The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to provide details of the “decision-making process”
behind the Rafale deal with France, but clarified that it does not want information on “pricing” and “technical suitability” of the fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
“We make it clear that we are not issuing any notice at this stage,” said a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. “However, we would like to be apprised by the Government of India of the details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of the order for the defence equipment in question i.e. Rafale jet fighters (36 in number),” it said.
“We also make it clear that the steps in the decision-making process that we would like to be apprised of would not cover the issue of pricing or the question of technical suitability of the equipment for purposes of the requirement of the Indian Air Force,” said the bench. It is “only for the purpose of satisfying ourselves in the matter,” it said.
The information has to be handed over in “three separate sealed covers on or before 29th October”, said the bench. This “shall be filed with the learned Secretary General of this Court and not in the Registry,” it said.
The court passed the order on two separate PILs filed by lawyers M L Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, who questioned the deal for purchase of 36 Rafale jets, over which a political controversy has erupted. While the Congress and other Opposition parties have alleged corruption, the government has denied any wrongdoing.
The court said it was not going by the contentions in the petitions. “We also make it clear that while requiring the government to act in above terms, we have not taken into account any of the averments in the writ petitions which appear to be inadequate and deficient,” the bench said.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the petitions were not PILs in the ordinary sense and smacked of politics. Stating that the case involves an issue of national security, he said if a notice was issued it would go to the Prime Minister, who was been added as a party in one of the petitions. This would then be used to further political interests, he said.
Seeking dismissal of the petitions, he said they were “intended to achieve political gains in the bitter fight between the Opposition and ruling party”. “Suppose we ask you (to) give the details of the decision making process in a sealed cover to the judges, how will you respond,” the CJI then asked Venugopal.
The AG replied that the details had already been made available to Parliament. He reiterated that it was a matter of national security and even he would not be given the information.
Congress worker and activist Tehseen Poonawala had also filed a petition in the matter, but withdrew it on Wednesday. Petitioner Dhanda expressed satisfaction at the court’s order.
The Supreme Court will now hear the matter on October 31.