New Voice in Rafale Row; Airforce Underscored the Encumbrance of the Fighter Jets Before SC

In the ongoing legal proceedings over the Rafale row, Airforce reinforced the encumbrance of procuring these fighter jets stating that “Sukhoi 30s were the latest to be inducted which is a third-generation aircraft and added that they do not have fourth or fifth generation aircraft in its fleet.”

When asked by the top court, if there has been no induction of aircraft since 1985, the officers said “no”.

After the bench asked for assistance of an Air Force officer on the issue, Alok Khosla, Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, and deputy chief of air staff VR Chowdhuri and two other officers appeared in the court to answer their questions.

On Monday, the government had submitted details of how it decided to buy 36 fighter jets from French defence manufacturer Dassault at Rs. 59,000 crore, to the top court and petitioners who have asked for an investigation into the deal.

The pricing details, which the centre said were classified, were also submitted in a sealed cover to the court.

Defending the secrecy clause regarding the pricing of the fighter jets, the Attorney General KK Venugopal today said, “Our adversaries may get advantage if the entire details on the pricing are disclosed.”

Refusing to divulge details on the pricing aspect, Mr Venugopal said he would not be able to assist the court further on the pricing issue.

“I decided not to see it myself as in a case of any leak, my office would be held responsible,” he said.

Mr Venugopal added that “even the parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets”.

His response came after lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, alleged that the government was hiding behind the secrecy clause to not disclose the price of the Rafale jets.

Mr Bhushan alleged the price per aircraft was 155 million Euro and now, it is 270 million Euro. This shows that there was hike of 40 per cent in its price, the advocate said.

The court clarified during its four-hour-long hearing that any discussion on price will be considered if it thinks the issue should enter the public domain.

If Rafale had been there during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as the fighter jet is capable of hitting targets from 60 km, Mr Venugopal told the bench.

But when Chief Justice Gogoi reminded the attorney general that the Kargil war happened in 1999-2000, while the Rafale process began in 2014, Mr Venugopal said he meant “hypothetically”.

After hearing from the officers, the Chief Justice allowed them to leave saying, “it is a different war game here in the court. You can go back to your war rooms.”