Rafele deal : Pricing can be discussed only if facts on deal become public, says SC

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said any discussion on pricing of the Rafale fighter jets can only take place if the facts on the deal are allowed to come in the public domain. “The decision we need to take is whether to bring the fact on pricing in public domain or not,” a bench headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.

The bench, also comprising justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, told Attorney General K K Venugopal that without bringing the facts in public domain, there was no question of any debate on pricing. However, the bench clarified to the attorney general that any discussion on price will be considered if it thinks that it should come in the public domain. The top court also sought the assistance of any Air Force officer on the issue of procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

“We are dealing with requirements of the Air Force and would like to ask an Air Force officer on the Rafale jet. We want to hear from an Air force officer and not the official of the Defence Ministry on the issue,” the bench said when Venugopal commenced his arguments on behalf of the Centre. Venugopal told the bench that an Air Force officer would be reaching within a few minutes. The attorney general in his arguments defended the secrecy clause related to the pricing of Rafale jets saying,”Our adversaries may get advantages if the entire details on the pricing is disclosed.”

Refusing to divulge details on the pricing aspect, Venugopal said he would not be able to assist the court further on the pricing issue. “I decided not to peruse it myself as in a case of any leak, my office would be held responsible,” he said. Venugopal said these matters are for the experts to deal and “we have been saying that even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets”. He said at the exchange rate of November 2016, the cost of a bare fighter jet was 670 crore.

India signed an agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of the Indian Air Force equipment. The estimated cost of the deal is Rs 58,000 crore. The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation. Venugopal said the earlier jets were not to be loaded with requisite weapon system and the reservation of the government was due to the fact that it did not want to violate the clause of the Inter Government Agreement and the secrecy clause.

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