The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the review petitions seeking probe into the Rafale deal. The top court further said it doesn't feel necessary to order FIR or roving inquiry into the Rafale deal case. "We find the review petitions are without any merit," a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said. The bench also comprised Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph. The apex court had reserved the verdict on the deal in May this year.
Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal representing the Centre argued before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that there was no "corruption" in the Rafale deal and that the government is bound to maintain secrecy on pricing, as per Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) signed between India and France. The AG had insisted that the world over, defence deals are not examined in a court of law.
Referring to the Rafale deal as a question of national security, the AG had told a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, "We have signed an IGA, which we are obliged to follow. Rafale is not for ornamentation. It is essential for the protection of each and every one of us....nowhere in the world such matters go before the court."
The AG also told the court that in accordance with Article 10 of the IGA, the pricing in the deal cannot be disclosed. "In this matter, the secrecy clause of the inter-governmental agreement between India and France, pertains to defence deals and not to the award of contract for construction of flyover or dams...," said the AG, insisting on the dismissal of review petitions.
What is the Rafale case?
The opposition had alleged that the aircraft, built by Dassault Aviation of France, was purchased under a direct government-to-government agreement at a much higher price than the one negotiated for 126 aircraft by the UPA government under an open tender.
Who filed the review petitions and why?
There were two review petitions — one by former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, the other by Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh. They urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its December 14, 2018 verdict dismissing the prayer for a court-monitored investigation into the India-France deal for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, reserved its judgment on the review pleas on May 10.
A history of Rafale case in Supreme Court
Former Union ministers, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who have filed the review petitions, contended before the top court that it should set aside December 14, 2018, verdict, which dismissed their plea for a criminal investigation into the Rafale deal. Later, the apex court reserved verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its December 14 judgement.
Bhushan told the various aspects -- alleged suppression of material facts -- have been hidden from the court, and an FIR should be registered to undertake criminal investigations. He also pointed out a three-member Indian Negotiation Team (INT) had objected to the parallel negotiations undertaken by the PMO, and as a consequence, allegedly the deal became expensive.
The AG objected to the review petition and said the basic grounds for seeking review of the December verdict were similar to the main petition, which was not allowed by the apex court. The top law officer also rubbished the allegation of the petitioners that the Centre played a fraud on the court regarding the information on the deal. "The petitioners are seeking review on the base of stolen documents...they committed theft by accessing incomplete file notings of the government departments," said the AG.
Bhushan had argued that eight critical clauses, including the one on anti-corruption, were dropped on the deal, and also ignored the objection of three experts on the pricing of the aircraft deal. "The Centre should place the entire file of the negotiations team before the court...for the deal to go through. The Centre also breached the ceiling price. The French government issued a letter of comfort, which was not of any comfort", argued Bhushan before the court.
Shourie, who briefly argued, informed the court that it has been misled, and although the government has given all the documents regarding the deal to CAG, "why can't they share them with the court?" he asked.
Shourie also shared a document published on the Ministry of Home Affairs' website which mandates the government to share information on defence deals. The AG argued that the document is old, and in accordance with IGA, which was signed in September 2016, the government has to oblige its terms regarding secrecy.
The AG also informed the court that the Rafale deal has come to a fruition stage after many years, and if at all any delay is caused, developing a new Request for Proposal (RFP) and then floating the same; it will take another 5 years.