A Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA, prepares to land in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

Supreme Court Rejects Pleas To Probe Rafale Deal

The Supreme Court today dismissed pleas to probe India’s Rafale fighter jet deal with France, blunting the opposition’s attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Anil Ambani in the multi-billion-dollar purchase.

There will be no court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal. “So far as the decision-making is concerned, we have studied the material and interacted with senior air force officers,” Chief Justice of Indian Ranjan Gogoi said delivering a unanimous verdict by a three-judge bench today. “There was no occasion to doubt the process.”

That’s a relief to Modi and Ambani, whose Reliance Naval and Engineering Ltd. was picked as an offset partner by Dassault Aviation in the Rs 58,000-crore purchase of 36 fighter jets in a fly-away condition. Indian National Congress Presiden Rahul Gandhi had accused the prime minister of “lying” about the deal, alleging that his government was paying more than what the previous UPA administration had negotiated to help Ambani.

“The government has been acting in true intent towards the safety and security of India,” said Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson Raman Malik after the verdict. “I believe this is the vindication that under the prime minister the deal done was for the interest of India.”

Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, said the Supreme Court by summarily dismissing all petitions conclusively established “the complete falsity of the wild, baseless and politically motivated allegations levelled against Reliance Group and me personally”.

Shares of Reliance Naval jumped more than 18 percent, the most in seven months, after the order.

The petitions alleged there were procedural irregularities in the deal and sought an independent probe in the case. The petitioners included lawyers ML Sharma, Vineet Dhanda and Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh. The last petition was jointly filed by former Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Union Minister and BJP leader Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan.

The court said the “perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry”, especially in such matters. “We, thus, dismiss all the writ petitions, leaving it to the parties to bear their own costs.”

The court, however, made it clear that its views were primarily from the standpoint of the exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution of India which was involved in this case.

Supreme Court Refuses To Go Into Pricing Details

During the hearing, the top court had sought details of the procedure for the acquisition of fighter jets. The Supreme Court also sought the pricing details. The government, which defended the deal, opposed public disclosure of the pricing and submitted it to the top court in a sealed envelope.

The Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justice KM Joseph and Justice SK Kaul, however, refused to go into the pricing aspect after examining the details.

Suffice it to say that as per the price details, the official respondents claim there is a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft. The official respondents have claimed that there are certain better terms in IGA (inter-governmental agreement)  qua the maintenance and weapon package. It is certainly not the job of this Court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present. We say no more as the material has to be kept in a confidential domain.  
Supreme Court

The court also said that the need for aircraft is not in doubt. “Our country cannot afford to be unprepared when our adversaries have acquired 4th, 5th generation aircraft,” Chief Justice Gogoi said. It was only after the statement of former French President Francois Hollande that the petitions have been filed, he said.

It’s nether appropriate for this court to step into this. We did not find evidence to show this is a case of commercial favouritism by the Indian government.
Supreme Court

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, said he may consider whether to file a review petition. “The Supreme Court verdict is totally wrong in my opinion,” he told BloombergQuint. “The court has not dealt with many issues that were raised in the petitions and this judgment is a limited clean chit.”

Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said the deal still needs to be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a Joint Parliamentary Committee. “We will be doubly aggressive in taking the Rafale deal to the people’s mandate,” he told BloombergQuint.

Rafale judgment.pdf

Also read: Rafale Deal: Centre Submits Document On Decision Process To Petitioners