A Rafale fighter jet | Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday unanimously agreed to review its December 2018 judgment against a court-monitored probe into the Narendra Modi government’s acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

The court said the Rafale review petitions will be heard on merit, and ruled that the “sensitive” documents submitted as evidence by petitioners were admissible, dismissing the Centre’s objection to their use.

The date for hearing the review petitions will be decided later.

“We deem it proper to dismiss preliminary objections… and affirm the review petitions will be adjudicated on the basis of relevance of the three documents whose admissibility was questioned by the Centre,” a bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul said. Justice K.M. Joseph issued a separate but concurring judgment.

The apex court had on 14 March reserved its verdict on pleas seeking a review of its December 2018 judgment, where it said the Indo-French deal for the acquisition of 36 fighter jets did not need to be scrutinised. It had agreed to hear the review pleas in open court on 26 February.

One of the pleas was filed by former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha along with advocate Prashant Bhushan, also seeking to initiate perjury proceedings against government officials for allegedly misleading the court on this issue.

The review was tagged with the perjury plea as well as an application filed by the Centre seeking to correct two lines in the controversial paragraph 25 of the court’s 14 December verdict.

The Narendra Modi government has claimed that it was “grammatical errors” that led the top court to “misinterpret” a note filed by it and surmise that the pricing details of the Rafale deal had been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the CAG report examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.

“Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before the Parliament, and is in public domain,” the controversial paragraph of the court order had read.

This paragraph is at the heart of the opposition’s contention that the Narendra Modi government sought to mislead the court on the Rafale controversy by suggesting that the CAG report had been placed before the PAC when it hadn’t been.


Also read: There is enough evidence to prosecute PM Modi in Rafale deal case, says Rahul Gandhi


As the court takes up the review pleas, it will also examine the selection of industrialist Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offsets partner in the Rafale deal since Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan had pointed out alleged irregularities and favouritism in the decision.

What the Centre said

The Modi government had taken exception to certain documents attached with Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan’s plea, saying the classified documents were sensitive to national security as they related to the war capacity of combat aircraft. The Centre claimed that the documents had been procured through unauthorised “photocopying”.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, said the petitioners were using documents accessed without authorisation with “the intention to present a selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to national security and defence”.

The Centre also invoked sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and claimed privilege, suggesting that the documents didn’t fall within the purview of public scrutiny.


Also read: NDA Rafale deal cheaper by 2.86% but price could have been cut further: CAG report


‘No scrutiny needed’

In December 2018, the top court had thrown its weight behind the decision-making process of India’s deal with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft and dismissed all pleas challenging it.

“…Country can’t afford to be unprepared in matters of fighter aircraft,” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had said.

“We can’t go into wisdom of purchasing 36 in place of over 100 aircraft under the last [UPA] deal… Don’t even need to go into pricing.” he had added.

The order came on a batch of petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Narendra Modi government’s controversial purchase of Rafale fighter jets from French firm Dassault Aviation.

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3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. 1. I think the press has done a laudable job in Rafale aircrafts case and hence we must appreciate importance of free press. 2. We citizen-voters are aware of that in all defence equipment procurement deals there is payment of some commission or money. Therefore, we need to make the process of defence equipment procurement transparent so that there remains no scope for underhand dealings. 3. Citizen-voters like me also wish to know the truth behind Rafale aircrafts deal. However, they are not at all sure about intentions of the opposition parties. Do these parties wish to know the truth or wish to be in power on basis of allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal? 4. Further, citizen-voters like me are not sure that the Congress President Rahul Gandhi is really against corruption in defence deals. I think that (a) Rahul Gandhi wishes to make use of allegations of corruption to seize power and (b) he is not at all serious about curbing corruption in defence deals or in other government spending. Hence, citizens wish that Rahul Gandhi should make a public announcement about what the Congress led government would do about Rafale deal if UPA comes to power after 2019 Lok Sabha election. Would the Rafale deal be renegotiated or would it be cancelled? Would those who have made e wrong decisions in Rafale case be brought to book? These vital questions are in citizens’ mind and they need straight forward answers. Many citizen-voters like me believe it that ‘The Print’ has a special responsibility in this regard.

  2. Very damaging results could ensue. The deal negotiated by Mr Modi will very likely be cancelled. If BJP is not in power after this election, the new government may press for more serious charges against Mr Modi personally, for putting the nation’s security in jeopardy to favour a particular businessman friend. The endgame of Mr Modi’s political career in all likelihood has begun.

  3. How the documents came into the possession of the petitioners or a respected newspaper is not really the issue. Although leaks to the media happen in all democracies and are not a hanging offence, the authorities would be at liberty to pursue that matter separately. As far as the apex court is concerned, official files relating to both the decision making process – viz, whether due procedures were followed – and pricing had already been made available to it. These documents are part of those files / records but do not appear to have been shared with the Court earlier. If there is any question about their authenticity, instead of relying on what the petitioners have furnished, the apex court could ask for them officially from MoD. Pricing and offsets are important for the Court to be fully satisfied that all is well.

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