SC reserves verdict on petitions seeking court-monitored probe in Rafale deal

New Delhi [India], Nov 14 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict after hearing the petitions seeking court-monitored investigation into the Rafale deal.

The three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S. K. Kaul and K. M. Joseph of the apex court heard petitioners and the government lawyers on Wednesday in this case.

One of the petitioners, Advocate M.L. Sharma asserted that reports filed by the government in the court revealed "serious fraud" in the decision making process after May 2015. He also urged that the matter should be heard by a five-judge bench.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is one of the petitioners, argued that there are various anomalies in the deal. Bhushan submitted to the court that the government's argument of Secrecy Clause in the Rafale deal is a "bogus" one.

"There was no sovereign guarantee from the side of the France Government in the deal. On pricing, there can't be any secrecy issue when the government itself disclosed the price in Parliament. It's a bogus argument for government to say they can't disclose pricing. In a new deal, Rafale jets cost 40 per cent more than earlier deal," said Bhushan.

Petitioners Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, and Prashant Bhushan also told the court that the government short-circuited fresh tender process for 36 Rafale jets to procure them through restricted Inter-Government Agreement mechanism. Bhushan argued that the deal was changed because Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to make Anil Ambani's Reliance a partner. He argued that almost four years have passed, but no aircraft has been delivered till now and raised questions as to why the number of aircraft was reduced to 36 from 126.

Defending the government, Attorney General of India, K.K. Venugopal, said: "There is no sovereign guarantee from the French Government on delivery of 36 Rafale jets but there is a Letter of Comfort from the French Prime Minister." Venugopal added that the government had no role in selecting offset partners for Dassault in the Rafale deal and the selection of Reliance as an offset partner was a commercial decision taken by Dassault Aviation.

When the Court asked the Centre about the change in offset guidelines in 2015, Additional Secretary of Defence Ministry explained that as per defence offset guidelines, the offset contract runs concurrently with the main contract. Venugopal also informed the Court that Dassault has not yet submitted details of offset partner to government.

Bhushan countered this by saying that the government being unaware of the offset partner in the deal is contrary to the procedure laid down, as the norm requires the defence minister to approve the partnership.

Former Union Minister Arun Shourie argued in the Supreme Court that the Dassault company with its immense experience could not have chosen Reliance as its partner in the deal that had no experience.

He further questioned why the government is not disclosing pricing details of the deal. "It's public money why the pricing can't be disclosed?"

Referring to an alleged remark of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar who was then Defence Minister, Shourie claimed that the Defence ministry was not kept in the loop.

Making his submissions in the case, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court that secrecy was not on the price of aircraft but on weaponry and avionics. He also informed the court that he also has not seen the sealed cover and may not be able to assist on price.

After hearing the arguments of these four counsels, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked Venugopal whether the earlier price of the Rafale deal was disclosed in the public domain upon to which the Venugopal denied saying it was not disclosed. CJI also asked AG if any officer from the Indian Air Force (IAF) was present in the court to answer the queries on the issue. In response to this Air Vice Marshal T. Chalapathi appeared before the Supreme Court along with other senior officials -- Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Anil Khosla. CJI Gogoi asked them about the recent induction in the country's air defence system and also the latest ones being manufactured in India. During the hearing when the AG Venugopal told the top court that many lives could have been saved had Rafale jets been there during the Kargil war. "We had soldiers dying in Kargil War. If there were Rafale jets then, we could have saved lives. They could have shot over 60 km," Venugopal said.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, told Venugopal that the Kargil war took place in 1999-2000 while Rafale was first manufactured in 2014. At this, Venugopal replied: "I said it hypothetically."

Following the arguments of the Attorney General, CJI Gogoi said that any debate on the pricing of the Rafale deal comes only if this court decides that those aspects need to come in the public domain. (ANI)
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