The hearing came after the Centre last week submitted its report on how the decision to procure 36 fighter jets from France was made in 2016.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday resumed the hearing into petitions seeking investigation into the Rafale deal. The hearing came after the Centre last week submitted its report on how the decision to procure 36 fighter jets from France was made in 2016. The petitioners in the case wanted the government to disclose the price of the fighter aircraft — a demand which the Centre has repeatedly rejected citing a secrecy clause and national security concerns.
During the hearing today, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan who is also a petitioner in the case, said that the government’s argument that revealing the price compromises national security is a bogus argument. “If I may point out, it was disclosed twice in Parliament formally,” he said. Bhushan requested the court to direct the CBI to file an FIR in the case. However, the apex court has reserved its verdict on petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the government-to-government deal.
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Here’s what happened in the courtroom today:
No discussion on pricing details for now
After the AG’s submission on pricing, the SC said that any discussion on pricing of fighter jets can only take place if the details on the deal are allowed to come in the public domain. “The decision we need to take is whether to bring the fact on pricing in public domain or not,” the bench headed by chief justice said. The bench told Venugopal that debate over pricing was not possible without putting out the facts in public domain. However, the court further clarified that any discussion on price will be considered if the bench thinks that it should come in the public domain.
Govt defends secrecy clause citing national security
Attorney General K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the government cannot divulge details of the deal because of the secrecy clause. He said that even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets and that the Centre has already provided the complete details of the Rafale jets and the weapons to be fitted on the aircraft including other requirements to the top court. Arguing on pricing, the AG said that he would not be able to assist the court on the pricing issue. “I decided not to peruse it myself as in a case of any leak, my office would be held responsible,” he added. Venugopal also said that the country’s adversaries may get advantages if the entire details on the pricing were disclosed.
Courtroom exchange between the CJI and AG
Ranjan Gogoi: Which are the countries that have bought Rafale from Dassault?
KK Venugopal: Qatar, Egypt and France.
Ranjan Gogoi: France has not given a sovereign guarantee to the deal?
KK Venugopal: There is no sovereign guarantee, but a letter of comfort by France. This is a sensitive issue involving the security of the country.
Interesting exchange between bench and Venugopal
During the submission, Venugopal said that Rafale jets are potent and had we possessed Rafale during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as Rafale is capable of hitting targets from a distance of 60 kms. To this, the bench said: “Mr Attorney, Kargil was in 1999-2000? Rafale came in 2014.” Venugopal then said: “I said it hypothetically”
Exchange between CJI and Air Marshall
Ranjan Gogoi: Which is the latest induction to IAF and also the latest being manufactured in India?
Air Marshall: Sukhoi 30 is the latest induction. The latest being manufactured in India is 3rd generation Mirage. The proposed new aircraft is 5th generation with stealth technology.
What the petitioners argued
Prashant Bhushan on transfer of technology
Prashant Bhushan raised the question of the number of aircraft and no transfer of technology clause. He said that Dassault Chairman had in 2015 spoke about how a deal will be signed and 108 aircraft will be manufactured by HAL in India. “But a few weeks later, joint statement is issued out of the blue. As per the new statement, only 36 aircraft will be purchased and there will be no transfer of technology,” he said.
Prashant Bhushan on govt’s national security concern
The lawyer said that it was a bogus argument by the centre to say that price cannot be disclosed due to secrecy etc. “How does the issue of price compromise national security. If I may point out, it was disclosed twice in Parliament formally. If it is a matter of national security, then the government has compromised national security twice by disclosing it in Parliament,” Bhushan said.
Arun Shourie on Reliance and HAL
Arun Shourie, who is also a petitioner in the case, rubbished the government’s claim that HAL was not capable to carry out manufacturing of the jets in India. He said that HAL was fully capable to produce aircraft. Shourie also questions the selection of Reliance as offset partner by Dassault. He said that a company of the experience of Dassault would not have chosen a company here with no experience at all.