The Free Press Journal - - NATION -

The gov­ern­ment guard­ing a se­cret can be un­der­stood but how about one known to all and yet ve­he­mently guarded by the gov­ern­ment as a "na­tional se­cret."

Con­tin­u­ing his at­tack on Prime Min­is­ter Modi on the Rafale air­craft deal at ev­ery poll meet­ing, Con­gress Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi on Satur­day took a dig at him, say­ing its price was a "na­tional se­cret" as the gov­ern­ment was not even will­ing to re­veal to the Supreme Court.

In a sar­cas­tic tweet, Rahul said: "The PM knows. Anil Am­bani knows. Hol­lande and Macron know. Ev­ery jour­nal­ist now knows. De­fence Min­istry babus know. All of Das­sault knows. All Das­sault's com­peti­tors know. But the price of the Rafale is a na­tional se­cret that can­not be re­vealed even to the Supreme Court."

His at­tack comes in the wake of a re­port in a fi­nan­cial daily that the price per Rafale air­craft that the gov­ern­ment agreed in 2016 with French com­pany Das­sault Avi­a­tion for 36 fight­ers is 40 per cent higher than what Das­sault had of­fered in 2012, in a global ten­der for 126 medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA).

Quot­ing two se­nior de­fence min­istry sources, who were di­rectly in­volved in con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Das­sault from 2012 on­wards, the daily said Das­sault's win­ning bid amounted to euro 19.5 bil­lion for 126 Rafale fight­ers. This amounted to euro 155 mil­lion per air­craft, while 36 Rafale air­craft were con­tracted at euro 7.85 bil­lion which is equiv­a­lent to euro 217 mil­lion per air­craft – 40 per cent higher than the ear­lier con­tract.

The Supreme Court had last week on Oc­to­ber 31 sought more in­for­ma­tion from the gov­ern­ment on the Rafale jet deal, in­clud­ing de­tails of its pric­ing and its deemed ad­van­tages.

On At­tor­ney Gen­eral K.K. Venu­gopal bluntly telling the court that its price can­not be dis­closed claim­ing it was not dis­closed to even Par­lia­ment, Chief Jus­tice of In­dia (CJI) Ran­jan Go­goi shot back to say on af­fi­davit the "dif­fi­culty" in shar­ing the in­for­ma­tion on pric­ing.

Since the PILs on the is­sue have not yet been ad­mit­ted, the Court clar­i­fied that de­tails which the gov­ern­ment may, at this stage, con­sider to be "strate­gic and con­fi­den­tial" be sub­mit­ted to the court in a sealed cover with­out shar­ing it with the coun­sel for the pe­ti­tion­ers.

For­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter Yash­want Sinha, for­mer Min­is­ter and rebel BJP leader Arun Shourie and se­nior lawyer Prashant Bhushan had on Oc­to­ber 4 sought the reg­is­tra­tion of an FIR and a probe into the Rafale deal.

The PILs are to come up be­fore the Apex Court next week on Wed­nes­day be­fore a Bench that is dif­fer­ent from one that heard them in the last hear­ing on Oc­to­ber 31. They will be heard by the Bench headed by the CJI with Jus­tices K M Joseph and San­jay Kis­han Kaul as the two other judges. In the last hear­ing, it were Jus­tice U U Lalit in­stead of Jus­tice Kaul.

In the last hear­ing, the Court had also asked the gov­ern­ment to share the doc­u­ments it had sub­mit­ted with the lawyers of the pe­ti­tion­ers within 10 days. On the At­tor­ney Gen­eral in­vok­ing the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act (OSA) cov­er­ing some of the doc­u­ments, the Court said the gov­ern­ment must share the in­for­ma­tion "ex­cept what is strate­gic and con­fi­den­tial" to en­able the pe­ti­tion­ers re­spond within the next seven days.

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