Amidst multiple pleas, SC inquires about Centre’s decision-making process in Rafale deal

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to give details by October 29 – in a sealed cover – of the decision-making process on the Rafale fighter jet deal, which is at the centre of a massive political row. However, the apex court clarified that it was not seeking any information related to pricing or suitability of the jets.

The order came from a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on a batch of PILs, including the one seeking directions to the Centre to file in “sealed cover” the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets.

“We are not issuing notice to the government. We make it clear that the court isn’t taking into account arguments made by the petitioner. Their arguments are grossly inadequate,” the top court asserted.

“We want to satisfy ourselves on the steps taken in the decision-making. We are not going into the issue of suitability keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue,” said the bench.

Appearing for Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal sought dismissal of the petitions saying they were “intended to achieve political gains in the bitter fight between Opposition and ruling party”.

Multiple pleas

  • Petitioner ML Sharma had argued that there was corruption in the Rs 59,000-crore deal for 36 fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation. He has claimed in his plea that the inter-government agreement to fighter jets must be quashed as it was an “outcome of corruption” and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 (Parliament has power to make any law for implementing any inter-government agreement) of the Constitution.
  • A similar plea was filed in the apex court in March this year by Congress leader Tehseen S Poonawalla, seeking an independent probe into the Rafale deal and disclosure of the cost involved in the deal before Parliament. However, the plea is yet to be listed for hearing. Poonawala had sought a direction against the Centre on why the Union Cabinet’s approval was not sought as part of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) before signing the procurement deal with France on September 23, 2016.
  • AAP Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sanjay Singh had also moved the apex court through his lawyer, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, by filing a separate petition on the defence deal. The MP has sought setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the Rafale deal. The plea 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.

The deal was announced in 2016 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then French president Francois Hollande. The political controversy over the Rafale deal escalated sharply after Francois Hollande’s comment in an interview last month that France had no role in the selection of Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence as India offset partner for Rafale-maker Dassault as part of the deal.