The Supreme Court bench on Wednesday November 14, began a crucial hearing on the pricing details of the Rafale fighter jets, days after the Centre submitted the information in a sealed cover.
The apex court bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, is examining the matter concerning the sensitive pricing details of the 36 Rafale fighter jets, which India is procuring from France in a government-to-government contract.
As the hearing began in the apex court, senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for former Union minister Arun Shourie – one of the petitioners in the Rafale deal case, argued before the three-judge bench that only in three situations, the inter-governmental route can be used. He told the court that there was no sovereign guarantee from the side of the French government in the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Petitioner Prashant Bhushan argued in the court that on pricing of the Rafale deal, there can’t be any secrecy when the government itself has disclosed the price in Parliament. “It’s a bogus argument for the government to say they can’t disclose the pricing details. In the new deal, Rafale jets have cost 40% more than the earlier deal,” Bhushan said in the court.
Responding to the remarks, the Attorney General Venugopal said that the pricing details cannot be shared with the petitioners. “Petitioners are not defence experts, only defence experts can discuss pricing details,” the AG reportedly said in the court, adding that he himself has not seen the pricing details of the Rafale deal submitted before the apex court in a sealed cover.
AG Venugopal told the court that secrecy is not on the price of aircraft but on weaponry and avionics. The price of Rafale with break-up of weapons and avionics has been shared with the apex court, but the court cannot sit in judicial review on it. Pricing details have been given in a sealed cover but there are factors like inter-governmental agreement which have barred its disclosure, he said.
Pulling up the advocates and pointing there mistakes in the submitted notes, CJI asked to have a word with the Indian Air Force officials (IAF).
In compliance with Supreme Court’s demand of having a word with IAF officials, a team of officers comprising Air Marshal Alok Khosla and Air Vice Marshal J Chalapathi reported to the Supreme Court.
CJI questioned the Attorney General which other countries have bought Rafale jet from Dassault. “Qatar, Egypt and France,” the Attorney General told the court. Further, on being asked whether France has given sovereign guarantee of providing the aircraft, the Attorney General clarified that while no such assurance has been given on the delivery of 36 Rafale jets, a letter of comfort has been provided by France.