The Supreme Court on Wednesday 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.
On 10 October, the court had directed the Centre to provide in sealed covers only the “details of the steps in the decision-making process” leading to the deal in which India is buying 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France.
The top court had then stated that the information it sought from the 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”.
The court today, however, also said that various details ~ including the steps in the decision-making process for the procurement of Rafale jets and the induction of the Indian offset partner ~ which could “legitimately” be brought into public domain, should be made available to the parties who have filed public interest litigations (PILs) before it in the matter.
After the court dictated the order, Attorney General (AG) K K Venugopal told the Bench that pricing details of these jets were not even shared with Parliament. The Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi told the AG that if the pricing was “exclusive” and could not be shared with the court, then the Centre should state this in an affidavit.
The Bench, also comprising Justice U U Lalit and Justice K M Joseph, made it clear that at this stage, such details of the Rafale deal which might be considered to be “strategic and confidential” by the government may be placed before the court and need not be given to the petitioners.
The court noted that pursuant to its10 October order the Centre placed before it in a sealed cover a note giving the “details of the steps in the decision-making process” leading to the award of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
“At this stage, we would not like to record any finding or views with regard to the contents of the said report. Rather, we are of the opinion that such of the core information conveyed to the court in the aforesaid confidential report which can legitimately be brought into the public domain be made available to the counsels for the petitioners,” the Bench said.
“Along with the said facts, further details that could legitimately come in the public domain with regard to the induction of the Indian offset partner (if any) be also furnished to the learned counsels for the parties.”
When the AG told the Bench that the report which the Centre has already placed before the court was covered under the Official Secrets Act and could not be shared, the Bench said that confidential and strategic information need not be shared. The Bench also noted that in none of the PILs filed before it in the matter, the “suitability” of Rafale fighter jets and its “utility” to the Indian Air Force have been questioned.
“What has been questioned is the bona fides of the decision-making process and the price/cost of the equipment (jets) at which the same is to be procured,” the court said.
During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, who along with ex-Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie has filed a petition in the matter, said they were seeking a court-monitored CBI probe into the Rafale deal.
“That you will have to wait,” the Chief Justice said, adding “Let CBI put its house in order first”. The other PILs in the case have been filed by lawyers M L Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, and AAP MP Sanjay Singh.
The Bench asked the Centre to give necessary information to the court and the counsels for petitioners in the next 10 days. It said the parties may then file their response, fixing 14 November as the next date of hearing.