Former Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Wednesday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court challenging its judgement refusing a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Rafale defence deal between India and France.
The top court had on December 14 dismissed a series of public interest litigations seeking an investigation into the deal.
In the review plea, the petitioners alleged that the judgement “relied upon patently incorrect claims made by the government in an unsigned note given in a sealed cover”, PTI reported. It also sought a hearing in open court.
The petitioners contended that the court did not consider their plea for a CBI investigation, but instead reviewed the contract “prematurely” without any inquiry into disputed facts of the case. They also said that apart from relying upon incorrect facts presented by the Centre, the court did not consider a letter that retired bureaucrats had written to the Comptroller and Auditor General protesting that there had been no CAG report on the deal even though three years had passed since it was signed.
The petitioners said that contrary to government claims, the CAG report on the deal does not yet exist, and has not been placed before the Public Accounts Committee. In relying on a “non-existent fact” to pass its verdict, the court made a “substantial error”, they argued.
Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan argued that the court, when it questioned Indian Air Force officers about fighter jets, did not pose to them a single question about the pricing of the 36 Rafale aircraft or the decision to purchase them.
They also said that the top court did not consider that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure was ineligible to be an offset partner for French firm Dassault Aviation. Reliance Infrastructure incorporated over half a dozen companies within weeks of the signing of the deal, the petitioners said, adding that even after three years, none of the firms began any production, and the parent firm made negligible investments in them.
Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan also argued that former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was not consulted about the deal, and had told Doordarshan in April 2015 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the decision to buy the aircraft.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi had said that the Supreme Court judgement cited a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that did not exist. Following this, the Centre asked the Supreme Court to make a correction in two sentences of the judgement in which it had refused to order an investigation into the Rafale defence agreement.
The Congress has accused the government of overpaying for the fighter aircraft and claimed that the deal has benefited businessman Anil Ambani. Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s allegations were bolstered by former French President Francois Hollande’s claim in September that the Indian government had proposed the name of Ambani’s Reliance Defence for the offset obligations in the deal. The Congress has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation into the deal, a demand the government has rejected.