A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s argument that privileged, classified and ‘stolen’ documents could not be relied upon to review the court’s order on the Rafale deal in December.
“Modi Ji, you can run and lie as much as you want but sooner or later the truth comes out. The skeletons are tumbling out and now there’s no Official Secrets Act to hide behind…Don’t worry Modi Ji, an investigation is going to take place now, whether you like it or not,” reacted Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala while hailing the verdict.
The decision dealt a major blow to the Government on the following counts:
1. The Government and the Prime Minister had consistently maintained that the Supreme Court had given them a clean chit. The decision nailed the lie. The last word has not yet been spoken on the charges.
2. The Government in a way had authenticated the documents by claiming in court that the documents, on which reports in The Hindu and the Review Petition filed by Yashwant Sinha, Prashant Bhushan and Arun Shourie were based, were stolen. It had also argued that such documents could not be used for litigation. The Supreme Court has indicated that there is no legal merit in the argument.
3. The Government had argued that the classified documents dealing with pricing of the Rafale fighter jets were sensitive in nature and the disclosure of the documents and the details would adversely affect national security. By agreeing to examine the documents, the apex court has indicated that the Government’s argument held no water.
4. The Government had threatened to sue the newspapers, including The Hindu, for publishing the ‘leaked’ documents. The Supreme Court’s decision recognises the right and indeed duty of the ‘Press’ to access, examine and publish such documents in public interest.
In short, the allegations related to the Rafale deal will again be examined by the highest court of the land. It has come as a major setback to the ruling party, which has been claiming that the deal had received a clean chit from the Supreme Court.
While the court did say in December, 2018 that it would not go into pricing and other details and that prima facie it did not see anything wrong in the procedures followed, the Review Petition had accused the Government of not placing all the facts before the court.
Documents later accessed by The Hindu revealed that reservations expressed by the Indian Negotiating Team (INT) had been brushed aside at the level of the PMO.
Today’s judgment makes it clear that during hearing of the Review Petition the court will look into not only the question of pricing of the jet but also selection of Indian offset partner of Dassault, which manufactures the Rafale jet fighter planes.