The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the government to provide details of the decision-making process leading to the purchase of Rafale jets but made it clear that this did not construe to be a formal notice on the two petitions it had taken up.
The top court was hearing two public interest litigations, one seeking the details of the agreement India has entered into with France for buying 36 Rafale Fighter Jets and the other seeking setting up of a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of the apex court to probe the deal.
A bench headed by chief justice Rajan Gogoi heard the first plea filed by advocate Vineet Dhanda and agreed to take it up on October 10. The bench also ordered tagging of Dhanda’s petition with that of an earlier one filed by advocate ML Sharma who had sought a stay on the fighter jet deal between India and France.
In January 2012, the Indian Ministry of Defence announced that Dassault Rafale had won the tender for the 126 aircraft. Of these, 18 fully built aircraft were to be purchased while the remaining would be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under a transfer of technology (TOT) contract.
Other possible options were Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, among others. The Rafale was chosen mainly due to its lower life cycle cost, reports suggest.
Negotiations stalled for years owing to change in governments, both in India and France, and the aircraft’s costs. The Modi-led government, however, scaled back previous government’s commitment of buying 126 fighter jets citing the huge cost of the deal.
During PM Modi’s official visit to France in April 2015, it was announced that India would acquire 36 fully built Rafale, citing “critical operational necessity”.
In July 2015, then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar informed the Parliament that the previous tender for 126 aircraft had been withdrawn and negotiations for 36 aircraft had commenced. In January 2016, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to acquire 36 aircraft.
This deal was priced at about 7.8 billion euros, with nearly 15 percent being paid in advance. The deal also outlined that India will get spares and weaponry, such as the Meteor and Scalp missiles, which are considered among the most sophisticated in the world.
In November 2016, the Congress party accused the BJP government of irregularities in the deal, alleging that each aircraft was being procured at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore, against the Rs 526 crore-figure finalised by the UPA government.
Singh’s plea urged that SIT should “investigate as to how a novice company viz. Reliance Defence came in picture of this highly sensitive defence deal involving Rs 59,000 crore without having any kind of experience and expertise in making of fighter jets”.