In a relief for the Modi govt, the Supreme Court dismissed all petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into an alleged scam over the Rafale deal.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday threw its weight behind the decision-making process of India’s deal with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, dismissing all the petitions filed against it.
The decision is a big relief for the Narendra Modi government and means a massive setback to the Congress, which had turned the issue of alleged irregularities into a major poll plank.
Saying the “country can’t afford to be unprepared in matters of fighter aircraft”, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi added, “We can’t go into wisdom of purchasing 36 in place of over 100 aircraft under the last [UPA] deal… Don’t even need to go into pricing.”
On the question of Dassault’s choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offset partner under the deal, one of the main sticking points for critics, the court said it “is up to the vendor [Dassault] and not the central government to decide”. “[It is] not the job of this court to go into it,” the court added.
The order came on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Narendra Modi government’s controversial purchase of Rafale fighter jets from French firm Dassault Aviation.
The petitioners include advocates M.L. Sharma and Vineet Dhanda, Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh, former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan. The top court had on 14 November reserved its judgment on the pleas.
One of the pleas, filed by former BJP leaders Shourie and Sinha along with Bhushan, sought court orders for the CBI to register an FIR on the basis of a complaint the trio had filed with ousted director Alok Verma on 4 October. They wanted the court to order a “time-bound” probe, with the submission of “periodic status reports”.
The trio alleged that there was “enormous pressure on the CBI because of the nature of the persons involved not to undertake this investigation”.
In their plea, they sought directions to the central government to “cease and desist from influencing or intimidating, in any way, the officials that would investigate the offences disclosed in the complaint”.
Even as the government — represented by attorney general K.K. Venugopal — defended the purchase, the petitioners sought to poke holes in the deal. The apex court, on 31 October, directed the Modi government to submit details surrounding the purchase of the Rafale jet.
Though the government maintained that it followed all the norms prescribed in the defence procurement procedure (DPP) — finalised in 2013 by the UPA government — it did not detail the steps leading to the 10 April 2015 Paris announcement by Prime Minister Modi and then French President Francois Hollande that India and France were going to sign the contract for the fighter jets.
After the order, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought an apology from the Congress. “Rahul Gandhi and the Congress should apologise to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making false allegations against him and questioning his credibility,” said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
Ambani issued a statement as well, saying he welcomed the judgment.
“I welcome the judgment… conclusively establishing the complete falsity of the wild, baseless and politically-motivated allegations levelled against Reliance Group and me personally,” he added.
This report has been updated with the BJP and industrialist Anil Ambani’s statements.
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