New Delhi: The controversy surrounding the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft received a fresh lease of life with the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreeing to hear next week a public interest litigation seeking stay on the deal signed between India and France in 2015.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the submission of advocate M L Sharma that his plea be listed for urgent hearing. In his PIL, Sharma had alleged discrepancies in the fighter jet deal with France and sought a stay on it, a PTI report said.

The admission of the plea for hearing is expected to be seen by the Congress party as a shot in its arm. The Congress had earlier said the deal signed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government smacked of corruption and crony capitalism. In fact, the Congress had finalised plans for a media blitzkrieg and ground-level campaign to corner the Modi government over the deal in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. The party had also raised the issue during the monsoon session of Parliament.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi had said the price negotiated by the NDA government for 36 Rafales that were to be purchased under a government to government deal in a fly away condition were higher than prices negotiated by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence has a private tie-up with Dassault Aviation, the maker of Rafale, to fulfil the offset obligations following the purchase of the aircraft.

In the government’s defence last week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, in a blog post on Facebook, accused the UPA of compromising with national security by delaying the purchase of the multi-role fighter aircraft by more than a decade. He also accused Gandhi and the Congress party of running a false campaign against the NDA government on pricing and procedural irregularities.

In his blog, Jaitley said it was on the basis of the request for proposal issued by the UPA government in 2007 that two vendors, Dassault and EADS, were found compliant with the government’s requirements. Thereafter “it took the UPA five more years to commence the negotiations and in January 2012, the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) determined Dassault Aviation to be L1."

Later in 2012, the UPA government called for a re-examination of the deal, delaying the acquisition of the aircraft critical for securing India’s borders, Jaitely said.

S.B. Deo, Vice Chief of Air Staff, on Wednesday said the Rafale was an aircraft that would give India “unprecedented" combat capabilities. “It is a very capable aircraft and we are waiting to fly it," PTI quoted Deo.

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