SC dumps pleas demanding probe into Rafale fighter jet deal
14 December 2018
Rahul Gandhi’s Rafale bomb failed to explode as the Supreme Court today dismissed a group of petitions demanding an investigation into the NDA government’s Rafale fighter jet deal, saying that it was satisfied that the process for procurement had been complied with.
There is no reason to doubt the decision-making process followed in the Rafale deal, the court said, in a verdict that blasted opposition Congress party’s propaganda of alleged government connivance with industrialist Anil Ambani in the award of offset business to an Indian partner.
Delivering the judgement, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph said the apex court could not sit in judgement over the decision to purchase 36 aircraft instead of 126. It is a “hard fact” that the 36-jet-deal was negotiated after the earlier RFP for 126 jets came to nothing, the court said.
“So far as the decision-making is concerned, we have studied the material and interacted with senior air force officer,” Chief Justice Gogoi said, adding, “there was no occasion to doubt the process”.
We are satisfied that there is no occasion to really doubt the process, and even if minor deviations have occurred, that would not result in either setting aside the contract or requiring a detailed scrutiny by the court,” he added.
On the acquisition of 36 fighter aircraft for 7.85 billion euros, the court reiterated that it wasn’t its job to examine specific financial details such as the cost of an individual aircraft.
On the issue of offsets being awarded to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group, the bench said that it was the job of the government and the vendor to decide.
The ruling comes on a batch of petitions filed by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, AAP legislator Sanjay Singh and the trio of Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan over the Modi government’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassult Aviation of France.
The petitions had alleged last-minute raking up of the price of the fighters and impropriety in awarding offsets to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group in the procurement process.
The Supreme Court noted that it was “not appropriate or feasible” for it to look into the offsets contract.
“Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters,” the bench said.
Activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan said the Supreme Court’s verdict was not a clean chit for the government.
“This is a limited clean chit. The court hasn’t dealt with many of the issues that we raised,” Bhushan said, adding that they would consider whether a review petition should be filed.
“All we wanted was a probe. There were indications that there were wrongdoings in the deal and they need to be probed, that was our request to the Supreme Court.”