The Supreme Court completed hearings on a bunch of petitions that have sought a court-monitored probe into the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal. The court held a marathon hearing lasting hours today. Here is all that happened
- Supreme Court heard arguments from the government and the petitioners
- The court spent a large part of the hearing understanding the intricacies of the Rafale deal
- A three judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi is hearing the case
Senior officers of the Indian Air Force today rushed to the Supreme Court after the Chief Justice of India-led bench, that is hearing the Rafale deal case, said that it did not want to hear the government on certain aspects.
This was just a part of a marathon hearing today in the CJI’s courtroom where the three judges on the bench — CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph — spent around four hours examining the controversial deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from a French company.
The three judges are hearing a clutch of petitions that have asked for a Supreme Court-monitored investigation into alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and former Union minister Arun Shourie are among those who have filed the petitions.
The petitions rest on allegations that the Narendra Modi government did not follow the rulebookwhen it decided to buy 36 Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation, the French company that manufactures the fighter aircraft.
There are also allegations that the Modi government influenced Dassault’s decision to pick an Anil Ambani company as an offset partner. (Under the deal signed between India and France, Dassault is obligated to invest in India by tying up with Indian companies.)
Today, the Supreme Court finished hearing all arguments on the petitions seeking a court-monitored probe. The marathon hearing was marked with some heated and witty exchanges between the judges, the petitioners and the government’s lawyers.
Rafale deal in a nutshell
- In 2015, PM Narendra Modi announced that India and France would sign a government-to-government agreement
- Under the agreement, French company Dassault Aviation would sell 36 Rafale jets to the Indian Air Force, off the shelf, or in a “flyway” condition
- The Modi government also scrapped an UPA-era deal that was still under negotiation for 126 Rafale jets; of these 18 would be sold off the shelf while the rest would be made in India
- In lieu of the 108 aircraft that would have been made in India under the UPA deal, Dassault was now asked to make investments in India by tying up with local companies
Today, a three-judge bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph largely spent the day understanding the nitty-gritties of the Rafale deal.
The Supreme Court made it clear that it was only focusing on whether proper procedure was followed before signing the Rafale deal. The issue of price, the Supreme Court said, cannot be debated right now.
The Rafale jets’ price can only be debated if the Supreme Court decides to make the information about the price public, the three-judge bench said. The government has already handed over the information to the court in a sealed envelope.
Rafale: The controversy
- Questions have been raised about whether Rafale was the best aircraft for the Indian Air Force
- One of the allegations is that the Modi government is knowingly overpaying for the fighter aircraft, compared to the UPA-era deal
- The other allegation is that the Modi government leaned on Dassault to get it to pick Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offset partner
Today, the Supreme Court focused on three crucial issues: The procedure followed for signing the Rafale deal, the Indian Air Force’s requirements, and the controversial offset process.
- On the pre-deal procedure, the Supreme Court asked piercing questions on the Modi government’s decision to scrap the original UPA-era deal and how PM Modi announced the 36-aircraft deal before the UPA deal was formally withdrawn
- On the IAF’s requirements, the Supreme Court spoke directly to officers from the Air Force. The court asked them about when the last batch of brand-new aircraft were inducted into the force
- On the offsets, the court sought to understand exactly how much leeway Dassault had in choosing an Indian company to fulfil its offset obligations and whether the Indian government had any role in deciding whom Dassault partners with
As the government concluded its arguments, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that the Rafale jets were extremely potent and that “had we [India] possessed Rafale during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as Rafale is capable of hitting targets from a distance of 60 km”.
An unimpressed bench responded, “Mr. Attorney, Kargil was in 1999-2000? Rafale came in 2014.” “I said it hypothetically,” Venugopal said after a laugh.
After the government’s arguments concluded, the Air Force officers were allowed to leave. “The Air Marshal and Vice Marshals can go back. It is a different war game here in court. We’ll let you go back to your war rooms,” the Supreme Court bench said as it then heard from the petitioners once again.
Rafale: The politics
- The Congress is leaving no stone unturned to target the Modi government over the Rafale deal. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been attacking the government on the issue almost every day
- The BJP as well as the Modi government have launched a sharp defence of the deal. The government has said information about the price cannot be revealed because of national security issues
- The French government too has supported the Modi government on the issue. However, former French President Francois Hollande dropped a bomb when he said India had asked for Reliance Defence to be made Dassault’s offset partner. Hollande’s claims were dismissed by both India and France
The petitioners focused on rebutting most of the government’s arguments. Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who is one of the petitioners in the case, questioned how India signed an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with France when it a mechanism to be used for only emergency purchases.
The petitioners concluded that the Modi government deviated from the stated policy while negotiating and that these deviation “defied logic”.
“We have taken note of your arguments…Your argument is that there is departure from the norms and therefore the deal is subject to judicial review,” CJI Ranjan Gogoi observed as the three-judge Supreme Court bench reserved its verdict in the Rafale deal case.
(With inputs from Aneesha Mathur in New Delhi)
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