NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to disclose details of the decision making process for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets in a fly-away condition from France’s Dassault Aviation.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph clarified that the information sought was not related to pricing or suitability of the jets.
The information should be furnished in a sealed cover and reach the court by October 29 — the next date of hearing, the bench said.
The court also made it clear that it was not issuing notice to the respondents.
The court sought information from the government as Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the purchase of the French fighter aircraft concerned the national security and described the petition as a “political interest litigation” which had been filed when the government and opposition were locked in severe political fight.
Urging the court not to entertain the plea as the purchase of Rafale aircraft was not judicially reviewable, Attorney General said: “It is not a PIL but a ‘political Interest Litigation’ coming on the eve of elections to state assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram.”
The AG told the court that answers to the questions in Parliament were being selectively quoted to file the PIL which were politically coloured.
In response to a query from Chief Justice Gogoi, “if we ask you to give details minus technical details”, the AG said that this could not be shown to anyone given the national security and other issues of defence involved in it.
Addressing the court, PIL petitioner advocate M.L. Sharma referred to the pricing of the aircraft that had been quoted at different points of time before different forums to drive the point that price being paid by India was high.
He also took the court through the history of deal initially starting in 2008, involvement of a corporate house before finally the deal for purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft in a fit-to-fly condition was signed.
However, the court asked another petitioner to limit his submission to the issues raised in his petition and not to “digress” from it.
“Don’t digress from the issue, we will not hear you”, CJI Gogoi told the lawyer appearing for the other petitioner.
On this issue, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan and two former union ministers and disgruntled BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie have held several press conferences alleging that the set process for such a big deal was overlooked by PM Modi. They went ahead to allege that French firm Dassault’s earlier Indian partner HAL, a state-owned defence firm, was dumped at the last minute of the final deal to accommodate newly-born Reliance Defence of industrialist Anil Ambani.
Petitioner Advocate M L Sharma also alleged in the petition that the deal is illegal as it was not ratified by Parliament under Article 253.
— With Inputs From IANS