In a massive jolt to the Narendra Modi government on the eve of Lok Sabha elections, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Centre's objection claiming privilege over documents used by petitioners to seek review of Rafale judgment. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also agreed to hear the review petitions on the controversial deal. The top court said that all the review petitions against its December 14 verdict dismissing all petitions against procurement of Rafale jets will be decided on merits.
"We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition," a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said.
The petitioners - senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie - sought the top court to review its earlier order in view of the fresh documents claiming the Prime Minister's Office interfered in the negotiations of the deal despite objection from defence ministry officials. Bhushan has demanded a CBI probe into the deal.
The decision to consider the fresh documents and review its earlier order was taken unanimously by the three-judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The Centre had told the court that the documents filed by the petitioners were "sensitive to national security" and that people who accessed them committed theft and put national security at risk by leaking them to the public.
To the Centre's argument, petitioner Prashant Bhushan said that "if a document is relevant in deciding a fact, how it was obtained becomes irrelevant". During the last hearing, the Supreme Court had also said that "According to you (the government), these documents affect national security and court should not interfere... we have to consider it under the RTI Act."
"In cases of corruption and human rights violations, even sensitive organisations have to disclose information under RTI (Right to Information)," the top court had said.
The Hindu had published a secret document of the defence ministry, syaing that "parallel discussions by the PMO have weakened the negotiating positions by the MoD (Ministry of Defence) and the negotiating team". In its report, the English daily also claimed that the deal became more expensive than it was decided during the previous government after the Government of France refused to provide bank guarantees.
Earlier, in its December 14 order, the Supreme Court had rejected petitions claiming that the Narendra Modi government had agreed on an overpriced deal to held his "business friend" Anil Ambani's defence firm, that was reportedly floated just 10 days before the deal was signed, bag an offset contract from Dassault Aviation - the company responsible for manufacturing the fighter jets.