India

Rafale deal: All eyes now on Supreme Court hearing on October 10 

The petitioner MK Dharma sought additional time for submitting more documents challenging the Rafale deal and the three judge bench headed by Ranjan Gogoi will hear it on Oct. 10

Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Nitya Chakraborty/IPA

As more and more reports come out pointing fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the selection of Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Ltd over state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as the offset partner for the Rafale fighter jet deal, all focus has now shifted to a Supreme Court bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who will be hearing a PIL challenging the Rafale deal on October 10. By that time, Gogoi will be Chief Justice of India, since he will be taking over from CJI Dipak Misra on October 3.

Earlier on September 18, the three judge bench headed by Ranjan Gogoi advanced the hearing to October 10 as the petitioner MK Sharma sought additional time for submitting more documents challenging the Rafale deal. Sharma in his petition has alleged discrepancies in the fighter jet deal with France and sought a stay on it. Though the apex court did not grant interim stay on the deal, the fact that the petition has been admitted for hearing and the petitioner has been allowed to submit documents, gives enough indication that the learned judges will delve seriously into how the deal was concluded. This may well lead to questions about the role played by the PMO and personally by the Prime Minister.

Sharma’s petition also sought lodging of an FIR and prosecution of the Prime Minster Narendra Modi, former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, business tycoon Anil Ambani and French firm Dassault Aviation, makers of the Rafale jet, along with the recovery of the amount. Legal experts say that the circumstances under which the offset partner decision was taken at the last minute before the announcement was made by the Prime Minister on April 10, 2015 give enough indication that the decision was taken in an unilateral manner violating the long-standing procedures of making such inter government agreement. Statements by former French President Francois Hollande indicate deliberate pressure tactics to push Reliance Defence as a partner.

Though the apex court did not grant interim stay on the deal, the fact that the petition has been admitted for hearing and the petitioner has been allowed to submit documents, gives enough indication that the learned judges will delve seriously into how the deal was concluded. This may well lead to questions about the role played by the PMO and personally by the Prime Minister

A media report quoting experts at Dassault Aviation said technical staff were unhappy with the move to drop HAL and that CEO Eric Trappier chose Reliance Defence for the Rafale deal at the last minute. More skeletons are tumbling out from the technical rooms of Dassault, creating more headaches for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Completely contradicting the official statement from Dassault Aviation which was given to save the deal, two top technical heads have stated in an interview to India Scoops, that the entire technical staff team at Dassault Aviation were unhappy with the move to drop HAL from the deal and instead partner with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd.

The article quoted Dassault officials, who did not want to be identified, as saying that CEO Eric Trappier and two others were adamant that they could only go with Reliance Defence and refused to listen to the advice of the departmental HODs, adding that they were told the Indian government would have scrapped the deal if Reliance was not taken on board.

All these facts emerging in media reports, along with the statement of the former HAL chairman who was a privy to all discussions with Dassault and who retired only on September 1 this year, combined with the statement of former French President Francois Hollande that the Indian Government proposed Reliance and Dassault had no choice, will be before the Supreme Court. Officials of HAL are seething with anger at the statements of the Defence Minister defaming HAL. They will also want to see that their reputation is salvaged. So, many quarters apart from the PMO and BJP leadership will be paying close attention to the proceedings in the Supreme Court.

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