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SC reserves order on court-monitored probe in Rafale

SC reserves order on court-monitored probe in Rafale

NEW DELHI: After a marathon hearing stretching more than three hours, the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order on many petitions seeking a court-monitored probe in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph concluded the arguments advanced by various parties which have also sought registration of FIR in connection with the alleged irregularities in the deal.

Earlier, during the hearing, the Centre admitted that there is no sovereign guarantee by France for Rafale deal if the contract went awry but said it has a letter of comfort from French PM which would be as good as a governmental guarantee.

The SC bench earlier said there was no question of a debate on the pricing of Rafale deal in the court till it concludes that the pricing information is to be brought in the public domain.

CJI Gogoi-led bench also sought the views of Air Vice-Marshal T Chalapathy, who had been associated with Rafale aircraft procurement decision. The SC had told the Centre that it would like to interact with an IAF official as the matter is related to the Indian Air Force.

Air Vice Marshal told the SC that he would rate Jaguars, Sukhoi 30s and Light Combat Aircraft as 3rd and 4th generation fighters but India needed 4+ generation fighters and hence they zeroed in on Rafale.

Asked what were the last inductions of combat aircraft into IAF, the Air Vice Marshal said though India-made Sukhoi 30s and LCA are being inducted regularly, the last acquisition was in 1980s, of Jaguars.

The top court then said that "it means there has been no induction of aircraft since 1985".

The Centre also told the SC that the government has so far not been informed about the offset partner of Dassault company on the Rafale deal.

Earlier, during the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of himself and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, submitted that the NDA government "short-circuited" the acquisition process by taking the Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) route to avoid giving tender.

Advocates ML Sharma, Vineet Dhanda and AAP MP Sanjay Singh, also advanced their arguments before Bhushan.

However, Venugopal said that the pricing details had been given in a sealed cover, but there are factors like the IGA which barred its disclosure. He added that the court is judicially not competent to decide what aircraft and what weapons to be bought as it is a matter best left to experts.

The Centre had on Monday handed over a 14-page document titled "Details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft order" to the petitioners in the case. The government had also filed in the court in a sealed cover the pricing details of the Rafale jets.

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