New Delhi, November 14: The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph on Wednesday, reserved its verdict over the batch of petitions challenging the legitimacy of 36 Rafale Fighter Jets deal.
The bench today commenced marathon hearing of the Petitions over controversial issue of procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France seeking court-monitored probe into the deal.
The bench sought presence of officers from the Indian Air Force (IAF) to answer some queries as the matter is purely related to the IAF.
During the proceedings, the bench questioned Additional Secretary, the Defence Ministry,
"Why were the offset guidelines changed in 2015? What about the country's interest? What if the offset partner doesn't do any production?"
The question were raised in response to the contentions of the petitioners, especially regarding the query of Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan who informed the court that the French government has not provided any sovereign guarantee from its side regarding the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Nontheless, in response to this the Centre admitted that though, there is no sovereign guarantee from the French government on the delivery of 36 Rafale jets, but they have been provided a letter of comfort from the French Prime Minister.
The Court also enquired about the latest inductions to the Indian Air Force, for which Air Vice Marshal Chalapathi informed the court that Sukhoi-30 was the latest induction and further added that Rafale jet was selected as India was in need of 4 plus generation fighters.
However, during the hearing, the Centre today, elucidated its stand sternly in the Court, stating that the issue of pricing details the Rafale deal are related to "national security" and cannot come under judicial review.
AG Venugopal appearing on behalf of the Centre said,
"Petitioners are not defence experts, only defence experts can discuss pricing details."
Sanjay Singh, AAP Rajya Sabha lawmaker, who approached Court seeking constitution of court monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT), during the course of proceedings today, Mr. Singh's Counsel advancing the arguments against the Government submission, that price details of the controversial deal can not be brought into public domain, informed the Court that the pricing of the Rafael Deal was already revealed in the Parliament twice and thus such submission was not acceptable.
Mr. Singh, sought constitution of SIT in order to probe the Rafale deal to clarify the reasons which led to the cancellation of previous deal by the UPA government made for the purchase of 126 fighter jets.
Whereas, Advocate ML Sharma, an another petitioner in the case, alleged discrepancies in the fighter jet deal with France and sought quashing of the deal on the ground that such deal is not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 of the Constitution, today urged before the bench that the matter should be heard by a five-judge bench.
Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who filed a joint plea along with former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, today aruged that the government had not complied with the conditions laid down by the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) during Rafale deal and also alleged gross violation of procedure during the decision making process in the deal.
The Central government on Monday has submitted pricing details in the Supreme Court in a sealed cover along with a 14-page document titled "Details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft order".
The 14 page document was also shared with the petitioners, excluding the pricing details of the deal, which became the major bone of contention in the issue.
However, the Court had already gave this liberty to the Centre earlier that it may choose not to share the information related to strategic material or of national security to the petitioners and submit it in before the Court only, in a sealed cover.
Controversial deal pertaining to an inter-governmental agreement entered between Indian Government and France to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of €7.87 billion, in order to revamp IAF fleet by introducing Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts, has invited many Pleas challenging the legitimacy of the deal, urging for a directive orders to the Centre revealing contents of the deal finalised along with a comparative price chart during the UPA and NDA rule.
As per the deal, the aircrafts would be delivered in fly-away condition, including weapons, simulators, spares, maintenance, and Performance Based Logistics support for five years.