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Supreme Court refused to issue notice to the Centre on PILs challenging the Rafale Deal, Attorney General says pleas are politically motivated

In a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, the Supreme Court, on Wednesday (October 10), sought details from the Centre on the decision-making process that finally led to the contract for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets being awarded to France’s Dassault Aviation and its Indian partner, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph has, for now, declined the request from a bunch of petitioners to issue notice to the Centre on the issues raised by them in their respective public interest litigations which seek various details on the controversial Rafale Deal. However, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogi told Attorney General KK Venugopal that the Centre must disclose the details of the decision-making process, in a sealed cover, to “satisfy the conscience” of the top court. The bench also clarified that it was not interested in finding out details related to pricing or suitability of the jets for the Indian Air Force.

During the proceedings, on Wednesday, Attorney General KK Venugopal urged the bench to not entertain the petitions – filed by advocates ML Sharma and Vineet Dhanda – stating that these were “political in nature, filed for political gains in the light of the fight between the opposition and the ruling party”. He said that the deal “is a matter of national security” and that “if notice is issued, it would be to the Prime Minister (advocate Sharma has named Modi as the respondent in his writ petition) and so on”. The Attorney General also argued that the PILs have nothing to do with safeguarding the interests of the weaker sections of the society and were instead, “only meant for political gains”.

To the AG’s arguments, Chief Justice Gogoi replied: “Suppose we ask for the details of the decision-making process in sealed cover, how would you react? It shall only be for perusal by the judges, without touching on the technological parameters or the suitability in terms of the national events?”

The AG, however, responded saying that matters related to the deal were linked to national security and that “I myself will not be given the details”.

Petitioner ML Sharma countered the AG’s submissions saying he has challenged the inter-governmental agreement between India and France on the grounds that the deal should be quashed under Articles 49 (inducing a State to conclude a treaty by fraudulent conduct on behalf of another negotiating State) and 51 (State’s consent to be bound by a treaty procured by coercion of its representative) of the Vienna Convention.

“I have filed a document that discloses the actual value of the jet to be 71 million Euro as per the Parliament of France. As per the annual report submitted by Dassault Rafale (French Armament firm) to the government, which is also available internationally, the supply to India was to be made for over 206 million Euro.… Dassault approached Anil Ambani who approached the Respondent 1 here (Prime Minister Modi), whose name I shall not take. Subsequently, the Request For Proposal (RFP) was withdrawn…  The PM had cited the price for one fighter jet as Rs. 1700 crores, while Kuwait has purchased the same from Dassault for Rs. 700 crores…”

The PIL filed by lawyer Vineet Dhanda has sought a direction to the Centre to reveal details of the deal and the comparative prices during the UPA and NDA rule in a sealed cover to the apex court. The petition also requests for information about the contract given to Reliance by Dassault.

A plea was earlier filed in the apex court in March this year by Congress worker Tehseen Poonawalla, seeking an independent probe into the Rafale deal and disclosure of the cost involved in the deal before Parliament. However, Poonawalla has now sought to withdraw his plea.

                                                                                                                  —India Legal Bureau

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