SC dismisses petition seeking SIT probe into Govt’s helicopter deal

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 Feb 2018 11:14:27

Staff Reporter RAIPUR

In a landmark judgment, which could have far-reaching political ramifications, the Supreme Court today dismissed a petition seeking probe by constituting a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the purchase of A-109 power E-helicopter by Chhattisgarh government from Agusta Westland.

The petition was collectively filed by Swaraj Abhiyan, Congress Legislative Party Leader T S Singhdeo and Rakesh Kumar Choubey, a social activist and others. The petitioners alleged that the government had purchased the helicopter doubtfully by floating a sham tender and that in the process loss was caused to the public exchequer. They also alleged that same person negotiated in the three offers with the three competitive bidders. The petitioners also alleged that $1.324 million was paid in excess for the helicopter.

The State Government while justifying the purchase, saying the A-109 power E-helicopter manufactured by Agusta Westland, were of superior quality and there were four of them flying in India in comparison to nil and 1 amongst others. It also maintained that maintenance facility and spares inventory for Agusta Westland helicopters were available in India, whereas, it was not the case for others. Also it could operate in night while the others couldn’t.

The Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice A K Goel and Justice U U Lalit dismissed the petition. Clearing the Dr Raman Singh led BJP government in the state from the accusations of causing loss to the public exchequer in the purchase of an Agusta Westland helicopter in 2007, the Supreme Court maintained that it cannot be disputed that the State Government was entitled to make a choice to purchase the helicopter in question. There is nothing on record to show that the helicopter could have been procured for lesser price.

Thus in absence of clear evidence that loss was caused to public exchequer by way of commission payment to Sharp Ocean Investments Limited which was only a route to send the payment to the son of the Chief Minister, interference by this Court is not called for. Further maintaining that there was tripartite agreement between Sharp Ocean Investments Ltd, the State of Chhattisgarh and Agusta Westland to the effect that Sharp Ocean Investments Ltd was entitled to retain payment made by it to Agusta. There is no material to prima facie hold that beneficiary of transaction was Abhishak Singh.

The Apex Court further maintained that it doesn’t consider it necessary to go into the allegation of mere procedural irregularities. It stated no case is made out for interference by this Court for issuing a direction as sought in absence of allegation of extraneous consideration being substantiated. It further maintained that a petition under Article 32, without clear element of public interest, cannot be entertained at the instance of a political rival merely on account of an alleged procedural irregularity in the decision making which can be challenged at appropriate forum by the aggrieved party. Hence not finding any ground to grant prayer as sought in the petitions, it stands dismissed, maintained the Apex Court.

While Senior Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Sanjay R Hegde appeared for the petitioners, senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani appeared on behalf of Chhattisgarh along with Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, who appeared for the Union of India.