Big win for Modi government! SC gives clean chit to Rs 58,000-cr Rafale deal

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New Delhi | Published: December 15, 2018 5:38:03 AM

On the back foot after its recent electoral drubbing, the Narendra Modi government on Friday got a shot in the arm at an opportune time, with the Supreme Court dismissing a clutch of pleas challenging India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets.

rafale deal, rafale agreement, arun jaitley, supreme court, nirmala sitharamanFinance minister Arun Jaitley, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and defence secretary Sanjay Mitra at a press conference after the SC order on the Rafale deal in New Delhi on Friday.

On the back foot after its recent electoral drubbing, the Narendra Modi government on Friday got a shot in the arm at an opportune time, with the Supreme Court dismissing a clutch of pleas challenging India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets, categorically saying there was no occasion to “really doubt the decision-making process”, warranting setting aside of the contract.

On the crucial question of offset partner, the court said, “We do not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Indian government, as the option to choose the IOP (Indian offset partners) does not rest with (it).” The selection of Anil Ambani firm Reliance Aerostructure as the offset partner by France’s Dassault Aviation has been in the eye of a political storm as the Opposition alleged the choice was forced upon the French firm by the government at the cost of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).

A bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi also said it is “certainly not the job of this court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present” and the material has to be kept in a confidential domain. “It is neither appropriate nor within the experience of the court to step into this arena of what is technically feasible or not,” the bench also comprising Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said.

The BJP and the government managers rushed into the seize the moment and ridicule the Opposition charges. “Allegations on Rafale was fiction writing that was compromising natio-nal security… Disrupters have lost on all counts,” Finance minister Arun Jaitley said. BJP president Amit Shah said the SC order was a ‘slap’ on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s ‘politics of lies’.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who addressed a press conference along with finance minister Arun Jaitley, said the matter of the Rafale deal has been put to rest through the apex court’s order.

Attorney general KK Venugopal welcomed the verdict terming it as an “excellent” and “very good” judgement, which in his opinion has given “clean chit” to the government by accepting all its arguments.

The pleas had sought lodging of an FIR and a court-monitored probe into the alleged irregularities in the Rs 58,000 crore deal, in which both the countries have entered into an inter-governmental agreement (IGA).

On the reduction in the number of aircraft to be bought under the deal to 36 from 126 planned by the UPA government, the court said it was informed that the contract negotiations for procuring 126 fighter jets could not be concluded due to “unresolved issues” for over three years between the original equipment manufacturer and HAL.

The court further said that perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a “fishing and roving enquiry” by the court in such sensitive matters and it cannot “sit in judgement” over the wisdom of government’s decision to go in for purchase of 36 aircraft in place of 126.

On its part, the Congress claimed apex court verdict “vindicated its stand that the issue of “corruption” in the Rafale fighter jet agreement cannot be decided by it and challenged the Centre to constitute a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the deal.

According to the court, “The quality of the aircraft is not in question. It is also a fact that the long negotiations for procurement of 126 (aircraft) have not produced any result, and merely conjecturing that the initial RFP could have resulted in a contract is of no use. The hard fact is that not only was the contract not coming forth but the negotiations had come practically to an end, resulting in a recall of the RFP.”

Noting that the challenge to pricing of the aircraft was made on the ground that there are huge escalations in costs, as per the material in public domain, as found in magazines and newspapers, the court said that, “suffice it to say that as per the price details, the official respondents claim there is a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft.”

Ambani welcomed the SC judgement on Rafale, saying it established falsity of politically motivated allegations against his firm.

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Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist advocate Prashant Bhushan had moved the apex court with a plea for a direction to the CBI to register an FIR for alleged irregularities in the deal. Before them advocates ML Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, and AAP leader Sanjay Singh had also filed pleas.

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