SC on Rafale deal: Perception of individuals cannot be basis of fishing and roving inquiry

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to intervene in the Rafale fighter deal, saying there is “no occasion to really doubt the process”, delivering a major victory to the government and lending a setback to the Congress which has been alleging corruption in the agreement.

“Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving inquiry by this court, especially in such matters,” said a three-judge bench, while dismissing all the writ petitions which sought a Supreme Court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the deal.

The court said it does not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Government of India.

The bench, also comprising Justices K. M. Jospeh and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, said the required process has been followed.

The deal was announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France in April 2015 and the deal was concluded in 2016.

“We are satisfied that there is no occasion to really doubt the process, and even if minor deviations have occurred, that would not result in either setting aside the contractor requiring a detailed scrutiny by the court,” the Supreme Court emphasised.

The Congress and some other opposition parties had been alleging that the due processes were not followed in the decision to procure 36 aircraft from Fench company Dassault.

The court, in a 29-page judgement, underlined that the need for the aircraft is not in doubt, neither is the quality of the aircraft in question.

“In view of our findings on all the three aspects, and having heard the matter in detail, we find no reason for any intervention by this court on the issue of purchase of 36 defence aircraft by the Indian government,” the judgement read.

The top court said it is neither appropriate nor within the experience of the court to step into this arena of what is technically feasible or not.

Mere press interviews or suggestions cannot form the basis for judicial review by this court, especially when there is a categorical denial of the statements made in the press, by both the sides, the bench said.

“We have studied the material carefully. We have also had the benefit of interacting with senior Air Force Officers who answered court queries in respect of different aspects, including that of the acquisition process and pricing,” it said.

“We have been informed that joint exercises have taken place and that there is a financial advantage to our nation,” the Apex Court said.

Defending the procurement, it said the country “cannot afford to be unprepared or underprepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only 4th Generation but even 5th Generation Aircraft, of which, we have none.

It will not be correct for the Court to sit as an appellate authority to scrutinize each aspect of the process of acquisition, it said and dismissed all the six petitions seeking a SIT probe.

To another contention of the petitioners, the bench said, “we cannot go into deciding 36 aircraft in place of 126 aircraft.”

The Modi government went for procurement of 36 aircraft in a fly-away condition to meet the shortage in the Air Force.

Earlier, the UPA government had issued tenders for procurement of 126 aircraft and Rafale plane was finalised from among five bidders.

The petitions filed by former union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and some others had sought a SIT probe into the deal, alleging large-scale irregularities and corruption in it.