Petitions call for a court-monitored investigation into the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal.
In the Rafale jet deal row, the government was today asked by the Supreme Court to submit within 10 days the details of pricing and the selection of Anil Ambani’s defence firm as Indian offset partner in a sealed cover.
In the last hearing earlier this morning, the court had asked the government to furnish details of the decision-making processthat led to the deal but had emphasized that it would not get into “pricing or suitability” of the jets.
“We would like the details of pricing and cost to be submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. This may be submitted in the next 10 days,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The government argued that pricing was not revealed in parliament and the earlier government had also not disclosed such details. Chief Justice Gogoi said the government could file an affidavit or legal document in court.
The court is hearing petitions, including those filed by former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, questioning the jet deal between India and France and the choice of Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence as India partner for Rafale maker Dassault.
“Such details that may be considered strategic may not be furnished to the petitioners,” said the court.
Beginning the hearing, the judges made the observation that the suitability of the jet and its utility has not been questioned. “What had been questioned is the bonafide of the decision-making and price,” they said.
Petitions call for a court-monitored investigation into the Rs 59,000 crore deal for 36 fighters from Dassault, announced in 2016 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talks in Paris with then French president Francois Hollande.
The opposition has accused the government of going for a not-so-favourable contract to benefit Anil Ambani. Both the government and the industrialist have denied the charge.
The government has argued that national security is involved and “the court is being used on the eve of polls to gain politically in the bitter fight between the government and the opposition.”
Political sparring over the Rafale deal escalated sharply after Francois Hollande’s comment in an interview last month that France had no role in the selection of Anil Ambani’s rookie company as India offset partner for Dassault.
The previous Congress-led UPA government had negotiated with Dassault for 126 Rafale jets under which 18 jets were to be supplied in a fly-away condition and 108 were to be manufactured in India along with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). However, the UPA could not seal the deal.
In the deal negotiated by the new government, Anil Ambani’s firm became Dassault’s offset partner with no experience in the field. As part of the offset clause, Dassault has to ensure that business worth at least half the money – Rs 30,000 – is generated in India.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa says can be a “game-changer” and booster for India’s defence.