SC rejects Centre’s objection on leaked Rafale papers, opposition moves in
The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the Centre’s objection that leaked Rafale papers could not be used to seek a review of the top court’s December verdict. The top court ruling clears the decks for the judges to hold detailed hearings on merits of the review requested by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan. In its December verdict, the court had rejected demands for a court-monitored probe into the deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets
Arun Shourie, who was in the Supreme Court when Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi read out the three-judge bench’s unanimous decision, later told reporters he was “delighted”.
The former minister said if the ruling had gone against them, the review petition would have collapsed. “Our argument was that because the documents relate to defence and you must examine them. You asked for these evidence and we have provided it.” Shourie said. But he wasn’t the only one reacting to the top court’s order.
The opposition moved in swiftly to use the court order to hammer away at the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala was among the first to take a swipe. “Modiji, you can run and lie as much as you want, But sooner or later the truth comes out. The skeletons in #RafaleScam are tumbling out one by one. And now there is ‘no official secrets act’ to hide behind,” Surjewala said in his tweet attack.
Congress boss Rahul Gandhi picked up from where his party spokesperson had left. “I thank Supreme Court… Justice has been done”, he said soon after filing his nomination form for the Amethi seat in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress president also dared PM Modi to a debate on corruption. If he does, Rahul Gandhi said, ‘he will not be able to eye to eye with the people of country’.
During the arguments in court earlier, the Centre’s top lawyer KK Venugopal had accused the petitioners of jeopardizing India’s national security by using secret papers that at one point, he said, had been stolen from the defence ministry.
After the opposition pummeled the government for its failure to secure official documents, the lawyer stressed that the document wasn’t missing from its files but had been photocopied from the originals. The Centre had also argued that the three sets of documents presented a “selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations” on Rafale deal.
But the government’s top lawyer faced many questions from the court that pointed to a clause in the RTI Act that overrides the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and wondered if the government intended to “take shelter under national security when the allegation is of grave crime or corruption”.
At another hearing last month, the Centre had also urged the judges to “exercise restraint” in observations on the procurement of Rafale fighter jets, underlining that every statement by the Supreme Court will be used to target either the government or the opposition.
Venugopal’s cautionary note to the judges had come at a time the Rafale deal is at the heart of the opposition campaign against government ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress-led opposition alleges malfeasance in the purchase to buy 36 fighter jets in an overpriced deal, a charge that the government denies.
The Narendra Modi government signed an agreement with France in 2016 for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets. Under the Rs 59,000-crore deal, French firm, Dassault Aviation will supply 36 Rafale fighter jets to India in flyaway condition. The delivery will begin from September this year.
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