The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear on October 10 a fresh PIL seeking a direction to the Centre to file in “sealed cover” the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which has already listed for October 10 another PIL seeking a stay on the high-profile defence deal with the French government, said that the instant plea would be taken up together the same day.
The fresh plea filed before the bench, which also comprised Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, has referred to the recent “controversy” over the Rs 58,000 crore deal between India and Dassault Aviation, a French company, for purchasing 36 combat jets and sought judicial intervention to put an end to the raging debate.
“Issue an appropriate writ …or direction directing the respondents (Centre and the Ministry of Defence) to file the details of the agreement entered into between the Union of India and France with regard to the purchase of 36 Rafale Fighter Jets in a sealed envelope,” said the plea, filed by lawyer Vineet Dhanda.
The plea said the criticism had reached a “proverbial nadir” and opposition parties have adopted a very “ignominious and profligate way even to criticise the Prime Minister of the country”. Seeking intervention of the court, the plea said, “In order to give full stop to denigrating statements, the agreement entered into between the Government of India and the Dassault Aviation is required to be known at least by this court.”
It said the apex court may peruse the details of the defence deal the details of which can be supplied in a sealed cover and “such information may not be made public due to the defence reasons”. During the day, AAP Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sanjay Singh also moved the apex court through his lawyer, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, by filing a separate petition on the defence deal.
The MP has sought setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the Rafale deal. The plea has sought that the SIT should probe the reasons for cancellation of earlier deal entered into by the UPA government for the purchase of 126 fighter jets. “SIT to probe as to how the figure of 36 Fighter Jets was arrived at, without the formalities associated with such a highly sensitive defence procurement,” the plea said.
The SIT should probe the alterations made about the pricing of fighter jets in view of “earlier price of Rs 526 crore per jet to Rs 670 crore per jet along with requisite equipments”.
The plea has questioned alleged escalation of the price of each jet from Rs 526 crore to more than 1,500 crores.
“SIT to investigate as to how a novice company viz. Reliance Defence came in the picture of this highly sensitive defence deal involving Rs 59,000 crore without having any kind of experience and expertise in making of Fighter Jets,” Singh said, adding that the probe should be done as to how ‘Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’ was removed.
Earlier, the top court had adjourned to October 10 the hearing on the plea filed by lawyer M L Sharma seeking a stay on the Rafale fighter jet deal between India and France.
Sharma has claimed in his plea that the inter-government agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets must be quashed as it was an “outcome of corruption” and not ratified by Parliament under Article 253 (Parliament has power to make any law for implementing any inter-government agreement) of the Constitution.
A similar plea was filed in the apex court in March this year by Congress leader Tehseen S Poonawalla, seeking an independent probe into the Rafale deal and disclosure of the cost involved in the deal before Parliament. However, the plea is yet to be listed for hearing. Poonawala had sought a direction against the Centre on why the Union Cabinet’s approval was not sought as part of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) before signing the procurement deal with France on September 23, 2016.
Rafale deal is a defence agreement signed between the governments of India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as a part of the upgrading process of Indian Air Force equipment. The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation. Indian Air Force had advanced a proposal to buy 126 fighter aircraft in August 2007 and floated a tender. Following this, an invitation was sent to various aviation companies to participate in the bidding process.