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Rafale hearing in SC: Prashant Bhushan challenges secrecy argument

ANI | Updated: Nov 14, 2018 13:14 IST

New Delhi [India], Nov 14 (ANI): Supreme Court of India on Wednesday morning began the crucial hearing of the Rafale deal row. A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and K M Joseph are hearing a bunch of petitions pertaining to the Central government's Rafale deal with French aviation company Dassault.
One of the petitioners, Advocate ML Sharma asserted that reports filed by the government in the court revealed "serious fraud" in the decision making process after May 2015. He also urged that the matter should be heard by a five-judge bench.
Later, the counsel appearing for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sanjay Singh told to the apex court that pricing of the Rafale deal were revealed in the Parliament twice, hence, the submission of government that the details cannot be made public was not acceptable. Thereafter Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, argued that there are various anomalies in the deal.
Bhushan, who is one of the petitioners, submitted to the court that the government's argument of secrecy clause being in place is a "bogus" one.
"There was no sovereign guarantee from the side of the France government in the deal. On pricing, there can't be any secrecy issue when the government itself disclosed the price in Parliament. It's a bogus argument for government to say they can't disclose pricing. In a new deal, Rafale jets cost 40 percent more than earlier deal," said Bhushan.
Petitioners Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, and Prashant Bhushan told the Supreme Court that the government short-circuited fresh tender process for 36 Rafale jets to procure them through restricted Inter-Government Agreement mechanism. Bhushan also argued that the deal was changed because Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to make Ambani's Reliance a partner.
"Nobody knew the change of the deal. Even the defense minister was not aware of the deal. Deal suddenly changed from 126 to 36 aircraft, from making in India to offset. The Reliance Company has no experience no credibility, it has never manufactured an aircraft," he argued.
Bhushan also stated that almost four years have passed, but no aircraft has been delivered till now. He also raised questions as to why the number of aircraft was reduced to 36 from 126.
"Who took the decision for 36 jets? On what basis did the Prime Minister announce the deal for 36 jets? He had no authority. There is a gross violation of procedure in the decision-making process. We are shown this mirage that first aircraft will be delivered by September 2019," he said.
Bhushan further argued that the government being unaware about the offset partner in the deal is contrary to the procedure laid down, as the norm requires the defence minister to approve the partnership.
Alleging that the Government tweaked rules to give Dassault authority over executing the offset contract without Defense Ministry's clearance, Bhushan said, "Government changed offset rules after a new deal on Rafale to let Dassault execute offset contracts without Defence Ministry clearing the partner. The then President Hollande said government gave the option of Reliance as the offset partner and we didn't have any other option."
"We had approached the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with a complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act. CBI is bound to register the FIR and investigate the issue. The government has conspired with Dassault to have the Reliance as offset partner. In a new deal, Rafale jets cost 40 percent more than earlier deal. Reliance was chosen at the instance of the Indian government in the deal. It is a subject matter of investigation," Bhushan submitted in the apex court.
The hearing of the matter is still ongoing. (ANI)