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SC reserves verdict on petitions seeking review of verdict on Rafale deal

Petitioners say government misled court by submitting false information about Rafale fighter jet deal.

Aashish Aryan  |  New Delhi 

Rafale fighter jets

The Supreme Court on Friday reserved its verdict on petitions asking it to review its December-15 judgment that refused to investigate the government’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets.

The petitioners--including former union ministers and Arun Shourie, and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, among others--have appealed against the order that said that there was “no occasion to really doubt” the procurement process of the Rs 58,000 crore fighter jet deal even if “minor deviations” had occurred.

Bhushan, during the hearing on Friday, told the top court that the government had suppressed various crucial facts related to the purchase of the fighter jets, including a detailed dissent note submitted by the three pricing experts of the ministry of defence, who were a part of the seven-member Indian Negotiation Team.

“Standard clauses that are required to be part of defence deals were dropped for after meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security. For this fact alone, the deal should be reviewed,” Bhushan told the three-member bench, adding that prima facie a cognisable offence has been committed, which necessitated the registration of a First Information Report.

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The government, which was represented by Attorney General K Venugopal, told the court that the basic grounds raised by Sinha, Shourie, and Bhushan seeking a review of the verdict are same as the main petition and thus should be dismissed.

The secrecy clauses of the deal signed between India and France mandated that the price details be not disclosed to public, Venugopal said, adding that matter pertained to “defence deals and not to the award of contract for construction of flyover or dams”.

On December 15, the bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said after perusing the material provided by the government and having interacted with Air Force officers, the court did not see any reason as to why it should intervene in “the sensitive issue of the purchase of 36 defence aircraft by the Indian government”.

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Following the judgment, Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan had moved review petitions claiming that the central government had made false claims in its affidavits and that the judgment had “relied upon patently incorrect claims made by the government in an unsigned note given in a sealed cover”. The news reports published by The Hindu were also included as part of fresh evidence.

The government had opposed taking the fresh documents on record, alleging that the petitioners had violated of the Official Secrets Act by making unauthorised copies of documents, but the top court had rejected its plea.

First Published: Fri, May 10 2019. 19:17 IST