The Supreme Court today sought Centre’s response within four weeks on pleas by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy seeking Cabinet note concerning Jet-Etihad Airways deal and copy of the transcript of tapped telephonic conversation of former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia in which she had allegedly talked about civil aviation sector.
A bench comprising justices H L Dattu and S A Bobde asked Additional Solicitor General L Nageshwar Rao who accepted the notice on behalf of the Centre to file response on Swamy’s application.
The bench also asked the Centre to respond to Swamy’s plea seeking copy of communication of April 9, 2013 of Ministry of External Affairs to Ambassador of United Arab Emirates on the issue.
Swamy has filed petition seeking to quash the deal on the ground that it was against public interest as there has been squandering of natural resource i.e. the sky and air space.
The apex court on December 6, 2013 had made it clear that it would quash the Jet-Etihad Airways deal if there are any irregularities in it.
It had issued notice to Centre and Income Tax Department on his plea seeking direction to the government to place the transcript of tapped telephonic conversation of Radia in which she allegedly had talked about civil aviation sector.
Referring to Radia tapes, Swamy, in his application, had said the documents are important for adjudication of the case and the apex court had already ordered CBI probe in the alleged involvement of middlemen in aviation sector which was revealed in conversation.
“One of the issues, namely issue no. 7 deals with the touts and middlemen kickbacks arising from the Bilateral Agreements between India and foreign countries in civil aviation sector,” he had said, adding that “the documents are material to the adjudication of the grounds raised by him in the petition”.
Swamy, in his plea, also referred that the memo sent by the PMO to Ministry of Civil Aviation on May 22, 2013 had raised serious reservations in respect of the growth of the middle eastern carriers including Etihad, the development of middle eastern hubs for servicing traffic from India at the cost and expense of Indian carriers as well as domestic hubs.
“The said Memo by the Prime Minister’s Office clearly supports the grounds raised by the petitioner in the present petition,” he said.
Swamy also submitted that even the CAG has found there has been reckless allocation of air space to foreign airlines.
The apex court had on October 8 last year issued notices to the Centre, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of External Affairs, Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Jet Airways and Etihad Airways.
In the first-ever investment by a foreign airline in an Indian carrier, Jet Airways had on April 24 announced plans to sell 24 per cent equity to Etihad Airways for about Rs 2,058 crore, as part of a strategic alliance that would lead to a major expansion in their global network.
Swamy had in his PIL sought “a direction to set aside and revoke any action or decision or grant of any further approvals/permissions/permits, etc. by the respondent (govt) authorities, based upon, relying upon or in furtherance of the impugned bilateral dated April 24”.
He had challenged “such arbitrary, irrational and mala fide act of grant of largesse in the form of bilateral/MoU dated April 24 and by way of the present petition seeks an investigation under the supervision of this court into the matters of national and public interest”.
Swamy had also sought a CBI probe against the government officials who had cleared the deal.
He had questioned the Centre’s decision to execute the agreement in favour of Abu Dhabi under the existing Air Service Agreement between the governments of India and United Arab Emirates.
“The actions of the authorities from the execution of the bilateral to the unprecedented haste in order to assist the realisation of wrongful gains by the facilitator are writ large with acts of collusion and abuse of position,” the petition had contended.