NEW DELHI — Day after French defence firm Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier tried his best to tell the country through media interviews in Delhi that there was nothing unfair in the Rafale deal with Anil Ambani’s Reliance, the Supreme Court of India spent full day on Wednesday hearing several petitions seeking court-monitored probe into the Rs 58k crore deal for 36 fighter jets.
The Supreme Court, however, reserved its order.
During the hearing, petitioners raised various questions about the deal and sought an investigation. But appearing for the government, Attorney General KK Venugopal said: “It’s a matter for experts to decide on what weaponry is to be bought. This is not a matter for judicial review.”
On many occasions during the hearing, the bench headed by Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi asked various questions to the government’s lawyer. The court also called in representative from the Indian Air Force to hear their side.
Ripping through the government’s arguments, lawyers Sanjay Hegde and Prashant Bhushan argued that the Rafale deal is not inter-governmental and even the France government has not given any sovereign guarantee for the deal.
Just before the conclusion of the hearing in the afternoon, Hedge, appearing on behalf of Rajya Sabha MP and Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh, said: “The agreement between Govt of India and Dassault cannot be termed inter governmental agreement. It’s a pure commercial contract with a private company.” He further said that “Sudden changes cannot be justified on basis of inter government agreement” and “There has been a sudden deviation from procedure in case of Rafale deal.”
When Chief Justice asked Attorney General about the argument of the petitioners that France has not given sovereign guarantee to the Rafale deal, he replied that there is no sovereign guarantee, but a letter of comfort by France.
Justice KM Joseph, one of the members of the bench, also asked questions to AG and Additional Secretary of the Defence Ministry.
Justice Joseph asked AG how the PM could announce new deal in April 2015 when the Request For Proposal of earlier deal was pending. Justice Joseph asked Addl Secy about offset details (Reliance Defence is main offset partner of Dassault for this deal). The Judge also asked as to how country’s interests will be protected if offset partner does not carry out production. What was the need to amend offset guidelines with retrospective effect, asked Justice Joseph.
Adv. Prashant Bhushan, who along with Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, both former BJP veterans and union ministers, was more aggressive in his arguments.
Bhushan said “Government says that if you go through inter governmental agreement, there is no need for tender. But intergovernmental agreement reached circumventing requirement of tender.”
“The conditions for going through inter governmental agreement have not been met,” he said.
“French government has not made any sovereign guarantee. What if Dassault is paid by government and they don’t deliver. No guarantee by French government that Dassault will deliver,” said Bhushan and asked: “Whether this will qualify as intergovernmental agreement!?”
“Indian govt short circuited the acquisition procedure,” said Bhushan and urged the top court: “This is a matter which needs an investigation.”
“FIR is the only legal requirement of law in this matter,” he said
He charged that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed the deal because “he wanted to give it to Ambani’s Reliance.”
“Why is 126 jets get reduced to 36? Who took the decision? 3-4 years have passed and no aircraft has been delivered yet,” he told the court.
On the final pricing of the deal that the Modi government is not making public, Bhushan said: “On price, the govt has already declared it several occasions including in the Parliament. But now it says price can’t be disclosed due to secrecy agreement which is a bogus argument by government.”
At the end of the first session before lunch, the bench made it clear that it was not going into price details at this moment.
(Based on @LiveLawIndia tweets live from courtroom)