Law

Missing Links: The Supreme Court's Verdict on the Rafale Deal

The Wire's founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan and defense analyst Ajai Shukla discuss the questions that remain unanswered.

The following text is a transcribed and edited version of a video conversation held directly after the Supreme Court’s judgment on December 14, 2018. Watch the full conversation here.

Siddharth Varadarajan: Today, the Supreme Court ruled  judgement on a clutch of petitions that were filed questioning the Rafale deal. The judgment was written by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on behalf of the bench comprising himself and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph. Broadly speaking, the court has refused to go into any further enquiry into the purchase of the 36 aircraft.

Today,  Ajai Shukla and i will talk you through the logic and arguments that the Chief Justice has presented in his order. Shukla is a defence analyst who has been following the Rafale controversy from day one, when Narendra Modi declared in Paris on April 10, 2015 that India was going to go purchasing 36 Rafale aircrafts on a standalone basis.

Also read: Here’s Why the Supreme Court’s Rafale Verdict is Not a ‘Clean Chit’ for Modi

Now, the Supreme Court today has said that when it comes to questions of contracts, and in particular, commercial contracts that have a national security implication or bearing, the court’s jurisdiction is, perforce, limited. The court does not have a great appetite to go into any fine detail when it comes to evaluating these kinds of contracts except if there is patent illegality, if there is a manifest violation of procedure.

Starting with this caveat where the court says that, look right at the outset, we are approaching this set of petitions on the basis of the fact that we’re dealing with what is essentially a national security procurement,

the court then goes into analysing three broad questions that the Rafale deal involves and which the petitioners raised.

The petitioners include M.L. Sharma – who is, as some may say, a person who files PILs quite regularly,  but the most important and solid petition was that filed by Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, former cabinet ministers, together with Prashant Bhushan where they essentially asked for a CBI enquiry – a criminal investigation into the purchase.

Now the court highlighted three issues which it said it wanted to go into. The first was the question of process. Did the government follow the specified process in buying 36 aircraft from Dassault Aviation on a flyaway basis? The second is the controversy over pricing. You will recall that pretty much from day one the Congress party, defence analysts and other opposition politicians have been questioning the price at which the Modi government bought these planes, saying that the government has ended up paying too much. The third set of issues, in many ways the most controversial, revolved around the choice of Anil Ambani as one of the key offset partners of Dassault Aviation.

The court traces aspects of the process that the government has followed in settling on this purchase of 36 aircraft and concludes without going into any great detail that even if “minor deviations” have occurred, this would not result in either setting aside the contract or requiring a detailed scrutiny by the court. A few sentences later, the court says again that “broadly” the processes have been followed. So the court hasn’t gone into minute details but seems to have satisfied itself that the broad processes have been followed. Even if there have been minor deviations, the court is not inclined to question this deal. Of course, what these minor deviations have been, the court does not specify.

Also read: Rafale Deal: Nine Questions the Supreme Court Verdict Leaves Unanswered

On the issue of pricing, the court points out that initially, we had said we will look only at the process but in the interest of transparency, we also asked the government to share details of pricing with us. It then says that the government has maintained from the very first day that pricing is a highly sensitive issue and is very careful not to share these issues lest “enemy countries” get details of what weaponry the plane carries.

At the end of its very brief analysis on prices, the bench essentially reproduces what the government has claimed. In the operative paragraphs, as per the price details, the government claims that there is a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft. So the court is reiterating what the government is claiming. It is not endorsing it. In fact, the court clearly says “it is certainly not the job of the court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in such matters”.

So whatever else the court may have said and not said, it has certainly not taken sides on the controversy about whether the Modi government is paying too high a price or whether the price is better as the Modi government has claimed.

On the issue of offsets, which we will discuss in detail, the court has traced the origin of the controversy to the interview given by former French president Francois Hollande, where Hollande had said that the government of India had imposed Anil Ambani on the French side. The court says that under the defence procurement guidelines of 2013, the choice of offset partner is that of the original equipment manufacturer alone, the government has no say. Given that that’s what the DPG says and given that both sides denied what Hollande said in his interview, the court sees no reason why it ought to get into what is a commercial decision taken by Dassault Aviation.

The court also said that it wouldn’t get into the matter any further and concludes with  a somewhat curious reiteration of the centrality of jurisdictional questions under Article 32 of the constitution. The chief justice says that, “We dismiss all writ petitions. We, however, make it clear that our views as above are primarily from the standpoint of the exercise of the jurisdiction of this court under Article 32 of the constitution of India”. In a way, the court, having entered this minefield and made a broad brush pronouncement in favour of the government, also recognises the limited nature of its own jurisdiction in this kind of a matter. So that, in a nutshell, is what the Supreme Court has said.

