The Supreme Court today gave its final stamp of approval on the Rafale deal and said that there were no irregularities in it. While rejecting the review petitions that challenged the earlier order giving the Centre a clean chit, the Supreme Court said that the court cannot initiate a roving and fishing inquiry and there is no ground for an FIR.

In today’s Rafale order there was also a word of caution for Rahul Gandhi, who had attributed his remark, “Chowkidar Chor Hai,” to the order of the Supreme Court. While cautioning him to be careful in future, the court said that he had uttered those words without even reading the judgment of the Supreme Court dated December 2018. 

In the interest of national security:

Experts say that the Supreme Court has now twice ensured that national security is of utmost interest. Had the Supreme Court tried stalling or delaying the deal it would have impinged on the Indian Air Force and national security and interest would have been severely compromised.

The opposition and some others tried making this issue a very big deal. In the bargain, the narrative about what the Indian Air Force needed and what India’s national security demanded was completely forgotten.

Air Marshal (retd), BK Pandey tells MyNation that the entire exercise undertaken by the opposition and others was a futile one. There was never any case in the first place. The allegation that Rs 30,000 crore was given to the Ambanis was far-fetched, imaginary and all wrong. Rahul Gandhi too made several comments on this issue and today he has been cautioned by the Supreme Court, Pandey says.

The Supreme Court had rightly said that the deal was necessary and India as a nation cannot be underprepared. It is not right for a court to sit as an appellant authority and scrutinise all aspects. In a nutshell the court held that there cannot be anything bigger than national security.

BK Pandey says that the verdict is in the right spirit and the court was not swayed by emotional consideration. Overall it was objectively handled, and national security was foremost on the minds of the judges.

The parallel negotiation theory debunked:

Earlier this year there were strong objections that had been raised to the parallel negotiations that were undertaken by the Prime Minister’s Office in the Rafale deal. The PMO was accused of weakening the negotiating position of the defence ministry and the Indian Negotiating Team.

However, those making the allegations failed to understand that the PMO is above the defence ministry. One can call the negotiations parallel when there are two organisations at the same level. In this case the defence ministry had to follow what the PMO did.

It was alleged that in some news reports that the defence ministry had raised objections to the parallel negotiations between India and France. Experts point out that the PM is the head of the nation. He was only leading an effort, which had to be backed by the defence ministry. Air marshal (retd), BK Pandey says that a certain hierarchy has to be followed and this effort by the PMO could not be viewed as a parallel negotiation.

Blind allegations:

The opposition had also raised a hue and cry as to why Reliance Defence had been chosen over Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). However what needs to be borne in mind is that the role of Reliance Defence is restricted to the offset obligation. It is not about manufacturing.

It may be recalled that Dassault had come up with an objection about partnering with HAL as they had felt that quality control was not up to the mark. Former defence minister AK Antony had said then HAL would be the lead integrator, and none could back out of it. It was said that the first 18 aircraft would be supplied by France and the remaining would be manufactured by Dassault and HAL together.

Dassault which wanted to set up a separate factory wanted a partner in India to do the groundwork. Reliance Defence was identified as Dassault had already partnered with them for the manufacture of components of civil aircraft.

All these issues ensured that the tender got stuck. Meanwhile the IAF was desperate for a modern aircraft and conveyed to the government that this issue has been in the limbo since 2001.

It was proposed by the IAF that 36 aircraft be purchased directly from France and the same was then conveyed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BK Pandey says that it was decided to cancel the contract. He further adds that to agree with what Dassault said and partner with Reliance would have been wrong as it was against the terms of the contract, which then stood cancelled.

He further adds that as part of the second part of the contract which relates to offset obligation, 50% of the value of the contract needs to be invested in India. This would be in the aerospace industry and not in manufacturing of Rafale. Dassault would need to invest in this space and was already in contract with Reliance and hence the liability to spend Rs 29,000 is nothing wrong, BK Pandey explains. 

Not right to step into this arena:

In the 2018 verdict, the Supreme Court had made it clear that Reliance Aerostructure Ltd, has come into being in the recent past, but the press release suggests that there was possibly an arrangement between the parent Reliance company and Dassault starting from the year 2012.

As to what transpired between the two corporates would be a matter best left to them, being matters of their commercial interests, as perceived by them. There has been a categorical denial, from every side, of the interview given by the former French President seeking to suggest that it is the Indian Government which had given no option to the French Government in the matter.

As far as the role of HAL, insofar as the procurement of 36 aircrafts is concerned, there is no specific role envisaged. In fact, the suggestion of the Government seems to be that there were some contractual problems and Dassault was circumspect about HAL carrying out the contractual obligation, which is also stated to be responsible for the non-conclusion of the earlier contract.

Once again, it is neither appropriate nor within the experience of this Court to step into this arena of what is technically feasible or not.  In this process, the role of the Government is not envisaged and, thus, mere press interviews or suggestions cannot form the basis for judicial review by this Court, especially when there is categorical denial of the statements made in the press, by both the sides.

We do not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Indian Government, as the option to choose the IOP does not rest with the Indian Government, the Supreme Court had said.

We find no reason for any intervention by this Court on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 defence aircrafts by the Indian Government. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this Court, especially in such matters, the Supreme Court also said.