Rafale: SC asks govt to give info on price

The government has 10 days to provide cost details of fighter planes

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Union government to apprise it of the details of pricing and cost of 36 Rafale fighter jets being bought from France following a deal in 2016.

It also told the government to share such information on the decision-making process which can “legitimately” be put in public domain.

The top court also favoured disclosure of information on the induction of an Indian offset partner, if any, to a group of petitioners within 10 days.

The selection of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd as offset partner in the deal with Dassault for buying 36 fighter jets had prompted the Congress and other Opposition parties to attack the Narendra Modi government for favouring the industrialist.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices U U Lalit and K M Joseph, however, said, “Such of the details which may be considered to be strategic and confidential may, at this stage, be placed before the court and may not be furnished to the counsel.”

After going through the government’s sealed cover note on the “decision-making process” to buy the fighter jets, the court passed its order seeking details on pricing within 10 days, amid opposition by Attorney General K K Venugopal.

“The court would also like to be apprised of the details with regard to the pricing/cost, particularly, the advantage thereof, if any, which again will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover,” the bench said.

The Supreme Court order is attached below:

 

Venugopal, appearing for the Union government, however, contended that all such information cannot be provided as some of them may attract provisions of the Official Secrets Act. He said the information on pricing was not shared even with Parliament.

The court then orally asked Venugopal to file an affidavit detailing the difficulties in disclosing the pricing.

At the outset, advocate-petitioner M L Sharma urged the court to adjourn hearing in view of Assembly elections in five states. “How are we concerned with elections? Should the court stop hearing matters because of elections?” the bench observed.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan sought to argue on a fresh PIL filed on behalf of himself as well as former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie. But the court asked him to wait. “Your prayer is for the CBI probe. Let the CBI put its house in order.”

During the hearing, when advocate Dheeraj Kumar also sought to put forth arguments in a separate PIL filed by AAP MP Sanjay Singh, the bench asked, “What is his interest? We need not hear everybody in the matter.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also wanted to make submission. But the court told him to sit down, “It is just a case, one of the cases.”

The bench had on October 10 sought information of the controversial deal in a “sealed cover”, except the details of pricing and suitability of the equipment, by October 29 for the court’s “satisfaction”.

In its order on Wednesday, the court also noted, “In none of the public interest litigations before us, the suitability of the equipment (fighter jets) and its utility to the Indian Air Force has been questioned. What has been questioned is the bona fides of the decision making process and the price/cost of the equipment.”

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Rafale: SC asks govt to give info on price

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