Also read: With the Supreme Court to Rule on Rafale Deal, Here’s a Guide to the Issues

Joining me to decode key elements of the judgement is Ajai Shukla. Ajai, you have followed this deal. You wrote extensively on the MMRCA. I recall from when the process started, you were among the first to actually raise questions about Modi’s April 2015 surprise announcement when essentially the previous deal was scrapped for all intents and purposes and a new deal was presented in its place.

You’ve been through the judgment. I want us to talk about it in a sequential manner starting with the preliminary observations of the court. The court says that when it comes to national security matters and when it comes to commercial tenders, ‘our appetite is limited, our jurisdiction is limited’.

Do you feel that this is a valid caveat for the court to mention right at the outset?

Ajai Shukla: It would be a valid caveat if the court mentioned it and did not pronounce judgment. But the court has actually said that we have very limited jurisdiction in tenders and contracts dealing with national security but then pronounced a judgment that sounds like it has exonerated the government on all three counts: price, procedure and offset evaluation.

Its a strange sort of judgment in that respect, in which the court has at several places along the judgement – starting from the opening paragraphs – sort of distanced itself from a role in this entire procedure of evaluation but then gotten back into saying that things were more or less okay or somewhat according to procedure, minor deviations from procedure. This seems to me a bit of a contradiction.

SV: Now, focusing on process, we know in the run-up to the judgment, during the arguments in court, even before that, going back to the last couple of years, questions have been raised within the context of the defence procurement guidelines, the manner in which the earlier 126 aircraft process was scrapped and then ws succeeded by a deal involving 36 aircraft.

The government in its written submission to the court – which is unsigned – talked about how the process for withdrawal of the request for proposal was initiated in March before Modi went to Paris. This was the first that we had ever heard of this. In fact, S. Jaishankar, the foreign secretary, on the eve of Modi’s visit was speaking as if the old deal was still in the works.

The Dassault Aviation chairman, Eric Trappier, also was speaking in a similar way as was pretty much anybody with any authority in India. But the government says that ‘we initiated withdrawal of the proposal and then subsequently went by the letter of the DPG guidelines. Do you think that the court has resolved this issue or do you think it has ignored a lot of objections that were raised simply and chosen not to comment on them?

AS: This is a very incomplete judgment. What’s remarkable about this judgment is how much it doesn’t address, rather than what it does address, except that it reaches a very firm conclusion. On this issue of the withdrawal of the tender, they can withdraw the tender whenever they like. But the issue really relates to the initiation of a fresh tender and a fresh statement of case which the Air Force, is required to initiate when it goes in for a new tender and a 36 aircraft tender was for all practical purposes a new tender.

Therefore, it should have initiated the statement of case, it should have obtained what they called an acceptance of necessity from the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) and then that goes on to a formal procurement.

Also read: Indian Govt Suggested Reliance as Partner in Rafale Deal, Hollande Tells French Website

SV: The DAC is the apex procurement body within the MoD?

AS: Yes. But a lot of decisions, especially financial decisions in this particular case, have to go up to the cabinet committee on security (CCS) because the competent financial authority, the so-called CFA, is the CCS, because this is a huge contract. So this judgment also mentions that. Now, the issue of whether this process was carried out, this statement of case, this evaluation by the DAC, the accord of a fresh acceptance of the necessity for 36 aircraft. The judgment is silent about that.

SV: And the government’s own submission to the court makes no claim about this in any case.

AS: It doesn’t make a claim about it in any case. So, I think, there’s also this insinuation that the government got into a strategic procurement – or a procurement on strategic grounds – because it mentions at one stage that the aircraft had carried out mutual Air Force exercises, which is one of the preconditions [for buying weaponry through an intergovernmental agreement].

SV: That was a very slender fig leaf!

AS: Yes, because the basis of procurement was not that the IAF had observed the Rafale in exercises and were besotted with the aircraft! The basis of procurement went all the way back to 2001, when it all started, the need for 126 aircraft, and that was the statement of case and acceptance that went all the way up to the procurement.

SV: The court repeatedly says, by all accounts, that nobody is questioning the capability of the aircraft, that India needs this aircraft and hence we can accept minor deviations in the process because India needs it, India’s adversaries have capabilities that India doesn’t. Do you think that this argument of necessity is something that ought to be given credence to?

