The Narendra Modi government, which has so far focused on rhetoric rather than answer questions being raised about the controversial Indo-France Rafale deal, was told by the Supreme Court today (Wednesday, October 31) to submit within 10 days the details of pricing and the selection of Anil Ambani’s defence firm as Indian offset partner in a sealed cover.
It said these details should also be provided to the petitioners in the case. Otherwise, the Centre should file an affidavit – within these 10 days – to say that the pricing in the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France is exclusive and cannot be shared with the court.
“Court would also like to be appraised about the pricing” of the aircraft, “particularly the advantages thereof”, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph ordered.
“We would like the details of pricing and cost to be submitted to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover. This may be submitted in the next 10 days,” said the court.
The government argued that pricing was not revealed in Parliament and the earlier government had also not disclosed such details. Chief Justice Gogoi said the government could file an affidavit or legal document in court.
“If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so,” the bench told Attorney General KK Venugopal in its oral observations.
“Such details that may be considered strategic may not be furnished to the petitioners,” said the court.
Beginning the hearing, the judges made the observation that the suitability of the jet and its utility has not been questioned. “What had been questioned is the bonafide of the decision-making and price,” they said.
In the last hearing earlier this month, the court had asked the government to furnish details of the decision-making process that led to the deal which has Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as its offset partner, but had emphasized that it would not get into “pricing or suitability” of the jets. The bench had made clear that its direction to the Centre was issued to satisfy itself about the legitimacy of the decision-making process for procuring 36 Rafale fighter jets.
The directions were passed on October 10 on the two PILs filed by lawyers ML Sharma and Vineet Dhanda. The top court, however, had observed that the averments made in the two PILs were “grossly inadequate” and had said that it was not issuing the notice on them.
The Centre had, last week, filed the papers concerning the decision-making process with the Supreme Court’s registry in a sealed cover.
On Wednesday, as the SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and also comprising Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph, began its proceedings in the two PILs filed over the Rafale Deal controversy – by petitioners ML Sharma, who has named Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the respondent in the case, and Vineet Dhanda – it noted that since the last date of hearing in the matter, two more litigations on the subject had been received by the court – one by former BJP leaders Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and advocate Prashant Bhushan and the other by Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh.
Sinha and Shourie – both former Union ministers – and Bhushan have sought registration of an FIR into the fighter jet deal between India and France alleging “criminal misconduct” by high public functionaries. The trio has also sought a direction to CBI to investigate the offences mentioned in their complaint in a “time-bound” manner and submit periodic status reports to the apex court.
AAP MP Sanjay Singh, in his separate plea filed through lawyer Dheeraj Kumar Singh, has sought setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the Rafale deal.
He has sought that the SIT should probe the reasons for cancellation of earlier deal entered into by the UPA government for the purchase of 126 fighter jets.
On October 10, the bench had sought from the Attorney General the details of the steps involved in the decision leading to the new deal. The CJI led bench had then clarified that the details so sought would not cover the pricing or the suitability of the equipment for the Indian Air Force, bearing in mind the sensitive nature of the matter.
The Court also directed the government to hand over the details of the decision-making process of the deal to the petitioners.
The Attorney General objected to sharing of details of the deal including its pricing, by stating that it would be covered under the Official Secrets Act. Considering the objection, the Court said that whatever documents that could be legitimately produced in public domain should be given to the petitioners and all other documents covered under the Official Secrets Act should be given to the Court in a sealed cover.
So far, the court had not sought this detail from the Centre.
When Bhushan pressed for CBI probe, the CJI replied: “For CBI probe, you have to wait.”
The top court, which has now fixed the matter for hearing on November 14, said documents considered strategic and confidential may not be shared.
The PIL alleges that in the Rafale deal there is prima facie evidence of the commission of cognizable offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act by public servants occupying the highest of public offices in the country. Though the petitioners had filed a complaint on October 4 before the CBI alleging foul play in Rafale deal, no action has been taken.