SC ‘no’ to issue notices on two Rafale PILs; seeks details in sealed envelope

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 11 Oct 2018 08:22:56



The Supreme Court directed the Centre to provide details of decision-making process, sans pricing and technical information, in the Rafale deal with France.

The Government sought dismissal of the PILs, terming them “political petitions”.


THE Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to provide in a sealed cover the details of decision-making process, sans pricing and technical information, in the Rafale deal with France even as the Government sought dismissal of the 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.

The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, asked the Government to provide the information by October 29 and fixed the PILs, filed by lawyers Vineet Dhanda and M L Sharma, for hearing two days after that. “We are not asking on the issue of pricing and suitability of the Rafale jets but only on the decision making process,” the bench said. 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 fighter 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.
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.
AAP Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sanjay Singh had also moved the apex court through his lawyer, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, by filing a separate petition seeking a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the apex court to probe the deal.