Vindicating the position of the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court on Friday said there was “no occasion to really doubt” the procurement process of 36 Rafale fighter jets “even if minor deviations have occurred”.
The Congress had accused Modi of malfeasance in the deal. The three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said after perusing the material provided by the government and having interacted with Air Force officers, the court did not see any reason as to why it should intervene in “the sensitive issue of the purchase of 36 defence aircraft by the Indian government”.
The Bench said the court lacked the technical expertise to examine issues such as pricing and the choice of offset partners. Justice Gogoi cited national security concerns to say it could not step into issues such as defence contracts and procurements.
“Perceptions of individuals cannot be the basis for a fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters. We, thus, dismiss all the writ petitions,” the Bench said.
Apart from advocate M L Sharma, who had moved the first plea in the case, former BJP ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan had filed separate pleas, in which they had petitioned the court to order a court-monitored probe into the decision-making process of the government while buying the jets, the alleged difference in prices in the new deal as compared to the old deal signed by the United Progressive Alliance government, and the choice of the Indian offset partner.
On October 10, the court had asked the government to place before it the details of the steps taken while arriving at the decision to buy the 36 fighter jets. It had made clear that the details being sought were only to ensure the correctness of the decision-making process.
The court had said it would not go into the issue of pricing or matters related to the technical stability of the fighter jets.
The apex court on Friday reiterated its earlier stand and said it could not sit in judgment of the wisdom of deciding to purchase 36 aircraft in place of 126.
“We cannot possibly compel the government to go in for purchasing 126 aircraft,” the court said.
The three judges steered clear of the issue of escalation in the cost of the fighter jets and said though they were inclined to go into the details of pricing, it was not the job of the court to carry out a comparison of pricing details.
The court accepted the government’s claim that there was a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft as compared to 126 owing to better terms of maintenance and weaponry.
It did not venture into the issue of choosing an offset partner for the deal, which has been perhaps the biggest sparring issue for the government and the opposition, either, and said it did not find substantial material to show that the government showed commercial favours to any party.
Though Reliance Aerostructure was formed recently, the court did not go into the details of commercial agreements between the Anil Ambani-led Anil Dhirbubhai Ambani Group and Dassault, and said it was “neither appropriate nor within the experience of this court to step into this arena of what is technically feasible or not”.