In its verdict ruling out a court-mandated probe into the Rafale deal, the Supreme Court on Thursday appeared to reject the contention that the government had bought overpriced fighter jet. The bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, which had completely steered clear of the pricing of the fighter jets in its verdict last year, went a step ahead in its ruling today.
The bench underscored that it wasn’t for the court to determine the price at which the jets should have been bought and expressed confidence that the government’s internal mechanisms would take care of the situation.
“On the perusal of documents we had found that one cannot compare apples and oranges. Thus, the pricing of the basic aircraft had to be compared which was competitively marginally lower. As to what should be loaded on the aircraft or not and what further pricing should be added has to be left to the best judgment of the competent authorities,” justices Gogoi and Sanjay Kishan Kaul said in their main judgment. The third judge on the bench Justice KM Joseph wrote a separate judgment, concurring with the other two judges on rejecting the review petitions.
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The court’s finding is in line with the stand taken by the government that the Congress-led opposition was comparing price of the Rafale jet’s basic version with the price of fighter jets, complete with all India-specific enhancements.
The top court had on 14 December 2018 dismissed all petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Rs 59,000 crore contract for the fighter planes made by Dassault Aviation of France. But a batch of review petitions, including the one by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, were filed.
One of the key points that they had made was that the government had concealed documents including a dissent note by three members of the Indian negotiating team.
But these documents did not convince the court to alter its view. The judges said any decision-making process did envisage debate.
“It would well nigh become impossible for different opinions to be set out in the record if each opinion was to be construed as to be complied with before the contract was entered into. It would defeat the very purpose of debate in the decision making process,” the judgment said.