‘Give Pricing Details of Rafale Deal in 10 Days,’ SC Tells Centre
A few hours after the Supreme Court asked the Centre to put forth the pricing details of the 36 Rafale fighter jets India is buying from France, in a sealed cover within 10 days, while agreeing that "strategic and confidential" information need not be disclosed, a top government official told The Times of India that the the Centre had no intention of doing so.
Speaking to the newspaper, the official reportedly said that the Centre was following the Court’s instructions, where the latter had told Attorney General KK Venugopal that if the Centre couldn’t share the “exclusive details” of the price with the court, then it should file an affidavit saying so.
The Centre, thus, would in all probability file an affidavit to this regard, on the premise of need for “utmost secrecy about weaponry and fitments of the fully loaded fighters”, the source added.
In an order given earlier on Wednesday, 31 October, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi gave some more leeway to the government, which has been arguing that the pricing details are so sensitive that they have not even been shared with Parliament.
The court has ordered that the Centre must bring the details of the decision-making process of the deal into the public domain, except those that are confidential and have strategic importance.
The bench said the information must be shared by the government within 10 days and the petitioners could respond in the next seven days. It posted the matter for its next hearing on 14 November.
CBI Inquiry Will Have To Wait, Let’s Get Its House in Order First: SC
"If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so," the bench told Attorney General KK Venugopal in its oral observations.
It was hearing four petitions, including one by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, who are seeking a court-monitored CBI investigation in the procurement of the fighter jets.
"That, you will have to wait," the CJI said, adding, "Let CBI put its house in order first."
He also said the documents placed by the Centre before the court are covered by the Official Secrets Act.
The bench, also comprising Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph, said the "core of information" that can be brought into the public domain should be shared with the "petitioner and petitioners in person".
In its order, the bench observed that none of the petitioners have questioned the suitability of the Rafale jets, their equipment, and their utility to the Indian Air Force.
"What has been questioned is the bonafides of the decision-making process and the price/cost at which the same is to be procured," the bench said.
The bench also noted that following its 10 October order, the government has placed before it a note giving details of the steps taken in the decision-making process leading to the procurement of the 36 Rafale fighter jets.
At this stage, the bench said, the court did not want to record any finding or view on the documents placed before it.
It also observed that information regarding induction of the Indian offset partner must be given to the court and to the petitioners.
When a counsel appearing for AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh told the bench he had also filed a petition in this matter, the court asked, "What is his interest? We don't have to entertain so many petitions."
No More Excuses: Congress
Petitioner Arun Shourie said that the court’s order was a substantial step forward. “The court’s order is a very substantial step forward. All details relating to price, relating to selection of offset partners and relating to procedures, the court has expressed the desire to look into all of them,” he said.
Soon after the hearing, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala took to Twiiter and said that the "scam is now fully ripe for an investigation."
He added that the corruption boat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will no longer sail and the apex court orders will expose the “truth of Rafale.”
India signed an agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of the Indian Air Force equipment. The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
Indian Air Force had advanced a proposal to buy 126 fighter aircraft in August 2007 and floated a tender. Following this, an invitation was sent to various aviation companies to participate in the bidding process.
(With inputs from PTI)