AS: If that were indeed an argument, that the aircraft is so badly needed for India’s national security that all processes can be bypassed and all procedures can be bypassed and any price that is necessary can be paid, then the court should say that. It can’t say that it’s so badly needed for India’s security but the prices and processes were badly followed. There seems to be a contradiction over there. Either prices and processes are important or central or they’re not and can be thrown out of the window. You can’t argue both sides of the fence simultaneously as this judgcment apparently does.

SV: The court quotes from the DPP 2013 as to what the conditions are for going in for an inter-governmental agreement, where you essentially short-circuit many of the processes that you would otherwise involve, and, condition A, is proven technology and capabilities belonging to friendly country is identified by our armed forces while participating in joint exercises; B, large value weapons system platform in service in a friendly country is available for transfer at a much lesser cost, which is clearly not the case; and C, the requirement of procuring a specific state of the art equipment, where the government of the OEM’s country may have imposed a restriction on its sale and thus the equipment cannot be evaluated on a no-cost basis. The court seems to accept that these three conditions have not really been fulfilled, but it does say that joint exercises have taken place and that there is a financial advantage to our nation. It seems like a bit of a stretch to cite this as a reason for going in for this.

AS: Looking at it from a distance, it would appear to me, and I suspect to most observers, that the court has got confused by the technicalities of the entire issue. It has cited the technicalities but gone away and said we really don’t want to get into this because it’s national security and we’re under such threat, and fourth generation and fifth generation aircraft are coming into our neighbourhood and we don’t have them. Which is incorrect: the Sukhoi is a 4.5 generation aircraft and that’s the mainstay of our air force. So that’s a factually incorrect statement to make. But the judgment really combines a high degree of ignorance of technicalities with an excuse that technicalities are no longer important because this is such a key national security issue and therefore we don’t want to get into it. It’s really not what I would call a carefully crafted judgement.

SV: The court seems to have accepted at face value the government’s submission that talks have broken down between HAL and Dassault Aviation in the run-up to Modi’s visit and hence the process of withdrawing the RFP government claims was initiated in March 2015. In support of this idea of a breakdown of talks between HAL and Dassault, the court cites two claims made by the government: first, that the HAL would require 2.7 times greater man-hours than the French side, and second, that Dassault Aviation was required to undertake necessary contractual obligations and there were issues of the contractual responsibilities that were unresolved.

Now, I’ve seen interviews by former HAL chairman, Mr Suvarna Raju, who in a way has contradicted this idea that HAL. I was also struck by the court procedure where, in order to validate the idea that you need Dassault, you need Rafale aircraft, the court summoned at very short notice senior serving Indian Air Force officers and subjected them to a rather curious line of questioning. But it didn’t do the same to counter-check the government’s claims on whether indeed HAL is as bad as the government is suggesting. What’s your sense of how valid this argument of the government is? Because that’s a key part of this entire process – that HAL couldn’t deliver so we couldn’t hang around for HAL to close the deal with Dassault Aviation.

AS: I would concur with Suvarna Raju that this is completely invalid. Certainly, the 2.7 factor of labour intensity of the production work is a completely invalid argument for the simple reason that when Dassault submitted its price, it had already factored in HAL’s labour cost into the costing of the aircraft. If it had not done so, then Dassault had not done its job, not done its homework. It would have held intensive discussions with HAL, factored in the price and if HAL has 2.7 times more labour intensity, it certainly takes one-third as little as Dassault pays its labour. So that’s not an argument at all; that seems to be an entirely falsely constructed argument.

As far as the responsibility for the aircraft produced by HAL is concerned, firstly, the request for proposals for that, the 2007 tender, clearly mentions that the vendor, Dassault, will be responsible for the aircraft’s quality and performance. So if Dassault was getting up at a later stage and saying that it would not be responsible for that, it should have been eliminated from the contract immediately. It was no longer in conformity with the terms of the tender. But I don’t believe that it was such a killer blow. That is something which language could have easily been used to sort out and had been done.

But more importantly, in March 2015, when the government now says they had initiated the withdrawal of the tender, and the next month the chairman of Dassault was in India, talking up the contract and saying that this is going to be signed within a few days. And the foreign secretary was the next month announcing that the deal was very much on track.

