New Delhi: The Supreme Court has dismissed the petitions demanding a probe into the India-France Rafale deal. Thus the Narendra Modi government's insistence that the government-to-government contract is perfectly legitimate stands vindicated while the allegation of the Congress led by its president Rahul Gandhi has proved baseless.

The apex court said…

1. All the petitions questioning the Rafale deal stand dismissed

2. The court is satisfied with the decision-making process between the governments of India and France

3. There is no occasion to doubt the process of the deal

4. There is no proof that Anil Ambani's defence firm was favoured

5. The government is right in saying that placing the details of pricing of the Rafale fighter aircraft in the public domain is not in the national interest

6. There is no proof that the Modi government pressured the government of France or Dassault Aviation to choose Anil Ambani's firm or any other company as an offset partner

7. The country cannot afford a delay in the procurement of fighter jets, as these machines are imperative for the nation's security

8. There is no irregularity in the India-France deal for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft

9. The court cannot deliver a verdict based on the guesswork of some individuals (the petitioners)

10. The intervention of the judiciary in defence deals is improper also because the court lacks the technical expertise to discern on pricing and choice of offset partners

The apex court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph had reserved the verdict on November 14.

Significantly, the highest court of the country ruled that there was no proof whatsoever of the claim that Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence was favoured while choosing Dassault Aviation's offset partners. This follows the statement on Thursday of France's foreign minister Yves le Drian that India had exerted no pressure on his country to choose the offset partners of Dassault and that the choice of all the Indian partners of the French defence firm was entirely Dassault's choice.

The petitions in the case were filed initially by two advocates including Manohar Lal Sharma and Vineet Dhanda. Seizing the opportunity, Aam Aadmi Party lawmaker Sanjay Singh also jumped in, along with the trio of anti-Narendra Modi politicians — Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan.

The case was being heard by a panel of three judges headed by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

In the last hearing, the judges had heard the government and also called in the top brass of the Air Force including vice chief of Air Force Air Marshal Anil Khosla and deputy chief Air Marshal VR Chaudhary assisted by Air Vice Marshal J Chelapati. 

The government had opposed the pleas seeking probe in the case and provided the court with all the required details. While submitting the details of the Rafale deal before the apex court, attorney general KK Venugopal had said that while the government was sharing the details, the review expert committee could examine the deal again, but the judiciary had no right to intervene in the issue. This argument has been upheld by the apex court.

Of course, before upholding the government stand, the court had asked two high-ranking officers, deputy chief Air Marshall VR Chaudhary and commander-in-chief Alok Khosla Eastern Command of the Indian Air Force who informed the court that the fighter aircraft last procured by the force was Sukhoi 30 MKI and that its generation was 3.5 and not even 4. When the court asked when this procurement was made, the officers said it was 1985.

At this, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had asked what generation of fighter aircraft India was procuring now. The officers replied these were 5th generation jets.

On the question as to why the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) could not partner Dassault Aviation, the attorney general had submitted that India needed a factory that could deliver 108 fighter planes within a given time limit, which the HAL was incapable of delivering.

The court asked the A-G about the agreement of technology transfer between the two countries. To that, the additional secretary in the ministry of defence told the court that the changes in the deal made in 2014 were finally ratified the next year.

The A-G added that the nation would not have lost the precious lives of many jawans during the Kargil War and that an inadequately equipped IAF was partially responsible for that. The CJI questioned that the said war had taken place in 1999 while the Rafale deal was struck in 2014. The A-G replied that a Kargil War-like possibility in the future is being pre-empted by procuring and developing advanced fighting machines.

The CJI wanted to know which all countries used the Rafale. The A-G said France itself uses these jets while these fighter planes are exported to Egypt and Qatar besides India.

Petitioner-activist Prashant Bhushan had asked why Reliance Defence, which does not even have land of its own, was chosen as an offset partner, alleging that the deal smacked of irregularities. To that, the government replied that its submission before the court clearly stated that India began a fresh round of negotiations with France for Rafale in May 2015 whereas the announcement that India was going to bargain for Rafale anew was made a month prior to that.

India and France had finally signed on the dotted line for Rafale jets on September 23, 2016. The government-to-government deal is worth € 7.87 billion which is about Rs 59,000 crore. The deal is part of the Air Force's upgrading plans. The Rafales will start arriving in India in 2019. 

The Congress has been desperately trying to create a controversy about the deal by claiming that favours were done to industrialist Anil Ambani by the government.