The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a string of petitions seeking an independent probe into the 2015 Rafale deal, according it a clean chit in all respects- decision-making, pricing and procurement procedure.
The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S. K. Kaul and K. M. Joseph was pronouncing its judgment on a batch of PILs by Advocates M. L. Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union Ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and AAP MP Sanjay Singh.
Stating that individual perception cannot influence the court into intervening, the bench clarified that the limits of judicial review in respect of defence procurements have to be determined upon a consideration of the individual facts and circumstances.
The bench was of the view that the court cannot decide on the wisdom to purchase 36 fighter jets in fly-away condition as against the earlier deal for 126, observing that the country cannot afford to be lacking in any manner so far as defence is concerned.
Expressing satisfaction with the process of procurement, the bench noted that the earlier deal in respect of the 126 jets had not been coming through.
Reflecting that it is not for the court to examine the feasibility of the pricing, the bench also held that even the choice of the Indian Offset Partner was to be of the vendor, in which the Union of India had no role to play, and there seems to have been no commercial bias in the selection of the IOP.
On November 14, the Court had reserved orders on the petitions alleging corruption and procedural irregularities in the deal for procurement of 36 jets from the French company.
The petitions were filed by M L Sharma, Vineet Dhanda and AAP MP Sanjay Singh. Also listed along with those petitions was the PIL filed by former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, along with lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for registration of FIR and Court-monitored investigation by CBI into corruption allegations in Rafale deal. The PIL alleges that in the Rafale deal there is prima facie evidence of commission of cognizable offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act by public servants occupying the highest of public offices in the country.
The petitioners contended that PM announced the deal in April 2015, without following the Defence Procurement Procedure. It was argued that the negotiations for the deal started after the PM announced the deal and approval of the Cabinet Committee was obtained almost a year after the announcement. The prices of aircraft were highly inflated in the new deal, and offset guidelines were manipulated to accommodate Reliance Defence, which had no experience in the sector.
During the hearing, the Attorney General admitted in the Court that the there was no sovereign guarantee from the French government for the deal. However, the AG added that France has issued a 'letter of comfort' for the deal with Dassault Aviation for the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft. Since it was an inter-governmental agreement, there was no requirement to follow tender process, the AG informed.
The Attorney General submitted that the matter was highly sensitive, concerning security of nation, and urged that the Court should refrain from interfering.
During the hearing, the Court had elaborately quizzed the officials from the Indian Air Force about the requirements of the force.
The Court also inquired the Defence Secretary regarding the steps followed before finalizing the procurement process.