Also watch | Supreme Court Verdict on Rafale: Unanswered Questions

SV: So it’s very hard to square all of this. Other issues that have been raised about the process have to do with the question of a lack of a sovereign guarantee, the question of the location of any arbitration proceeding should a dispute rise between India and France. And we’ve seen a controversy triggered by statements from former defence ministry officials about the benchmark price. One of the officials involved said that the contract negotiation committee was initially tasked with the idea of coming up with a benchmark price and this was changed. The court hasn’t gone into the question of benchmark pricing at all.

The court acknowledges that there is a controversy of sovereign guarantee but then says without comment and without passing any judgment that the government claims that it has got a letter of comfort from France. We know the two are not necessarily the same thing, but the court does not go into this. And on the issues of arbitration, where the law ministry had noted on files that arbitration should be in India and that the question of sovereign guarantees is a must, the court chooses simply not to comment on this. Also quite odd.

AS: Certainly, when you are talking about price, any observer of the deal would note that the contract negotiation committee says that there should be a benchmark price of $5.2 billion, and that suddenly goes up to $8.2 billion … The CNC itself was completely split down the middle; three people were not willing to agree with this. The defence minister to whom it was then referred said, “I’m not signing on this, let the matter be resolved by the cabinet committee on security (CCS).” And then the CCS, based on what calculation I don’t know, suddenly raised the benchmark price to $8.2 billion, conveniently making the bid price fall within that bracket.

Now, the court seems to have taken no cognisance of that at all. It merely said, these are matters that the government says: that they’ve obtained it at a cheaper price and they seemed to have taken that at face value. The court has taken everything that the government has said at face value, not realising that the government itself is the subject of this petition, but everything that has been averred by the petitioners is not being treated with that much of care.

SV: In fact, the framing of the judgment’s arguments. I was struck by one very curious point which the court says not once but twice. It says that the process was concluded for the 36 aircraft on the 23rd of September 2016 and then it asserts that nothing was called into question then. “It is only taking advantage of the statement by the President of France Francois Hollande, that these set of petitions have been filed”. So the court essentially appears to have made up its mind that there was no controversy at all until Hollande’s statement came, but now this is patently not true! People had questions on day one and as more details emerged, there have been questions asked about this. The opposition has been badgering the government on the question of price for some time, so to say that there was no questioning until Hollande made his statement a few months ago is a bit odd,  simply put, it’s factually incorrect.

AS: I don’t know whether after reading this judgment, the petitioners will come to the conclusion that there are such gaping flaws in this judgment that they would go in for a review petition. They’ve already reserved the right to do so. Certainly, these are factual inaccuracies that detract from the credibility of this judgment. Also,  the court says President Hollande’s statement has been comprehensively rebutted from all sides. It has not. It’s a very qualified rebuttal that is coming from the French side, where they’re not directly contradicting Hollande, merely repeating the line of the Indian government – that is that it’s the original equipment manufacturer who decides on the offset partner but – they haven’t refuted.

SV: Turning now to the issue of pricing, the court says that initially we were not inclined to go into it. we were going to look only at the process, but then subsequently we decided to do that and we asked the government to give details in a sealed cover given the sensitivity of this material. The judgment deals with pricing in around two pages there’s not a lot that the court talks about. It simply reiterates the government’s desire to keep things secret. It cites the government’s claims that secrecy is built into the contract and built in an India-France treaty and it quotes the Chief of Air Staff saying that he is stated to have communicated his reservation regarding the disclosure of the pricing details, including regarding the weaponry, which could adversely affect national security.  The court then essentially acknowledges that these figures haven’t been shared with Parliament but it says that the government has shared pricing details with the CAG and with the Public Accounts Committee of parliament. It then – the court to my mind actually refrains from making any qualitative observation on pricing itself. It says, this is what the government claims and then it adds, it is certainly not the job of this court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present.

If the government has the right to feel satisfied that the court has pronounced a ‘clean chit’ on the process, and that it  has accepted the government’s logic as to why more details can’t be given and why they can’t be more public discussion but hasn’t taken a view of its own on pricing and certainly it’s chosen not to get into this whole debate as to whether Modi has paid a higher price or lower price (depending on which side of the political fence you sit on). But this issue of weaponry, and that the price of the aircraft cannot be disclosed because enemy countries will find out – how valid an argument is this because we have several price figures bandied around. The government on two occasions has given two different figures. We also have a figure quoted in Dassault Aviation’s annual report and based on all of this, we have a fair idea of the overall cost, which is why people are talking of Rs 58,000 crore in the first place, so if the broad figure is available and from which you can work out the per aircraft cost, I am not sure why this reticence to actually evaluate whether the price paid is a fair price or not.

