Rafale: SC ruling no clean chit to govt

A Dassault Rafale fighter takes part in flying display during the 52nd Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France. REUTERS

The questions posed by the Opposition, especially the Congress, about the Rafale fighter deal will remain live even after the Supreme Court’s rejection of the petitions seeking a court-monitored investigation into it. The court’s decision on the matter is basically jurisdictional, as its power of scrutiny of executive decisions is constitutionally limited. It clearly said that it would refrain from undertaking an in-depth examination of policy decisions, especially concerning national security and defence. It also said that it is not its job “to carry out a comparison of pricing details”. Nor is it equipped to decide on the suitability of the aircraft or the number of them required for the air force. It said that it was generally satisfied with the acquisition process though there may be minor deviations from the correct procedure.

The court’s ruling cannot be considered as a clean chit for the government. The Modi government’s decision to buy 36 Rafale aircraft from Dassault Aviation invited criticism because the government seems to have agreed to give a higher price for them than was decided in an earlier UPA agreement, reduced the number of aircraft and selected an Anil Ambani company, which has no experience in defence manufacturing, as an offset partner instead of the government-owned HAL. The Congress has charged the government with irregularities and corruption in the deal. The questions raised about the deal have not been answered by the court’s ruling, and the court has said that it will not go into them. A view of the matter without studying the issues will not carry conviction. It was because the government did not give satisfactory answers that the petitioners approached the court for an investigation. Though the court has refused to go into the matter, the nation needs the answers. 

The court’s ruling has given rise to another controversy because it said that a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) which was privy to the pricing details had been presented to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The court’s statement was based on a confidential affidavit submitted to it by the government. Since the PAC has not received a report from the CAG on the deal, the opposition has said that the government has misled the court on it. The government has claimed that the court misinterpreted some words in the affidavit. It has sought from the court a correction of this aspect of the judgement, but the petitioners have sought withdrawal of the judgement, which contains this and other factual errors. Whatever view the court takes on the matter, the issues surrounding the deal will not go away too easily.

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Rafale: SC ruling no clean chit to govt


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