New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday dismissed a batch of review petitions seeking a probe into the Narendra Modi government’s procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
The court said there were no grounds to order an FIR into the case.
“We hold that earlier verdict in Rafale probe was well within the contours of Article 32 and hence does not merit review,” ruled the three-judge bench.
The court also dropped contempt proceedings against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a related case.
“Person holding such an office should be more careful. Since he has rendered unconditional apology, we will not proceed. We order a word of caution for him,” said the court.
The matter was being heard by a bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph.
The ruling comes over six months after it reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its 14 December 2018 judgment which had dismissed a plea challenging India’s agreement with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets.
The court had also reserved its order on the related contempt proceedings against Gandhi over his attribution of his “chowkidar chor hai” remark to the Supreme Court. The then Congress president had made the remark over the Rafale controversy alleging corruption on part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
‘Material facts concealed by Centre’
During the hearings in the Supreme Court, senior lawyer and petitioner Prashant Bhushan had referred to various aspects of the Rafale deal, including alleged suppression of material facts from the court.
Citing a February 2019 report by The Hindu based on official documents, Bhushan referred to alleged parallel negotiations for Rafale being undertaken by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He added that three members of the Indian Negotiation Team had objected to the PMO’s parallel negotiations.
In the submissions made by the government while the court was hearing the earlier plea in the Rafale controversy, there was no mention of PMO’s alleged role in the negotiations.
Bhushan argued that a prima facie cognisable offence has been committed and it warranted registration of the FIR.
Review grounds same as previous plea
Appearing for the Centre, attorney general K.K. Venugopal had sought dismissal of the review petitions while stating that the basic grounds for seeking a review are the same as in the main petition.
Referring to the documents cited in the Hindu report, Venugopal argued that the petitioners are seeking review of the 2018 judgment on the basis of secret “stolen documents”. However, he later clarified that he meant that the petitioners used “photocopies of the original” papers, deemed secret by the government.
Venugopal also referred to the secrecy clause of the inter-governmental agreement between India and France in the Rafale deal.
Contempt case against Rahul Gandhi
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had also reserved its verdict in a related criminal contempt case against then Congress president Rahul Gandhi filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi.
The court’s move came after Gandhi told SC that he had already tendered unconditional apology for “wrongly attributing” his “chowkidar chor hai” remarks and the criminal contempt proceedings against him should be closed.
Appearing for Gandhi, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that the Congress president has already tendered unconditional apology and expressed regret.
However, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, said Gandhi’s apology should be rejected and action must be taken against him.
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