On April 10, 2015, India and France had announced that the IAF would buy 36 Rafale fighters in fly-away condition. (Photo Credit: Dassault Aviation/Official Website)
In a major relief for the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Rafale mega defence deal and dismissed the review plea filed by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, ex-Union Ministers Yashwant Singha and Arun Shourie. The Supreme Court’s bench comprising of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph pronounced the verdict. The mega defence pact was at the centre of political storm during the runup for the Lok Sabha Elections. Pronouncing the verdict, Justice Kaul said that, “We do not consider the submissions for the registration of FIR to be fair. The review petition is dismissed found to be without any merit.”
The CJI-headed Bench had reserved the order on the review plea filed by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, ex-Union Ministers Yashwant Singha and Arun Shourie. The review plea alleged that the government misled the court into delivering its December 14, 2018 judgment upholding the agreement. On May 10, the apex court had reserved the decision on the pleas seeking a re-examination of its findings that there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph is likely to pronounce verdicts on three review petitions filed by the trio, lawyer Vineet Dhandha and Aam Aadmi Party lawmaker Sanjay Singh.
On December 14, 2018, the apex court dismissed the petitions seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities in the Rs 58,000 crore deal.
However, while reserving the judgement on the review petitions, the apex court had posed searching questions to the Centre on its deal with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets on issues like "waiver of sovereign guarantee" and the absence of technology transfer clause in the IGA pact. The bench had referred to a judgment in the Lalita Kumari case which said that an FIR is must when information revealed commission of cognizable offence. "The question is whether you are obliged to follow the Lalita Kumari judgment or not," the bench had asked.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the bench that "there has to be a prima facie case, otherwise they (agencies) cannot proceed. The information must disclose commission of cognizable offence".
Justice Joseph had referred to the earlier deal and asked the Centre as to why the inter-governmental agreement (IGA) on Rafale with the French administration does not have the clause of transfer of technology. "The court cannot decide such technical aspects," the law officer had said.
On the court's question of waiver of sovereign guarantee by France in the IGA and its replacement with a letter of comfort, Venugopal had said it was not an "unprecedented practice" and referred to such agreements with Russia and the US where there was such a waiver. "It is a question of national security. No other court in the world will examine a defence deal on these kinds of arguments", he had said.
Bhushan had submitted that the December 2018 judgement did not deal with the prayer seeking probe into the deal and decided the petition on the premise that it was seeking cancellation of IGA. He had contended that the Centre misled the court by referring to non-existent CAG report in November, 2018 hearing when it is on record that the report came later in February this year.