The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed four petitions seeking court-monitored probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters in ready-to-fly conditions holding that the decision-making process was not in doubt and that it cannot go into the question of pricing and choice of offset Indian partner by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault.
Referring to their interaction with senior Air Force officers and the material placed before it, a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K M Joseph said: "We are satisfied there is no occasion to doubt the decision-making process."
The Rafale deal has triggered a controversy in India over the purchase of 36 twin-engine fighter jets from France. The deal is estimated to cost India Rs 58,000 crore. The opposition claimed that the deal has cost India thrice the amount it was supposed to, and that an Indian partner favoured by the government was unfairly chosen as a partner in the deal. The Rafale jets were chosen in 2012 during the UPA II tenure over aircraft offers from United States, Russia and Europe. The original plan was to buy 18 off-the-shelf jets from Dassault and 108 others would be put together by Indiaâ€™s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), located in Bengaluru, to boost the Make-In-India initiative. However, in 2016, after initial hiccups over the cost of the deal, the BJP-led government decided to buy 36 â€˜ready-to-flyâ€™ aircraft from France.
Stating that the perception of individuals cannot be the basis of interfering with the deal, Gogoi, pronouncing the judgment said that the deal was inked on September 23, 2016, but nothing was called into question till former French President Francois Hollande in an interview alleged that there was pressure from Indian government on the choice of offset partner.
Observing that India can't afford to be unprepared in the skies, the court said that the need for the aircraft, and the quality of the aircraft was not in doubt, and "We can't sit on the wisdom...". Saying that it can't go into each aspect of the process of acquisition of the aircrafts, the court said that the earlier deal was taking long and was not concluding.
On the choice of offset Indian partner, the court said that the role of Indian government cannot be envisaged as it was entirely for the vendor Dassault to make a choice. The apex court said that there was no evidence of commercial favouritism by the government.
The Centre had earlier defended the deal while admitting that there was "no sovereign guarantee from France, but there is a letter of comfort..."
The petitions seeking the probe were filed by Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie, former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, advocates M L Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, and Aam Aadmi Party lawmaker in Parliament Sanjay Singh.
With IANS inputs