November 14, 2019

Supreme Court dismisses Rafale review petition in fighter jet deal

[ by Kavita Krishnan ]


The Supreme Court rejected a probe into the controversial Rafale deal. The Apex Court dismissed a review petition seeking a court-monitored criminal probe in Rafale fighter jet deal between the Indian Government and France's Dassault Aviation.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph dismissed the review pleas in a unanimous judgment.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie filed review pleas in February 2019, demanding the court to reverse its verdict and initiate a probe into the dealings to acquire the 36 Rafale fighter jets. Sinha and Shourie, through activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, had alleged that the government had aborted a 2001 deal to buy 126 jets at a lower price only to conclude a fresh deal in 2015 to buy 36 jets at a higher price.

The Government however disputed this claim, saying the cost escalation was on account of add-ons in terms of avionics and armaments.

There were allegations regarding the controversial deal that there was a conspiracy at the highest level to defraud the exchequer and favour the Anil Ambani group chosen as offset partner by French aviation company Dassault which makes the Rafale.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi used the Rafale deal to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the recent assembly polls which saw the Congress beating its rival in three states.

The petitioners claimed that the Court’s judgment was based on “incorrect claims” made by the Government. According to the petitioners, the government “willfully and deliberately” misled the court regarding details of the Rafale deal.

The Court also rejected a plea that the Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) had been invoked out of turn. The Court said that it was informed that joint exercises had taken place, to prove beneficial to the nation. According to the Court, defense procurement contracts should be subject to a different degree of scrutiny.

Long-drawn negotiations for the procurement of 126 jets had not produced any result. Besides, the court said “We cannot possibly compel the government to go in for purchase of 126 aircrafts.”

The court said that it had “examined closely the price details and comparison of prices of the basic aircraft along with escalation costs as under the original RFP (request for proposal) as well as under the IGA. We have also gone through the explanatory note on the costing, item wise.”

According to the Court, the Government had claimed that there was a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts apart from a better maintenance and weapon package. Further the Court said that the job of the Court is certainly not to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present. The Court felt that it was not for the Court to step into the field of what is technically feasible and what is not.

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