On Wednesday, the Supreme Court changed its stance dramatically when earlier it had adopted a cautious approach. SC asked the Centre to provide “pricing details of 36 Rafale fighter jets India is buying” within 10 days in a sealed cover. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi ordered the Centre to provide the details concerning the procurement of jets that it should be legitimately brought under the public domain and the petitioners.
Earlier on October 10, a bench headed by CJI Gogoi has told Centre that the details of the decision-making process for the procurement of Rafale jets would not cover pricing issues or technical suitability to the IAF. On October 26, Centre had submitted a sealed cover note containing the “details of the steps in the decision-making process leading to the award of 36 Rafale fighter jets.”
But on Wednesday, when the SC ordered to provide the price details and advantages of the Rafale jets, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that the details can’t be disclosed. AG Venugopal, who was confident of sealing the SC scrutiny successfully, said that the details were not even disclosed to the Parliament. He invoked the Official Secrets Act and claimed for the privilege on which he was told to file an affidavit saying so.
On his refusal, the bench told in an oral observation that’ “If pricing is something exclusive and you are not sharing it with us, please file an affidavit and say so.” The bench also said that if the details are strategic and confidential, as the Govt. says, the Centre should place it before the Govt. and it might not be shared with the advocates of petitioners.
As for the details about the induction of Indian offset partners, the court said, “The court would also like to be apprised of the details with regard to the pricing/ cost, particularly, the advantage thereof, if any, which again will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover.”
The court also observed that none of the PILs have questioned the suitability of the Rafale jets but their utility to IAF. The questions raised are concerned with the decision making process and the price which is to be paid for them. The bench also said the important details are to be conveyed to the advocates and the parties they are appearing for.
The next hearing is scheduled for November 14. Hours after court’s order, a top govt source has said that the Centre would file an affidavit. Eyeing the need to maintain the secrecy of the weaponry and its technical specifications, the Centre will file an affidavit expressing its inability to provide the details, which was not even provided to the Parliament.
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