SC rejects Centre's plea, to hear Rafale on merit

SC rejects CentreSC rejects Centre’s plea, to hear Rafale on merit
Highlights

n a big setback to the Modi-led NDA government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the Centre's "preliminary objections", allowing the admissibility of three documents in the Rafale deal as evidence in re-examining the review petitions filed against the SC's December 14 judgement.

New Delhi: In a big setback to the Modi-led NDA government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the Centre's "preliminary objections", allowing the admissibility of three documents in the Rafale deal as evidence in re-examining the review petitions filed against the SC's December 14 judgement.

Earlier the government had claimed "privilege" over the leaked Rafale documents under Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act and told the court these papers couldn't be considered as bases to re-examine its verdict on the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal. The Supreme Court has also said "as far as the question of hearing of review plea on Rafale judgement is concerned, it will give a detailed hearing later on".

"We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition," a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said. The court said it will go ahead with the hearing on the review petition on the basis of new documents referred by petitioners.

The CJI pronounced the verdict on his behalf and for Justice SK Kaul. The second concurrent judgment was pronounced by Justice KM Joseph, who said he agreed with the conclusion of the judgment written by the CJI. The Chief Justice said Justice Joseph agreed with the judgment delivered by him but gave different reasoning.

The judgment makes it clear that during the hearing of the review petition, the bench will look into not only the question of pricing of the jet but also selection of Indian offset partner of Dassault which manufactures Rafale.

The top court said review petitions against its December 14 verdict dismissing all petitions against procurement of Rafale jets will be decided on merits. The apex court said it will fix a date for hearing review petitions.

Former Union minister Arun Shourie, who is one of the review petitioners, said he was delighted by the unanimous verdict. "We are delighted it is a unanimous verdict dismissing Central government's peculiar argument on admissibility of documents. Centre's argument meant that no wrong can be done in the defence deal," Shourie said.

The other two petitioners are former Union minister Yashwant Sinha and activist advocate Prashant Bhushan.On March 14, the apex court had reserved verdict on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre on admissibility of privileged documents annexed by Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan in their review petition.

The Centre had claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said those documents cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

The Centre had contended that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned as those documents are also protected under the Official Secrets Act and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).

On December 14, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had dismissed all Public Interest Litigations against the deal between India and France for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets, saying there was no occasion to "really doubt the decision-making process" warranting setting aside of the contract.

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