In a major boost to the government, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed all petitions that sought a court-monitored probe in the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said there won’t be any probe into the pricing or the decision-making process..
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, pronouncing the verdict said “ “Our country can’t afford to be unprepared in matters of fighter aircrafts.. We can’t go into the into wisdom of purchasing 36 aircrafts in place of over 100 aircrafts under the last deal.. we don’t even need to go into pricing”. Reading out the judgement, the CJI said that the decision making process cannot be reviewed judicially. It also ruled that it did not see any commercial favouritism in choosing partner.
“We find no reason top intervene in the defence Deal”, the CJI said while dismissing the petitions. The CJI-led bench said it also didn’t find any material to show that there was commercial favouritism in the deal as there were allegations that the Narendra Modi had changed the terms of the UPA-era deal and taken the offset contract from state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and handed it to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, which had no experience in the defence sector. “there is no reason for interference in the choice of offset partner and perception of individuals can’t be the basis for roving inquiry in sensitive issue of defence procurement”. the court said.
At the last hearing, the SC had even summoned senior Indian Air Force officials for the hearing that went on for nearly six hours. The government had submitted details of how it decided to buy 36 fighter jets from French defence manufacturer Dassault at Rs. 59,000 crore, to the top court and petitioners who have asked for an investigation into the deal.The pricing details, which the centre said were classified, were also submitted in a sealed cover to the court.
During the hearing, the government through its top law officer Attorney General KK Venugopal even questioned the court’s competence to judicially review the aircraft deal and said it was for experts to deal with it. masked the centre’s top law officer while the Supreme Court heard a bunch of petitions demanding a probe into the fighter jet deal with France, and added that the “matter is for experts to decide on, not the court”. After the bench asked for assistance, senior IAF officials were brought in to answer questions. They told the court that Sukhoi 30s were the latest to be inducted which is a third generation aircraft and added that they do not have fourth or fifth generation aircraft in its fleet. The top court asked if there has been no induction of aircraft since 1985, the officers said “no” At that point, the AG told the court that if “rafale had been during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as the fighter jet is capable of hitting targets from 60 km.
The opposition Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government.
The main contention of the petitioners was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the deal in April 2015, without following the Defence Procurement Procedure. It was argued that the negotiations for the deal started after the PM announced the deal and approval of the Cabinet Committee was obtained almost a year after the announcement. The prices of aircraft were highly inflated in the new deal, and offset guidelines were manipulated to accommodate Anil Ambani firm Reliance Defence, which had no experience in the sector.
Read the Judgment here
—India Legal Bureau