The Supreme Court on Friday reserved its verdict on petitions seeking a review of its December 2018 judgement rejecting the need for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Rafale fighter jet deal.
The review pleas have been filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, among others. The court on Friday heard the three petitioners as well as the Centre and ordered them to file their written submissions in two weeks, according to the Hindustan Times.
The Centre told the court that the Rafale deal concerns national security and such matters are not examined in courts anywhere else in the world. “This [Rafale fighter] is not for ornamentation,” said Attorney General KK Venugopal. “This is an essential requirement for protection of each and everyone of us... Nowhere in the world will any such matter be brought before court.”
Bhushan told the court that in its judgement it had failed to note that the petitioners were arguing for an investigation into the matter, Live Law reported. The lawyer claimed that the court had proceeded on the basis that the petition was against the deal. “The other ground is that the judgement relied on incorrect and incomplete facts supplied by the central government,” he added.
Bhushan said the government could not have predicted that pricing details of the deal would be redacted from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report. He alleged that the Cabinet Committee on Security had dropped anti-corruption clauses from the deal. “Many such crucial information has been suppressed from this court and the judgement has been obtained by a fraud played by the government,” Bhushan said.
The lawyer said the government had not supplied full information about its decision-making process. He said three out of seven members of the Indian negotiating team had flagged the problem of inflated pricing. Bhushan said the final price was 55.6% above the benchmark price.
The lawyer also claimed that the Centre dropped the sovereign guarantee clause from the contract despite protests by members of the negotiating team. “Concealment of crucial information amounts to fraud,” he added. “Centre’s failure to inform the court about the negotiating team members’ dissent is by itself a ground for reviewing the judgement.”
The advocate said new facts have emerged since the December judgement, such as news of a meeting between a former French foreign minister and businessman Anil Ambani. These additional facts make a review of the verdict necessary, he argued.
In February, a report in The Hindu had alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office had conducted “parallel negotiations” with France in 2015 about the deal. Last month, French newspaper Le Monde reported that France had waived €144 million tax dues of Anil Ambani’s firm while the Rafale talks were under way.
The case so far
In March, the government had urged the court to dismiss the review petitions. However, on April 10, the Supreme Court had said it would go ahead with the hearings even if the petitions were based on stolen and classified documents, according to the government. Earlier this month, the Centre told the Supreme Court in another affidavit that the decision of the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor the Rafale jet deal cannot be construed as interference as implied by a media report.
On Thursday, the Centre filed a reply affidavit in the top court, saying the demand for perjury proceedings against some public servants in the case was misconceived, PTI reported. The review petitions have sought perjury action against unknown government officials for allegedly misleading the court during hearings last year.
In its affidavit, the Centre said the allegations that government officials made false statements and suppressed facts in court were “completely false” and baseless. The government reiterated its claim that the petitioners were relying on “selective leaks” of Defence Ministry files in the media, and that they present an “incomplete picture”.
The Centre also said that media reports cannot form the basis for seeking perjury proceedings as it is well settled that courts do not take decisions on the basis of media reports.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of treason and claimed he had acted as a middleman for industrialist Anil Ambani in the deal. Gandhi has used the phrase “chowkidar chor hai [the watchman is a thief]” to allege Modi is corrupt.
Contempt proceedings against Rahul Gandhi
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on the criminal contempt petition filed against Congress President Rahul Gandhi for attributing the words “chowkidar chor hai” to the top court, PTI reported. Gandhi’s counsel told the court on Friday that the Congress chief has already tendered an “unconditional apology” to the court for the unintentional attribution, and sought that the criminal contempt proceedings against him be closed.
The contempt petition was filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi, saying that Gandhi had attributed his remarks about Modi to the court.