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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

In startling U-turn, SC now seeks Rafale pricing details from Government

Just 20 days after saying it wasn’t interested in the pricing details or suitability of the Rafael deal bearing in mind the sensitive national security implications, the Supreme Court bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph on Wednesday asked the Centre for pricing & strategic details of the Rafale deal.

It also ordered the Government to bring details of the decision-making process of the deal in the public domain within ten days – the Government had submitted these details in a sealed cover to the Court as per its earlier directions on 10 October.

As per, the Court expressed that it “would like to be apprised to the details with regard to pricing/cost, advantages thereof, if any, which will be submitted in a sealed cover.”

When Attorney General Venugopal objected to sharing of pricing detail as it is classified and covered under Official Secrets Act which meant it could not even been be laid down before the Parliament, the court asked the Centre to put its objection on affidavit. 

Daily Pioneer reports that the court also asked the Centre details of how Rafale manufacturer Dassault chose Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group to partner with it in Bharat under the deal’s offset obligation. LiveLaw reports that the court asked the Centre to furnish details that could ‘legitimately come in the public domain’ with regard to the induction of the Indian offset partner to the petitioners.

Complete U-turn

On the last date of hearing on October 10, the CJI-led bench had refused to entertain the petitioners’ plea for asking the Government to disclose the pricing details. Then the court had asked the Government to share just the decision-making process of the fighter jet acquisition. The court had then said it would not go into “pricing or suitability” of the fighter jets.

On Thursday, the court 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 jets. However, the court gave no indication as to what prompted it to seek details about pricing and offset aspects after it went through the Government’s note on decision-making process involved in the Rafale deal.

The matter has been posted for next hearing on 14 November, after the SC’s Diwali vacation.

4 PILs

  • The first public interest litigation (PIL) against the Rafale deal was filed on 5 Sept by lawyer ML Sharma.  ML Sharma is a serial PIL litigator who was once hauled up by SC for “irresponsible and scandalous allegations”, and he has also defended the accused in the Nirbhaya rape case.
  • The second PIL was filed on Oct 8 by Pune-based lawyer Vineet Dhanda. In Feb, Dhanda was rebuked by SC for ‘filing fashionable PILs after seeing headlines’ for a PIL he had filed on the PNB-Nirav Modi scam. (ML Sharma had also filed a PIL in the same PNB scam).
  • On Oct 8, AAP MP Sanjay Singh filed a PIL seeking an SC-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the deal. When his counsel appeared before the SC bench yesterday, the court asked, “What is his interest? We don’t have to entertain so many petitions.”  
  • On 24 Oct, controversial lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and disgruntled former BJP Union Ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, filed a PIL seeking an FIR followed by a court monitored CBI investigation in the procurement of the fighter jets. Hearing their plea yesterday along with the other petitions, the CJI said, “for that you will have to wait…let CBI put its house in order first.”

Recommended reading

Why is the Congress Ecosystem so desperate to scuttle the Rafale Deal?

The plane truth about Rafale deal is so hard to see?

Rafale deal: The Anil Ambani connection

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