The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought more information from the government on the Rafale jet deal, including details of its pricing and deemed advantages.
"The court would also like to be apprised of the details with regard to the pricing/cost, particularly, the advantage thereof, if any, which again will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover," the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice K.M. Joseph said.
While the Congress termed the Supreme Court's move "extremely critical", Aam Aadmi Party said it "is a big shock" to the Modi government.
The court told the Centre that it should state in an affidavit the "difficulty" in sharing the information on pricing after Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said it might not be possible to disclose the cost.
Besides pricing, the court said, the further details that could "legitimately come in the public domain with regard to the induction of the Indian offset partner (if any) be also furnished to the...counsels for the parties, as well as the petitioners in person."
However, the court clarified that details which the government may, at this stage, consider to be "strategic and confidential" be submitted to the court without sharing it with the counsel for the petitioners.
Wednesday's order asking the government to disclose the pricing of Rafale deal is significant, as in its October 10 order, the court had specifically said: "We also make it clear that the steps in the decision-making process that we would like to be apprised of would not cover the issue of pricing."
While seeking information on the pricing/ cost of the deal, the court noted that "in none of the public interest litigations..., the suitability of the equipment (fighter jets) and its utility to the Indian Air Force have been questioned".
However, what has been questioned is the "bona fides of the decision-making process and the price/ cost of the equipment at which the same is to be procured", the court noted in its order.
Saying that at this stage, it would not record any "finding or views" on the details of the steps in the decision-making process, the court, however, ordered the government to share with the petitioner's details of the decision-making the process that can be "legitimately" shared with them.
"We are of the opinion that much of the core information conveyed to the court in the...confidential report which can legitimately be brought into the public domain be made available to the learned counsels for the petitioners in all the cases, as well as the petitioners in person," the court order said.
As counsel Prashant Bhushan drew the attention of the court towards their prayer for direction to the CBI to register an FIR on the complaint made by them and carry out an investigation, the Chief Justice told him to "wait", apparently indicating the current turmoil in the investigating agency.
Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Minister and rebel BJP leader Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan had on October 4 made a complaint seeking registration of FIR and probe into the Rafale deal.
Congress leader Manish Tewari told reporters that the apex court's move to seek more information from the Modi government about the pricing and deemed advantages in the Rafale deal was "extremely critical" and asked what the Centre was hiding.
He said that there are 18 articles in the Indo-French defence agreement. "Would the Prime Minister, Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) and Defence Minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) enlighten the nation which one of the 18 articles highlights secrecy?"
Prashant Bhushan later said in a tweet that the apex court has asked the government to file details of the process adopted, selection "of offset partner and "how the price was arrived at, in response to our PIL."
"We sought a court-monitored CBI Investigation on precisely these issues. On a status report from CBI, CJI said, "let CBI be sorted out first," he said.
(With inputs from agencies.)