New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has cited the “current security environment” in India and its neighbourhood to argue in the Supreme Court that raising doubts over the Rafale deal could have a serious impact on “national security”.
The government made the arguments in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, Friday, in response to a batch of pleas seeking a review of the top court’s 14 December 2018 verdict where it had said the Indo-French deal didn’t need to be scrutinised.
The Centre added that “monitoring of the progress by PMO… cannot be construed as interference or parallel negotiations”.
The review pleas, the Ministry of Defence said in the affidavit, were an “attempt to get a fishing and roving enquiry ordered….”
“…Media reports cannot form the basis for seeking review of the judgment since it is well settled that courts do not take decisions on the basis of media reports,” it added.
This was a reference to reports in The Hindu, which pointed to alleged inconsistencies in the deal negotiated by the Modi government. Among other things, the reports cited Ministry of Defence file notings to allege that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was conducting “parallel negotiations” on the Rafale deal, and that the sovereign guarantee for the purchase of the aircraft was dropped from the contract.
These file notings form the basis of the fresh challenge to the Rafale deal. The government had moved the Supreme Court against the use of the file notings as evidence, but the court ruled last month that they were admissible as evidence.
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In the “garb” of seeking a review by “placing reliance on some press reports and some incomplete internal file notings procured unauthorisedly and illegally” the petitioners could not “seek to re-open the whole matter”, the Centre said.
The file notings referred to in the news reports in The Hindu over the last two months, are “incomplete” containing “views expressed by various functionaries at different times and not the final decision of the competent authority of the Union Government”.
The top court’s verdict admitting the notings as evidence, the Centre said, would “imply that any document marked secret obtained by whatever means and placed in public domain can be used without attracting any penal action”.
“This could lead to the revelation of all closely guarded State Secrets relating to space, nuclear installations, strategic defence capabilities, operational deployment of forces, intelligence resources in the country and outside, counter-terrorism and counter insurgency measures etc,” it added.
“This could have implications in the financial sector also if say budget proposals are published before they are presented in Parliament,” the affidavit said.
“Such disclosures of secret government information will have grave repercussions on the very existence of the Indian State,” it added.
Para 25 mis-match
The Centre also weighed in on the controversial paragraph 25 of the December verdict, which resulted from the top court “misinterpreting” a note filed by the government.
In the contentious paragraph, the top court had quoted the note to say the pricing details of the deal had been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the CAG report examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.
Actually, the Centre subsequently clarified, it just meant to list the procedure a CAG report goes through, and not convey that the CAG report on Rafale had been examined by Parliament. The CAG report on Rafale was only released this February.
Referring to the contentious paragraph, the Centre said that “in any case the mis-match does not in any manner either directly or indirectly affect the main judgement and it is not a substantial error as contended as is clear from the observations of CAG on pricing etc.”
As reported earlier by ThePrint, the CAG said in its report that the basic aircraft price was the same in both the NDA and UPA deals for Rafale aircraft, adding, however, that the deal signed by the Modi government managed to ensure 17 per cent savings in relation to India-specific enhancements on the aircraft.
This, the CAG report cited as one of the biggest reasons why the NDA deal was 2.86 per cent cheaper than the UPA-era one.
The report, however, went against the claims made by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that the NDA’s deal was 9 per cent cheaper than the UPA-era contract on the basic aircraft and 20 per cent cheaper overall.
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