AS: Let me quickly read out the key para relating to price:

“Suffice it to say that as per the price details, the official respondents claim there is a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 aircraft.”

The judgment seems to be willing to go along with the claim of the official respondents, that the government have “claimed that there are certain better terms in the IGA called the maintenance and weapons package. It is certainly not the job of this court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present.”

Right, so their Lordships are removing themselves from this issue of pricing but at the same time broadly

saying that the government says it’s okay so it’s okay and we don’t need to question that. But coming to the question that you raised on this matter of confidentiality, this is a really artificially fabricated argument. You do not have to mention what capabilities have been put in, you do not have to mention the specific weapon systems and the specific avionics capabilities that the aircraft has. We are only asking for a block price for the Indian specific enhancements. All you have to say is these specific enhancements cost 1.8 billion dollars! Now the interesting thing in all of this was that on the day that the contract was signed, all defence journalists were called in and briefed by a very senior Ministry of Defence official when they actually gave out all these prices. If there was such confidentiality, why was this done on the 23rd of September 2016, the day that the contract was signed?

SV: Turning right to the last part of the judgment, in many ways what is at the core of the public controversy – because the issues of process and pricing are quite arcane but certainly what seems to fire the public imagination is this entire controversy about offsets and the choice that Dassault Aviation made of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence or Reliance Aerostructure as a significant partner.  The plant at Mihan in Nagpur, you know.

The choice raised eyebrows at the time simply because Anil Ambani had no previous experience in manufacturing or in defence, which by itself is not a disqualification but many wondered about this choice. People parked that as a thought and there was nothing more that people could comment on.

However, when the former French President Francois Hollande – who was president during Modi’s visit to France in April 2015 – went public in an interview to Mediapart, where he said that the choice of Anil Ambani was essentially that of the government of India, that the French side was given no choice, it was natural for people to seize on this.  The court isn’t wrong in saying that that may have been the trigger because that was – when you have the former French president saying this. Yet the court essentially concludes that no, under the defence procurement guidelines 2013 the choice of offset partner is entirely that of the foreign vendor and that the Government of India plays no role. It’s taken the text or the letter of the DPG at face value, it’s taken the government denial at face value it’s taken statements by Dassault Aviation and Reliance at face value and come to the conclusion that there is nothing untoward or odd and that we aren’t going to review a commercial decision taken by Dassault.

What struck me however while reading this section was a very curious I would say somewhat shocking statement in the judgment where the court appears to be buying into this fiction that Anil Ambani’s Reliance and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance are part of the same parent company. You will recall, and you’ve seen that this is an argument that Ravi Shankar Prasad made – he was the first to make it as a BJP minister when people were saying how did Anil Ambani come into the equation and he said, look it is a fact that Dassault Aviation had had a contract with Reliance back in 2011-2012. This is something that Eric Trappier keeps repeating and sadly no journalist who’s interviewing him questions him about the connection between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and Anil Ambani. Now what’s curious here is that the court in one page refers to Reliance Industries, with whom Dassault signs a deal in 2012 as “ another business group” but in the next page it says there was possibly an arrangement between the “parent” company and Dassault starting from the year 2012 and it gives this argument in order to say that even though it’s true that Anil Ambani’s firm came into being in the recent past but the fact is that the parent company had a deal. Now, there is no parent company! These are two separate companies.

To my mind this seems to be the court kind of clutching at straws and looking for reasons why it should not investigate or not look into this, but you know the fact is that what Hollande said has not been refuted, as you pointed out by the French side.

AS: They have given is a very qualified rebuttal tonight and basically just a favour to the Indian government  but this Reliance thing, of blurring the distinction between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and Anil Ambani’s Reliance is something that when I heard Trappier say, I thought, well he is in France, what does he know about Indian politics and Indian corporate affairs, he doesn’t understand the nature of the split between the two brothers, the non-compete arrangement they entered into amongst each other, he doesn’t understand that Mukesh’s Reliance got into the defence field and then decided this was not the field for them and then got out of the field. Only then did Anil come in but they seemed to assume that a deal with Mukesh was somehow inherited by Anil Ambani by virtue of being his brother, leave alone the fact that they were they had parted in such acrimonious circumstances. This is not the case because those of us who are following the corporate structuring of Anil Ambani’s group know that he set up an entirely different group headed by entirely different people and managers and CEOs with an entirely different line of work. Mukesh Ambani had set up this deal basically to manufacture the Rafale in India. Anil Ambani is merely discharging offsets through making civil airliner parts, so these are two completely different things and to say, as the the Supreme Court has said, that they sort of are one and the same thing and then it goes on to say as to that what transpired between the two corporates would be a matter best left to them being matters of their commercial interests. The court seems to be saying different things in different places in my judgment

