Supreme Court dismisses Rafale review petitions
The Supreme Court has dismissed all review petitions filed against its December 14 judgement on the controversial Rafale deal.
Supreme Court dismisses Rafale review petitions: The Supreme Court has dismissed all review petitions filed against its previous judgement on the Rafale deal. The Supreme Court had on December 14, 2018 declined to order an independent probe to look into the corruption allegations in the central government's Rafale deal.
The judgement was delivered by an SC bench comprising outgoing CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. The Supreme Court observed that the review petitions lacked merit. The review petitions were filed by Prashant Bhushan, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.
The Supreme Court had reserved its order on the review petitions on May 10, ahead of the apex court's summer break. The petitioners had filed the review petitions based on certain leaked documents by the media and argued that the government had withheld some material information from the court regarding its Rafale deal with France's Dassault Aviation.
The SC bench had on April 10 rejected the centre's objections against the examination of the documents. Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the government, had argued then that the documents were obtained without authorization and so, it violated the Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court, however, rejected the objections saying that the illegality of obtaining the documents did not affect their examination by the court if they were relevant for the hearing.
Supreme Court's December 14 Judgement
The Supreme Court on December 14, 2018 dismissed a group of petitions that demanded an independent probe into the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, stating that it was satisfied with the procurement process. The court stated that the perception of individuals cannot be a ground for the Court to interfere.
The judgement was delivered by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph. "We studied the materials carefully, interacted with Defence officials, we are satisfied with the decision-making process," Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, while dismissing the petitions.
The ruling was delivered on a batch of writ petitions filed against the central government’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighters for Euro 7.85 billion. The court clarified that the examination has been primarily from the point of examination of jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The petitions, alleging corruption and irregularities in the Rafale deal, were filed by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, Vineet Dhanda, AAP legislator Sanjay Singh and the trio of Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan.
The petitions had raised questions over the procurement process and alleged last-minute inflation in the price of the fighter jets and also claimed there to be an impropriety in awarding the contract to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group.
The Judgement: Key Highlights
1. Cost Irregularity issue
The bench reiterated that it wasn’t its job to examine minute financial details of the cost of the aircraft.
It opined that it was not the job of the Court to go into issues of pricing and stated that the earlier deal was not forthcoming, while the new deal came with financial advantages.
2. Offset Partner issue
On the issue of offsets being awarded to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group, the court said that the choice of the Indian Offset Partner was to be of the vendor, in which the Union Government had no role to play.
It also stated that there seemed to have been no commercial bias in the selection of the IOP.
3. Process and number of aircraft issue
The bench, while observing that the country cannot afford to be lacking in any manner so far as defence is concerned, stated that it cannot decide on the wisdom to purchase 36 fighter jets in fly-away condition as against the earlier deal for 126.
Expressing satisfaction with the process of procurement, the bench noted that the earlier deal in respect of the 126 jets had not been coming through.
The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had heard all the pleas calling for a court-monitored probe into the multi-billion dollar deal for procuring 36 Rafale fighter jets in a fly-away condition from French aerospace company Dassault Aviation and had reserved its verdict on November 14.
The first petitioner in the case was Advocate ML Sharma, followed by another lawyer Vineet Dhanda and Aam Aadmy Party leader Sanjay Singh.
After the three pleas were filed, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and activist advocate Prashant Bhushan also moved the SC with a petition that the CBI should be directed to file an FIR seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities in the deal.
The petitioners contended that PM Narendra Modi announced the deal in April 2015 without following the Defence Procurement Procedure. It was argued that the negotiations for the deal started after the PM announced the deal and approval of the Cabinet Committee was obtained almost a year after the announcement.
The petitioners also argued that the prices of aircraft were highly inflated in the new deal, and offset guidelines were manipulated to accommodate Reliance Defence, which had no experience in the sector.
The petition had raised questions on the bypassing of the procedure for discontinuing the earlier process for acquiring 126 (18 in a ready-to-fly condition and 108 to be manufactured by HAL) fighter jets in favour of acquiring 36 aircraft in ready-to-fly condition and unloading HAL as an offset partner.
The Centre had defended the deal on the grounds of 'urgent requirement' of national security and opposed public disclosure of the pricing details.
The Attorney General KK Venugopal, while speaking on behalf of the Central government said that the secrecy regarding the deal is with respect to weaponry and avionics. The AG argued that if these are disclosed then the adversaries will be able to know about it.
The Attorney General also argued that the government has disclosed to the court, total price along with weaponry. He said that what the bench should consider is whether the court is competent to judicially review this on the basis of what has been submitted (by the petitioners).
India and France had signed the agreement as part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment. The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by Dassault Aviation.