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‘Serious fraud’ in Rafale deal, Govt ‘short-circuited’ buying process: Petitioners in SC

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.

SNS | New Delhi |

Petitioners in the Rafale deal case 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, who is also one of the petitioners in the Rafale deal case, submitted that there cannot be any secrecy in the pricing issue when the government itself had disclosed the price in the Parliament.

“It’s a bogus argument for govt to say they can’t disclose pricing,” he said.

He further added that under the new deal, the Rafale jets cost 40 per cent more than the earlier deal signed by the UPA government.

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.

The UPA government had gone for an open tender but the present government opted for an inter-governmental tender.

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.

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 who opened the argument told the court that the IGA was “illegal” and sought an investigation into the matter.

He said the report filed by the government in the court revealed that there has been a serious fraud while making the decision post-May 2015.

“The documents given to me say negotiations started in May 2015 whereas the PM had declared in April that the deal is done,” ML Sharma told the court.

The petitioner also urged the Supreme Court that the matter be heard by a five-judge bench.

Counsel appearing for AAP leader Sanjay Singh also told the court that the pricing of the 36 Rafale aircraft was revealed in the Parliament twice, and hence, the submission of government that the pricing details cannot be made public was unacceptable.

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.

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.

The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating procurement of 126 Rafale jets.

PM Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters after talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.