File photo of the Rafale fighter jet. Photograph:( Reuters )
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that 'even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets'.
The government Wednesday refused to make public details related to the pricing of the 36 Rafale fighter jets in the Supreme Court, saying "our adversaries may get an advantage" by such a disclosure.
Two days after the government submitted to the apex court in a sealed cover details of pricing of the Rafale deal, Attornet General K K Venugopal defended the secrecy clause related to the pricing of jets before a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
To the government's submission, the bench, which also comprised justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said any discussion on pricing of the Rafale fighter jets can only take place if the facts on the deal are allowed to come in the public domain.
"The decision we need to take is whether to bring the fact on pricing in public domain or not," said bench and noted that without bringing the facts in public domain, there was no question of any debate on the pricing of the planes.
Asserting that the decision on types of aircraft and weapons that need to be bought was a matter for experts and not an issue to be adjudicated upon by the judiciary, Venugopal said, "even Parliament has not been told about the complete cost of jets".
Responding to allegation by Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, that there was no sovereign guarantee by France for the deal, the attorney general admitted that there is no sovereign guarantee, but asserted that there is a letter of comfort by France which would be as good as a governmental guarantee.
Venugopal also submitted that in the earlier contract (during UPA government), the jets were not to be loaded with requisite weapons system and the reservation of the government was due to the fact that it did not want to violate the clause of the Inter Government Agreement and the secrecy clause.
The top law officer said the government has already given to the court the complete details of the Rafale jets, the weapons to be fitted on the aircraft and other requirements, and added that "our adversaries may get advantages if the entire details on the pricing is disclosed".
Refusing to publicly divulge details on the pricing aspect, Venugopal said he would not be able to assist the court further on the pricing issue.
"I decided not to peruse it myself as in a case of any leak, my office would be held responsible," he said.
During the hearing, Venugopal said at the exchange rate of November 2016, the cost of a bare fighter jet was Rs 670 crore.
India signed an agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of the Indian Air Force equipment. The estimated cost of the deal is Rs 58,000 crore.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation.
He also told the court that presently three countries France, Egypt and Qatar are flying Rafale fighter jets.
Venugopal concluded his argument saying that Rafale aircrafts are potent and "had we possessed Rafale during the Kargil war, we could have avoided huge casualties as Rafale is capable of hitting targets from a distance of 60 kms".
To this the bench said,"Mr. Attorney, Kargil was in 1999-2000? Rafale came in 2014."
The top law officer replied, "I said it hypothetically".