New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to provide in a sealed cover the “details of the steps” taken in the decision making process, sans pricing and technical information, which led to the Rafale deal with France even as the government sought the dismissal of PILs on the issue, terming them “political petitions”.
Terming the averments made in the pleas as “grossly inadequate”, a Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi made it clear that the Court was not issuing notice on the two PILs, but wanted to satisfy itself about legitimacy of the decision making process.
“However, we would like to be apprised by the Government of India of the details of the steps in the decision making process leading to the award of the order for the defence equipment in question i.e. Rafale Jet-Fighters (36 in number),” said the Bench, also comprising Justices S.K Kaul and K.M Joseph.
“We also make it clear that while requiring the Government of India to act in the above terms we have not taken into account any of the averments made in the writ petitions which appear to be inadequate and deficient. Our above order is only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves in the matter,” it said.
The top Court also said that the information sought would not cover the issue of “pricing or the question of technical suitability of the equipment for purposes of the requirement of the Indian Air Force”.
It asked the government to provide the information by October 29 in three separate sealed covers with the Secretary General of the Apex Court instead of the registry and fixed the hearing on the PILs, filed by lawyers Vineet Dhanda and M. L Sharma, for October 31.
At the outset, the Bench asked Attorney General K.K Venugopal, “Suppose we ask you (the Centre) to give the details of the decision making process only to the Judges, how will you react.”
It cannot be shown to anyone in the interest of national security and other issues involved in the defence procurement process, Venugopal responded.
The Bench then posed another query, “What if we ask you to give details without technical details of aircraft?”
In a 15-minute-long hearing, the Bench heard submissions from Sharma, Dhanda and Venugopal.
Venugopal said that the petitions have not raised any public interests concerning the poor and rather they are “political interest petitions” and the petitioners have selectively quoted the questions which have been answered in Parliament.
He also said that a bitter political fight was going on in the country over the Rafale deal in the election year and entertaining the petitions may be used politically and moreover, such policy decisions cannot be reviewed judicially.
“This is a political petition and not a public interest litigation and is part of bitter fight going on between ruling and opposition party. If notice is issued, it will go to the Prime Minister… Please don’t entertain such petitions,” Venugopal said.
The Bench said it was neither going into the averments made in the petitions nor issuing the notice on them and was asking information to satisfy itself.
Sharma alleged that the pricing of the Rafale figher jets have been already disclosed in the French Parliament and the stand of the Centre was untenable.
The Apex Court was hearing three petitions seeking several directions, including Court-monitored SIT probe into the deal and submission of details of the agreement in a sealed cover to it.
Congress leader and RTI activist Tehseen Poonawala, who 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, however, withdrew his PIL against the fighter jet deal at the start of the hearing.
Dhanda, who has filed the petition, said, “In a PIL, my role is to bring an issue to the notice of the Court. The Court has perhaps also taken note of my plea regarding submission of documents in a sealed cover envelope. After the Court goes through the documents, I am sure, the truth will come out.”
In his plea, Dhanda referred to the recent “controversy” over the Rs 58,000 crore deal between India and Dassault Aviation, a French company, for purchasing 36 combat jets and sought judicial intervention to put an end to the raging debate.
Sharma, who has sought a stay on the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France, claimed in his plea that the inter-Government agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed. 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, he said.
The Rafale deal is a defence agreement signed between the governments of India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircrafts in a fly-away condition as a part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment.
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