Groundbreaking revelations in Rafale deal urged the Supreme Court of India to look into the matter. Supreme Court of India has asked the government to India to share with it decision-making process followed in finalizing Rafale deal with France in a sealed cover.
History Of The Case
Back in August 2007 Ministry of Defence had floated a tender to buy 126 fighter jets out of which 108 of which would be made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Six foreign aircrafts participated in the trials out of which Indian Air force selected the Rafale and Eurofighter jets according to their needs and requirements.
Rafale was declared to be the lowest bidder when commercial bids were opened in 2012. Thereafter, the process of negotiation between HAL and Dassault, the maker Rafale jets began. Negotiations continued even when the new government of NDA came in power. Dassault and HAL held regular meetings and conference which ran for three years yet could not come to terms mutually acceptable to both of them.
In 2015, during PM Modi’s visit to France a joint statement was issued which said that “Government of India conveyed to the Government of France that in view of the critical operational necessity for Multirole Combat Aircraft for Indian Air Force, Government of India would like to acquire (36) Rafale jets in flyaway condition as quickly as possible.
Leadership in India and France decided to conclude an Inter-Governmental Agreement for supply of the aircraft better than the terms offered by Dassault Aviation and delivery would be in a time period suitable to Indian Airforce. Related Systems and weapons will be according to the configurations approved by the Indian Air Force and maintenance responsibility will be borne by France.
Indian Air Force was consulted before this announcement at the appropriate level. Subsequently, Tender floated for 126 Rafale aircraft was canceled by Ministry of Defence. Both the parties were supposed to close the deal when French President Hollande visited India in 2016 for Republic Day celebrations. However, only a Memorandum of Understanding was signed as some details were yet to be finalized.
On 24 August 2016, it was announced that the Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the Inter-government agreement between India and France. However, the deal was finally concluded on 21 September 2016 in another CCS meeting and two days later an Inter-governmental Agreement was signed by French and Indian Defence Ministers in Delhi.
The deal took a major political turn in November 2016 when Congress accused the government of causing “insurmountable loss” of taxpayer’s money by signing the deal and Anil-Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited was favored in being selected as French firm’s Indian partner. Further, it was also alleged that the cost of each aircraft under the new deal was thrice more than what Congress had negotiated back in 2012. The government replied saying that new deal provided India with better weapons and logistical support. Reliance Defence also released a statement saying that the government of India had no role in the joint venture between Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation.
Proceedings in the Court
Two Public Interest Litigations filed by lawyer M L Sharma and Vineet Dhanda respectively in Supreme Court of India alleging corruption in the Rafale deals. Attorney General K K Venugopal appearing for the center pushed for getting the Public Interest Litigation dismissed. To support his prayer Attorney General contended that the PIL, in this case, was not done for benefit of the general public but was filed to gain political mileage and were Political Interest Litigation and not Public Interest Litigation. Moreover, the Attorney General also said that matter involves national security issue and if notice is issued it will go to Prime Minister.
The bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and K M Joseph after listening to both the sides asked the center to submit details of the decision-making process in three sealed envelopes and submit them to learned Secretary General of the court. Bench made it clear that they are not issuing any notice at this stage. Furthermore, Bench said that
“We also make it clear that the steps in the decision-making process that we would like to be apprised of would not cover the issue of pricing or the question of technical suitability of the equipment for purposes of the requirement of the Indian Air Force,” Bench asked the Center to submit the sealed envelopes on or before 29 October 2018. Entire episode has become a major battleground for major political parties of the country. Timely intervention of the Supreme Court may lead to a peaceful solution of the entire episode.