SV: You know the question that many viewers will have is where do things go from here. It seems to me that the court which follows its own logic and metrics, and Chief Justice Gogoi has spoken of Article 32 and caveated his whole order by saying that look we are reluctant to get into national security matters but the court after a fashion pronounces its order and no doubt the BJP and the prime minister and his ministers  will attempt to tom-tom this and say that look we’ve got a so-called clean sheet from the Supreme Court. But as we’ve seen in our discussion, the questions that were asked beforehand remain.

I want to emphasize to our viewers that these are not questions which prove or even imply that there is any wrongdoing of corruption on anybody’s part but it is incumbent on us to ask these questions and to ensure that the highest degree of transparency is attended to this kind of  a deal particularly when the Indian government, the French government and Dassault Aviation have been rather miserly with information and on more than one occasion have attempted to mislead public opinion. I think that these questions remain. I know that you as an analyst will continue to ask them, certainly we at The Wire will continue to dig deep into this into these issues and all aspects of this deal.

There is also a request for a investigation in France, the French prosecutor received a request from a French NGO that focuses on transparency which I suppose will also produce some kind of a result in due course and perhaps the venue then shifts from India to France, or maybe the French prosecutor itself decides that there is nothing more in this.

Nevertheless, the logic of the Supreme Court’s judgment leaves lots of questions still unanswered.

AS: Well it leaves those questions unanswered but since this is going to be treated at a political level rather than at a sort of accounting and accountability issue it is sure that the BJP will portray this as a big victory especially coming on the back of the defeat three days ago this will be a shot in the arm for the BJP and you can expect all the TV channels to be discussing this and sort of giving a boost to the BJP in that respect but yes as you said there are there remain a lot of questions about it. The CAG is going to comeup with its report will be made public some time, and then there is the opposition demand for a JPC or some kind of parliamentary scrutiny.

SV: For the benefit of our viewers, those of you who’ve been watching this live discussion from the start I do want to share with you the brief statement that Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance group has issued. It is on predictable lines, like the government has said its vindicated, he too essentially cites this as vindication and I quote:

“I welcome the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court today summarily dismissing all PILs filed on the Rafale contracts, and conclusively establishing the complete falsity of the wild, baseless and politically motivated allegations levelled against Reliance Group and me personally. We remain committed to India’s national security and to making our humble contribution towards the Make in India and Skill India policies of the Government in the critical area of defence including our offset partnership agreement with our valued partner, Dassault Aviation of France.”

Now in his statement, Anil Ambani uses this phrase, that this judgment “conclusively establishes the complete falsity of the wild baseless and politically motivated allegations”. But as we’ve seen in our discussion on the issue of process, I think the judgment leaves dozens of questions unanswered we still don’t have clarity on why the government of India, why the Modi government could not extract a sovereign guarantee from France, we don’t have an answer on the question of how benchmark prices upwards by more than two and a half billion dollars. we don’t have an answer on why certain essential elements of the procurement process that have to do with starting a new contract – and the procurement of 36 aircraft was very much a new contract which had to follow a certain process – why that process was not followed. We don’t have answers to that. We don’t have answers to a lot of other issues. The court in a way also acknowledges that some blank spots remain when it speaks of so-called minor deviations in process but where it then says it doesn’t really matter so obviously on process certainly the judgment is somewhat underwhelming in the logic that it provides.

On the issue of pricing, we simply have no details and the court itself remains non-committal so the question. the controversy over price will no doubt continue and move to different fora like the CAG or the demand for a JPC. And on the issue of the choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance as offset partner of Dassault Aviation, I would say that the logic of the Supreme Court in refusing to raise this as an issue is somewhat unconvincing particularly when it tries to suggest that there is a connection between the contract that Dassault Aviation signed with Anil Ambani in 2016 and an earlier contract that Dassault had with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance.

It’s one thing for that kind of argument to be made by the government of India or even by Eric Trappier of Dassault Aviation, but for the Supreme Court to also muddy the waters in this way by suggesting that these companies are closely related to my mind does more to shroud this entire Rafael deal with mystery of some sort. So the questions which were asked by people prior to these PILs very much remain on the table and they need to be answered and certainly at The Wire we intend to go on asking those questions, to go on researching this issue and providing our readers and viewers more information and details about the Rafale controversy.

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