New Delhi:Hearing petitions questioning the Rafale jet deal, the Supreme Court today asked the government for details of pricing and the selection of Anil Ambani’s defence firm as India offset partner. The information is classified, the government said, after which the court asked for a written submission within 10 days that these details cannot be shared.The top court said it would “like to be apprised of the details with regard to pricing and cost particularly the advantages thereof, if any, which again will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover.The government’s top law officer KK Venugopal, however, told the court that it would not be possible for the government to provide pricing details to the court since this information had not been provided to Parliament either.
The Supreme Court, which is hearing petitions questioning the deal, told Attorney General KK Venugopal to make this point in their affidavit.At the last hearing, the court had ordered the government to provide details of the decision-making process. But the three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had then made it clear that it was only seeking this information “for the purpose of satisfying ourselves”. The bench had then, also underlined that the centre’s report did not have to cover pricing or suitability of the equipment for the Indian Air Force.The Supreme Court’s order on Wednesday, goes one step further.The three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, justice SK Kaul and justice K M Joseph said they had received the report about the process and wanted the government to share them with the petitioners too to the extent possible.
We are of the view that the information conveyed upon in the report, which can be legitimately be brought into the public domain be made available to the lead counsel of the petitioners in all cases. Along with the said facts, further details that could legitimately come in the public domain with respect to the induction of the Indian offset partner, if any, be also furnished to the lead counsel of the parties,” the bench ordered.It said that if there were any details that “may be considered to be strategic and confidential” may at this stage be placed before the court and may not be furnished to the petitioners.The NDA’s decision to enter an $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy the 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.The bench said the information must be shared by the government within 10 days and the petitioners could respond to it in the next seven days. It posted the matter for the next hearing on November 14.If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so,” the bench told Attorney General KK Venugopal in its oral observations.
It was hearing four petitions, including one by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha who are seeking a court monitored CBI investigation in the procurement of the fighter jets.That will have to wait,” the CJI said, adding, “Let CBI put its house in order first.The attorney general had expressed reservations about disclosing the details of pricing of the jets and said its cost was not even disclosed in Parliament.He also said the documents placed by the Centre before the court are covered by the Official Secrets Act.The bench, also comprising Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph, said the “core of information” that can be brought in the public domain should be shared with the “petitioner and petitioners in person”.In its order, the bench observed that none of the petitioners have questioned the suitability of the Rafale jets, their equipment and their utility to the Indian Air Force.”What has been questioned is the bonafide of the decision making process and the price/cost at which the same is to be procured,” the bench said.The bench also noted that following its October 10 order the government has placed before it a note giving details of the steps taken in the decision making process leading to the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets.