- Pricing details to be submitted in sealed envelope in 10 days: top court
- Government argued that pricing was not revealed in parliament
- Supreme Court hearing petitions questioning Rafale fighter jet deal
The government, facing unrelenting opposition fire on the Rafale jet deal, was asked by the Supreme Court today for details of pricing in 10 days. The information is classified, the government said, after which the court asked for a written submission that the details cannot be shared.
In the last hearing earlier this month, the court had asked for a lowdown on the decision-making process but had emphasized that it would not get into "pricing or suitability" of the jets. However, it was not suitability of the jets but the "bonafide of the decision-making and price" that had been questioned, the court said today.
The government must put out its decision-making process in the public domain, the court said, asking also for details of how Rafale manufacturer Dassault chose companies in Anil Ambani's Reliance Group to partner with in India. In exchange for landing the contract for the 36 off-the-shelf fighter jets, Dassault has to invest half the value of the deal - about 30,000 crores - in Indian firms. Reliance has been chosen as one of those "offset" partners. The opposition has alleged that Reliance was chosen in a process that lacked transparency. Dassault has said it was under no pressure to select Reliance as its partner for a huge joint venture in Nagpur that will manufacture parts for fighter planes. The offset arrangement does not involve the 36 jets that are part of the current deal.
The Anil Ambani-led group is manufacturing aerospace components as part of the offset component of the Rafale deal. Reliance Defence is not making components for the Rafales ordered by India but is building assemblies for Dassault business jets.
"Strategic and confidential" information need not be disclosed, agreed the court, which is likely to take a call next on what is classified and what not.
"If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so," said Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
The government's lawyer, KK Venugopal, had argued that pricing was not revealed in parliament and the previous Congress government had also not given details of a previous deal.
The court is hearing four petitions, including those by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, asking for a court-monitored CBI investigation into the Rs 59,000 crore contract for 36 fighter jets from Dassault, a top French aeronautics company.
"That you will have to wait," the Chief Justice said, adding, "Let CBI put its house in order first."
Mr Shourie called the court's order a "very, very substantial step forward" in the controversy. "Confidentiality does not relate to price, only technical specifications. It will be subject to challenge. It will be difficult to say pricing is confidential," Mr Shourie told NDTV.
The Rafale deal was announced in 2016 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's talks in Paris with then French president Francois Hollande.
In election season, a political row over the jet deal escalated sharply after Francois Hollande said in an interview last month that France had no role in the selection of Anil Ambani's company for the offset clause.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly accused the government of negotiating a not-so-favourable contract just to benefit Anil Ambani. Both the government and the industrialist have denied the charge.
The Congress also accuses the government of deliberately scrapping a deal the previous UPA government had negotiated with Dassault, for 126 Rafale jets under which 18 jets were to be supplied in a fly-away condition and 108 were to be manufactured in India along with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa says can be a "game-changer" and booster for India's defence.
Disclaimer: NDTV has been sued for 10,000 crores by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group for its coverage of the Rafale deal.