The Supreme Court Wednesday directed the government to furnish in a sealed cover, within ten days, details of the pricing of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft being purchased from France.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices U U Lalit and K M Joseph said: “The court would also like to be apprised of the details with regard to the pricing/cost, particularly, the advantage thereof, if any, which again will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover.”
The bench also made it clear that “details in this regard which may be considered to be strategic and confidential may, at this stage, be placed before the court and may not be furnished to the learned counsel for the parties or the petitioners-in-person”.
On October 10, while hearing two PILs, the Supreme Court had asked the government to submit in a sealed cover “details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of the order”. It had clarified that it did not want pricing details or information on technical suitability of the equipment for the Indian Air Force.
In line with this direction, the government submitted the details to the court. In the meantime, two more petitions were filed in the same matter, one by former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and advocate Prashant Bhushan, and another by AAP leader Sanjay Singh.
On Wednesday, the bench said it had perused the details furnished by the government and “at this stage, we would not like to record any finding or views with regard to the contents of the said report”.
It directed that “core information conveyed to the court in the aforesaid confidential report, which can legitimately be brought into the public domain, be made available to the learned counsel for the petitioners in all the cases, as well as, the petitioners-in-person”.
It directed that “along with the said facts, further details that could legitimately come in the public domain with regard to the induction of the Indian offset partner (if any) be also furnished to the learned counsel for the parties, as well as, the petitioners in person”.
The court will hear the matter next on November 14.
On the direction to provide details of the decision-making process to the petitioners, Attorney General K K Venugopal pointed out that there may also be information covered under the Official Secrets Act.
CJI Gogoi said the court’s order was to provide only that information which could be put in the public domain.
Venugopal also expressed difficulty in furnishing details on the pricing, saying it had not been revealed even in Parliament. At this, the bench said, “if it’s something exclusive that it cannot be shared, then say so in an affidavit”.
Prashant Bhushan said he wanted a CBI probe monitored by the court. At this, the CJI said: “That will have to wait… Let the CBI put its house in order first”. Bhushan said “the CBI should at least inform the court what it did to our complaint”.
Advocate Dheeraj Kumar, appearing for AAP leader Sanjay Singh, said the government had already revealed the price of the aircraft in Parliament. The CJI told him: “So you know the price?… Then you keep it to yourself. You are one of those fortunate who know the price.”