NEW DELHI: In what could be seen as a huge setback for the present NDA government just ahead of the first phase polling scheduled to take place for the Lok Sabha elections tomorrow, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected preliminary objections raised by Centre on the admissibility of certain documents produced by review petitioners on Rafale deal.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said it would now go ahead with the hearing of review petitions in the light of new documents cited by petitioners alleging wrongdoing in the Rafale deal.
"We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition," the court said.
Now, the court will fix a date for commencing detailed hearing on the review petitions.
The CJI pronounced the verdict on his behalf and for Justice S K Kaul.
The second concurrent judgment was pronounced by Justice K M 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 apex court said it will go ahead with the hearing on the review petition on the basis of new documents referred by petitioners.
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 the selection of Indian offset partner of Dassault which manufactures Rafale.
This means secret documents published by certain media houses will now be considered as evidence for re-examining December verdict of the apex court. The court, in that verdict, had given a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government over the deal for Rafale fighter jets.
During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre had urged the bench to dismiss the clutch of review petitions on the ground that they had placed reliance on privileged documents (covered under the Official Secrets Act) that were leaked from the defence ministry.
AG claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the fighter jet deal with France and told the bench that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned and referred to section 123 of the Evidence Act.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners seeking review, opposed the submission and said that the Rafale deal documents, which AG says are privileged, have been published and are already in public domain.
He also cited the Pentagon Papers case of US, in which defence documents relating to the Vietnam War were allowed to be published. The US Supreme Court in an emphatic judgment had rejected the government claim of national security, said Bhushan.
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 an 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.
(With PTI Inputs)