the Rafale deal ahead of the five-state Assembly elections.
A bunch of petitions had been filed in the Supreme Court over time seeking a court-monitored inquiry into the Rafale deal. While the first petitioner was Advocate M L Sharma, another lawyer Vineet Dhanda and AAP leader Sanjay Singh later moved the court against the fighter jet deal.
Subsequently, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist advocate Prashant Bhushan filed a petition with a plea seeking direction to the CBI to register FIR for alleged irregularities in the deal.
Manufactured by aerospace company Dassault Aviation, the Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft.
India has signed an agreement with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, costing approximately Rs 58,000-crore (about USD 8 billion), in a fly-away condition for Indian Air Force equipment upgrade. The Centre has defended the deal and opposed public disclosure of the pricing details, saying it would give advantage to India’s enemies.
Reserving its verdict exactly a month ago, the Supreme Court had said the pricing details of Rafale jets could only be discussed once it decided on whether to make it public.
The court had asked the government several questions on issues ranging from lack of sovereign guarantee from the French government to selection of Reliance Defence as the Indian offset partner by Dassault Aviation and the need for entering into an Inter-Governmental Agreement with France.
The court had taken note of submissions and counter arguments on pricing of the fighter jets, with the petitioners alleging that the government had been giving “bogus arguments” and “hiding behind the secrecy clause”.
Defending no public disclosure of the pricing details, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had said the cost of a bare Rafale jet as per 2016 exchange rate was Rs 670 crore and the disclosure of price of a “fully loaded” aircraft would give an “advantage to the adversaries”.
Bhushan had claimed that the Union Law Ministry had red-flagged two issues — absence of sovereign guarantee by France and international arbitration clause in IGA as per which the arbitration seat would be at Geneva — but the government went ahead with the deal.
Venugopal had admitted that there was no sovereign guarantee, but said France had given a ‘letter of comfort’ which would be good enough as a governmental guarantee.
(With agency inputs)