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‘Even parliament hasn’t been told about cost’: Centre justifies its secrecy on price of Rafale jets in SC

The court reserved its order on pleas seeking court-monitored probe in procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

New Delhi: In the proceedings related to pricing of the 36 Rafale fighter jets on Wednesday, the centre defended its stance of secrecy while saying that adversaries may get advantages if the entire details on the pricing is disclosed.

These matters are for the experts to deal with and “we have been saying that even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets”, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the court.

“Our adversaries may get advantages if the entire details on the pricing is disclosed,” he said, while defending the secrecy clause.

The court reserved its order on pleas seeking court-monitored probe in procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph concluded the arguments advanced by various parties which have also sought registration of FIR in connection with the alleged irregularities in the deal.

Venugopal said that he won’t to be able to assist the court on the pricing issue as his office will be held accountable in case of any leak. But the bench stressed that any discussion on pricing of the Rafale fighter jets can only take place if the facts of the deal are put out in public domain.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to enter a $8.7-billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later.

This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

‘No new jets since 1985’

  • During the hearing, the bench also asked for the assistance of an Air Force officer on the issue. Following court’s demand, Alok Khosla, Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, and deputy chief of air staff VR Chowdhuri and two other officers appeared in the court to answer their questions.
  • They told the court that Sukhoi 30s were the latest to be inducted which is a third generation aircraft and added that they do not have fourth or fifth generation aircraft in its fleet.
  • The top court asked if there has been no induction of aircraft since 1985, the officers said “no”.
  • If Rafale had been there during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as the fighter jet is capable of hitting targets from 60 km, Mr Venugopal told the bench.
  • But when Chief Justice Gogoi reminded the attorney general that the Kargil war happened in 1999-2000, while the Rafale process began in 2014, Mr Venugopal said he meant “hypothetically”.
  • After hearing from the officers, the Chief Justice allowed them to leave saying,”it is a different war game here in the court. You can go back to your war rooms.”

‘What if offset partner runs off’

  • The four-hour hearing on the Rafale jet deal also dealt with submission of details about the offset partner in the Rafale deal.
  • Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that Rafale-maker Dassault has not yet submitted details of its offset partner to the government.
  • “The vendor will inform the offset partner to us. So far there is no information on this,” said Additional Secretary Defence Apurva Chandra, to questions from the judges.
  • The court thereafter inquired why the offset guidelines were changed in 2015.
  • In the previous deal, the offset pact was to be signed with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Aerospace Technologies. When the court asked about the change under the new government, the Defence Ministry officer explained that the offset contract runs concurrently with the main deal.
  • The government said a political issue was being made out of the offset partner. “We have already said the government has no role in the selection of the offset partner,” said the top government lawyer.
  • Moreover, Justice KM Joseph raised questions about the reliability of the offset partner. “If the offset partner runs off, what happens? What about the country’s interest? What if the offset partner doesn’t do any production?” he said.
  • The offset clause means that in exchange for landing the Indian contract, Dassault has to invest half the value of the deal – about 30,000 crores – in Indian firms.
  • Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence was chosen as one of those “offset” partners and is to manufacture plane parts – though not for the 36 jets ordered by India.
  • The offset clause means that in exchange for landing the Indian contract, Dassault has to invest half the value of the deal – about 30,000 crores – in Indian firms.
  • Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence was chosen as one of those “offset” partners and is to manufacture plane parts – though not for the 36 jets ordered by India.
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