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Mere Conjecture of a UPA Era Deal for 126 Rafale Jets of No Use: SC in Clean Chit to Modi Govt

The Supreme Court said things were quiet till September, 2018, when certain newspapers reported a statement claimed to have been made by the former President of France Francois Hollande, and a press interview alone cannot be the basis of a probe.

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Updated:December 15, 2018, 7:46 AM IST
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Mere Conjecture of a UPA Era Deal for 126 Rafale Jets of No Use: SC in Clean Chit to Modi Govt
File photo of a Rafale fighter jet.
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday tracked the development of the Rafale deal from the post-Kargil days till the Narendra Modi government took a final decision for procuring the fighter jets from France - a pact that had earlier failed to fructify despite long running negotiations during the UPA regime – to dismiss the allegations of wrongdoing against the NDA government.

Saying that India cannot remain unprepared in skies when its adversaries have acquired the most modern fighter planes, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi held that "broadly the processes have been followed" as it narrated how the UPA’s deal for 126 Rafale jets got replaced in 2016 by the NDA government, which went for 36 fully-loaded jets with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerostructure Ltd as Indian offset partner.

The court added that the long negotiations for procurement of 126 fighter jets under the UPA rule had not produced any result, and merely conjecturing that the initial Request For Proposal could have resulted in a better contract is of no use.

The Congress, led by its president Rahul Gandhi, has repeatedly targeted the government for changing the terms of the deal it had agreed with Dassault and alleged that it was done to favour the Anil Ambani firm in exchange for kickbacks, but the Supreme Court’s rejection of the argument on Friday will hurt the Congress narrative ahead of the election season.

The top court said the necessity to upgrade the strategic needs of the country's armed forces was felt in the post-Kargil war days and it resulted in Request for Proposal (RFP) for procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircrafts (MMRCA).

The bench, which also consisted of Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph noted that in June 2001, an in-principle approval was granted for procurement of 126 fighter jets to augment the strength of the Indian Air Force which resulted in formulation of a more transparent Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) for the first time in 2002.

"A robust offset clause was included in the DPP in the year 2005 so as to promote Indigenisation and to that effect Services Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) were prepared in June 2006," the bench said.

It said that on June 29, 2007, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted the 'Acceptance of Necessity' for the procurement of 126 fighter jets, including 18 in fly-away condition to be procured from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), with the remaining 108 aircrafts to be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under licence - to be delivered over a period of 11 years from the date of signing of contract.

The bench said that subsequently the bidding process was commenced in August 2007 and six vendors submitted proposals in April, 3 2008.

"The proposals were followed by technical and field evaluations; a Staff Evaluation Report and a Technical Oversight Committee Report. All these were completed in the year 2011," it said, adding that the commercial bids were opened in November, 2011 and Dassault Aviation was placed as the LI category sometime in January 2012.

"Negotiations commenced thereafter and continued but without any final result. In the meantime, there was a change of political dispensation at the Centre sometime in the middle of the year 2014," the court noted in its verdict.

It noted the submission of Centre said that negotiation continued and a process of withdrawal of the Request for Proposal in relation to the 126 MMRCA was initiated in March 2015.

"On April 10, 2015 an Indo-French joint statement, for acquisition of 36 Rafale Jets in fly-away condition through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), was issued and the same was duly approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). The Request for Proposal for the 126 MMRCA was finally withdrawn in June 2015," the bench noted.

It added that negotiations were carried out and the process was completed after Inter-Ministerial Consultations with the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

"The contract along with Aircraft Package Supply Protocol; Weapons Package Supply Protocol; Technical Arrangements and Offset contracts was signed in respect of 36 Rafale Jets on September 23, 2016. The aircrafts were scheduled to be delivered in phased manner commencing from October 2019," the bench said.

It highlighted that things remained quiet until sometime in the month of September, 2018, when certain newspapers reported a statement claimed to have been made by the former President of France Francois Hollande, to the effect that the French Government were left with no choice in the matter of selection of Indian Offset Partners and the Reliance Group was the name suggested by the Government of India.

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