New Delhi: Inching closer to scrutinizing the decision-making process behind the controversial Rafale jet fighter deal, the Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the government 10 days to disclose all “strategic and confidential” details of the contract, including pricing and its choice of the offset partner.
Give details of Rafale deal in 10 days, Supreme Court tells Govt
The apex court’s order to deliver the information—in a sealed cover —comes as a likely boost to the opposition, particularly the Congress, which has been demanding a parliamentary probe into the pricing issue and has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify the government’s stand on it.
“The court would also like to be apprised of the details with regard to the pricing/cost, particularly, the advantage thereof, if any, which again will be submitted in a sealed cover,” the order said.
The details, to the extent that can “legitimately be brought into the public domain” were also to be shared by the centre with the counsel of petitioners in the case—lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cabinet ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie. These would include fresh information on the induction of the Indian offset partner and the documents previously submitted to the court by it.
The centre opposed the order on pricing details. “As far as pricing is concerned, please leave that for arguments,” attorney general K.K. Venugopal told the court.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, insisted that an affidavit would have to be filed in this regard.
The apex court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a stay on the ₹59,000 crore Rafale deal, which was signed between India and France on 23 September 2016. The Rafale is a twin-engine medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by Dassault Aviation.
Anil Ambani-led Reliance Infrastructure Ltd has a 51:49 joint venture with Dassault, the maker of Rafale, called Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), which has an offset contract of about ₹30,000 crore for 36 Rafale aircraft.
The Congress swiftly attacked the Union government in the wake of the court order.
“The Supreme Court of India has made certain significant observations in Rafale deal today. Those directions, which are in the form of interim orders, vindicate the stand of Congress and other patriotic forces,” spokesperson Manish Tewari tsaid.
“We would like to ask the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)-BJP government, what are you trying to hide? Why can’t you make the price of Rafale transaction public, when in the past every transaction entered into by government of India with a foreign or domestic entity has been transparently put into public space?” he asked.
The Congress has made the Rafale deal one of its main political campaign issues ahead of upcoming assembly elections in five states and it is set to resonate in the winter session of Parliament later this year.
The Congress links the Rafale issue with the controversy over the Central Bureau of Investigation, saying the government divested its director Alok Verma of all powers because he had begun investigating the aircraft deal. The party held nationwide protests recently to highlight the issue.
On 10 October, the apex court sought from the centre the details of steps involved in the decisionmaking process leading to the deal.
The pleas before the court included one by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha seeking a court-monitored investigation to ensure an “independent, robust, and fair investigation, free from the influence of the powerful people involved”.
Modi announced India’s decision to buy 36 Rafale jets off the shelf in a government-to-government agreement during his visit to France in April 2015, cancelling the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s 2012 decision to buy 18 Rafale jets in a fly-away condition, while manufacturing 108 in India.
The delivery of the jets is slated to begin in September 2019.
Under India’s offset policy, foreign defence entities have to spend at least 30% of the total contract value in India by procuring components or setting up research and development facilities. The offset clause for the Rafale was set at 50%.
The case will be heard next on 14 November.