The Supreme Court on Thursday will deliver its verdict on review petitions challenging its December 2018 judgement rejecting the need for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Rafale fighter jet deal. The court had reserved its verdict on May 10.
The pleas were filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, among others, after The Hindu, in February, published multiple revelations about the deal that were reportedly based on stolen government documents. On February 8, the newspaper reported that in 2015, the Ministry of Defence had objected to “parallel negotiations” conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with France. At the time, the two countries were discussing the deal.
On February 13, The Hindu reported that the deal signed by the Narendra Modi government was not “on better terms” compared to the offer negotiated by the previous Congress-led government. The newspaper quoted from a dissent note written by three senior defence ministry officials who were the domain experts on the seven-member Indian negotiating team.
In April, French newspaper Le Monde reported that in 2015 France had waived taxes worth €143.7 million (Rs 1,139 crore at current exchange rate) owed by a local subsidiary of businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications, around the same time the Rafale deal was being negotiated. The following year, Ambani’s newly formed company Reliance Defence was chosen by Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jets, as one of the partners to fulfil offset obligations mentioned in the deal. This bolstered the claims of Opposition parties, who have questioned why a new and inexperienced company was chosen over the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
In the review pleas, the petitioners alleged that the court’s judgement in December had “relied upon patently incorrect claims made by the government in an unsigned note given in a sealed cover”. They also sought perjury proceedings against central government officials responsible for allegedly submitting “false or misleading” data about the defence deal.
Bhushan, Shourie and Sinha also said that the court did not consider a letter retired bureaucrats had written to the Comptroller and Auditor General, protesting that it had not submitted any report about the deal even though it had been signed three years ago.
The government urged the court to dismiss the review petitions. However, on April 10, the Supreme Court said it would go ahead with the hearings even if the petitions were based on stolen and classified documents. The following month, the Centre told the Supreme Court in another affidavit that the decision of the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor the agreement cannot be construed as interference. The Centre said allegations that government officials made false statements and suppressed facts in court were “completely false” and baseless. It reiterated that the petitioners were relying on “selective leaks” of defence ministry files to the media that present an “incomplete picture”.
On Thursday, the court will also rule on a criminal contempt petition that Bharatiya Janata Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi filed against former Congress President Rahul Gandhi for attributing the “chowkidar chor hai” slogan to the top court. The slogan was used by the Congress and other Opposition parties in the run up to the General Elections to target Prime Minister Modi about alleged corruption in connection with the deal.
Here is a roundup of Scroll.in’s analyses and explainers about the defence deal:
- Why is the flagship Rafale deal still controversial?: Despite promises of a better deal than the UPA years, many question remain.
- Can Modi explain this fundamental contradiction in Centre’s stand on the Rafale deal?: Either the jets are the same as before and India is paying more, or they are dramatically better but processes were not followed.
- The five obfuscations of the Rafale deal – and four simple questions the Modi government must answer: It is strange that the defenders of the BJP are confusing Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group.
- What the Supreme Court said about Rafale and why it is a huge victory for Indian journalism:The court not only dismissed the government’s arguments, it clearly established that public interest can override secrecy of documents.
- Did Narendra Modi’s PMO interfere with negotiations over Rafale jets?: A Defence Ministry note claims that the PMO’s ‘parallel discussions’ with France had ‘weakened’ India’s negotating position.
- How are Anil Ambani and Reliance involved in the controversial deal?: A primer on the allegations that Anil Ambani has benefited from Narendra Modi’s deal to buy 36 fighter jets from France.
- France waived €144 million tax dues of Anil Ambani firm while Rafale talks were under way, reports Le Monde: Reliance Communications confirmed that it had paid around €7 million as settlement but denied allegations of favouritism or gain.
- Is India paying more for the fighter jet than it would have under UPA?: The lack of information means that it is simply impossible to say for sure whether the two deals are comparable.
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