In a big relief to the Central government, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed all the petitions seeking a court-monitored investigation into the Rafale deal. The verdict was delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph. The Chief Justice of India said that there is no doubt in the process of acquisition of the fighter jets and saw no reason to intervene. It also said that it is not for the Supreme Court to compare the price.
"We are satisfied that there is no reason to doubt the process is followed and the need of aircraft is not in doubt,” the top court ruled. “We can’t sit in judgment over the purchase of 36 aircraft against 126 fighter jets,” the court said. The court had reserved its verdict after a hearing on November 14, indicating it would not go into the contentious issue of pricing in the deal.
Read More | Why Rafale deal can’t become a scam
Giving a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court bench said that nobody questioned the procurement of the Rafale jets when the deal was finalised in September 2016, adding that questions were raised only after former French president Francois Hollande came out with a statement. The top court said that it can't be the basis of a judicial review in the deal.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the matter was crystal clear from the beginning and that they have been saying that the allegations leveled by the Congress were baseless and was only to gain political mileage.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh on SC dismisses petition seeking Court probe in #Rafale deal: The matter was crystal clear from the beginning and we have been saying that the allegations leveled by Congress were baseless and to gain political mileage. pic.twitter.com/G1Nfsv64j6— ANI (@ANI) December 14, 2018
CJI Ranjan Gogoi says 'we can't compel government to purchase 126 aircrafts and its not proper for the court to examine each aspect of this case. It isn't a job of court to compare pricing details.' #RafaleDeal https://t.co/DWHMCpqIRa— ANI (@ANI) December 14, 2018
The Supreme Court has clearly stated that it is outside their jurisdiction to probe into the #RafaleDeal. We continue our demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the #RafaleScam. Sign this petition to demand transparency: https://t.co/NnqEJCCgOX— Congress (@INCIndia) December 14, 2018
"In our opinion the Supreme Court judgement is totally wrong, the campaign will certainly not drop and we will decide if we will file a review petition," Prashant Bhushan said.
Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the judgment on the Rafale deal is not a setback for the party.
Advocate ML Sharma was the first petitioner in the case. Later, another lawyer Vineet Dhanda had moved the top court with the plea for a court-monitored probe into the deal. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sanjay Singh had also filed a petition against the fighter jet deal. After the three petitions were filed, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist advocate Prashant Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court with a plea for a direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to register an FIR for alleged irregularities in the deal.
The Centre had defended the deal for the 36 Rafale fighter jets and opposed public disclosure of the pricing details. India signed an agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment. The deal is estimated to be about Rs 58,000 crore (about $8 billion).
Supreme Court said what it thinks was right but the political parties demand a JPC probe into #RafaleDeal: ANI quoting TMC MP Saugata Roy— News Nation (@NewsNationTV) December 14, 2018
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The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
The BJP said that Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and the party should apologise to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Supreme Court has given a clean chit on the deal.
While reserving the verdict on November 14, the top court had said that the pricing details of the Rafale jets could only be discussed after it decides on whether to make it public. The observation by a Supreme Court bench had come after the government refused to publicly divulge pricing details of the deal, saying it would give an advantage to India’s enemies.
While hearing a bunch of pleas alleging criminality in Rafale deal and seeking court-monitored probe into it, the top court had asked wide-ranging questions from the government on issues including lack of sovereign guarantee from the French government, selection of Indian offset partner by the Dassault Aviation and need of entering into Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with France.
The court had taken note of submissions and counter-arguments on the pricing of the fighter jets with the petitioners alleging that the government has been giving “bogus arguments” and “hiding behind the secrecy clause”.
Vehemently defending non-disclosure of price publicly, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre had said that the cost of a bare Rafale jet as per 2016 exchange rate was Rs 670 crore and the disclosure of price of a “fully loaded” aircraft would give an “advantage to the adversaries”.
Bhushan had claimed that the Union Law Ministry had red-flagged two issues — the absence of sovereign guarantee by France and the international arbitration clause in IGA as per which the arbitration seat would be at Geneva -- but the government went ahead with the deal.
Venugopal had admitted that there was no sovereign guarantee but said that France has given a ‘letter of comfort’ which would be good enough as a governmental guarantee.
The court during the hearing on the bunch of pleas had also interacted senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officers and enquired about the requirements of the force.
The IAF officers had emphasised in the apex court the need for induction of ‘four plus or fifth’ generation fighter aircraft like Rafale, which have niche stealth technology and enhanced electronic warfare capabilities.