Rafale row grows as SC asks for de­ci­sion-mak­ing de­tails

Govt to pro­vide info by Oct 29 in 3 sep­a­rate sealed cov­ers

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THE Supreme Court on Wed­nes­day di­rected the Cen­tre to pro­vide in a sealed cover the “de­tails of the steps” taken in the de­ci­sion mak­ing process, sans pric­ing and tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion, which led to the Rafale deal with France.

The govern­ment has sought dis­missal of PILs on the is­sue, terming them “po­lit­i­cal pe­ti­tions.”

Terming the aver­ments made in the pleas as “grossly in­ad­e­quate,” a bench headed by chief jus­tice Ran­jan Go­goi made it clear that the court was not is­su­ing no­tice on the two PILs, but wanted to sat­isfy it­self about the le­git­i­macy of the de­ci­sion mak­ing process.

“How­ever, we would like to be ap­prised by the Govern­ment of In­dia of the de­tails of the steps in the de­ci­sion mak­ing process lead­ing to the award of the order for the de­fence equip­ment in ques­tion i.e. Rafale JetFighters (36 in num­ber),” said the bench, also com­pris­ing jus­tices SK Kaul and KM Joseph.

“We also make it clear that while re­quir­ing the Govern­ment of In­dia to act in the above terms we have not taken into ac­count any of the aver­ments made in the writ pe­ti­tions which ap­pear to be in­ad­e­quate and de­fi­cient. Our above order is only for the pur­pose of sat­is­fy­ing our­selves in the mat­ter,” it said. The court asked the govern­ment to pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion by Oc­to­ber 29 in three sep­a­rate sealed cov­ers with the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Supreme Court in­stead of the registry and fixed the hear­ing on the PILs, filed by lawyers Vi­neet Dhanda and M L Sharma, for Oc­to­ber 31.

At the out­set, the bench asked at­tor­ney gen­eral KK Venu­gopal, “Sup­pose we ask you (the Cen­tre) to give the de­tails of the de­ci­sion mak­ing process only to the judges, how will you re­act.” It can­not be shown to any­one in the in­ter­est of na­tional se­cu­rity and other is­sues in­volved in the de­fence pro­cure­ment process, Venu­gopal re­sponded. The bench then posed an­other query, “What if we ask you to give de­tails with­out tech­ni­cal de­tails of air­craft?”

IN a 15-minute-long hear­ing, the bench heard sub­mis­sions from Sharma, Dhanda and Venu­gopal.

The SC in­ter­ven­tion in the sen­si­tive Rafale deal came de­spite the Cen­tre’s op­po­si­tion to the PILs, which it claimed were aimed at scor­ing po­lit­i­cal points. At­tor­ney gen­eral Venu­gopal drew the at­ten­tion of the court to the fact that there was lot of se­lec­tive quot­ings from the ques­tions re­sponded by the govern­ment in Par­lia­ment.

He termed the Rafale PILs as po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est pe­ti­tions locke-d on the eve of elec­tions. The bench also clar­i­fied that it was not go­ing into the al­le­ga­tions but was merely in­ter­ested in know­ing the pro­ce­dure that was fol­lowed to sign the deal. One of the con­tentious points about the Rafale con­tract is that the fighter jets would cost more un­der the agree­ment signed by the Modi govern­ment than what was be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by the pre­vi­ous UPA govern­ment.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral also cited na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns pre­vent­ing the govern­ment to share the pric­ing is­sues.

Sev­eral PILs have been moved on the Rafale deal, in­clud­ing the one by lawyer Vi­neet Dhanda seek­ing in­ter­ven­tion of the SC. A pe­ti­tion has been filed by an AAP leader de­mand­ing the set­ting up of an SIT and an­other by lawyer ML Sharma who sought a stay on the agree­ment.

The Rafale deal has al­ready be­come an is­sue ahead of the up­com­ing elec­tions in five states as the Congress has hit the streets lev­el­ling al­le­ga­tions against prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of wrong­do­ings. Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi in his pub­lic meet­ings has been talk­ing about Modi favour­ing Anil Am­bani group at the cost of state-run air­craft maker Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics (HAL). He has also raised the is­sue of high cost of the air­craft be­ing paid by the Modi govern­ment.

The govern­ment, on the other hand, has de­nied all the al­le­ga­tions and claims the deal is cheaper than what was be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by the Congress. The In­dian Air Force has also backed the agree­ment say­ing it is the best the govern­ment could get and in­duc­tion of Rafale jets in the fleet will be a “game changer” in the re­gion.

As part of his cam­paign, Rahul Gandhi is likely to meet HAL’s em­ploy­ees as­so­ci­a­tion on the is­sue. The Congress claims that HAL was de­nied the con­tract which was given to Anil Am­bani’s com­pany, jeop­ar­dis­ing the state-run com­pany’s order book.

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