NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed petitions seeking a review of its verdict refusing a CBI investigation into the Rafale fighter jet deal with French firm Dassault Aviation and giving the Modi government a clean chit.
A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph said, “We don't feel it necessary to order an FIR (First Information Report) or a roving inquiry into the Rafale deal case. We find the review petitions are without any merit.”
On May 10, the Supreme Court had reserved the decision on the petitions by former union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, 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.
The review petitions were filed by the trio, lawyer Vineet Dhandha and Aam Aadmi Party lawmaker Sanjay Singh.
In their arguments, petitioners had contended that the 2018 judgment relied upon patently incorrect claims made by the government in an unsigned note given in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court.
Opposing the petitions, the centre had said the petitioners relied on media reports and they can't reopen the case.
In a separate ruling, the court also closed the contempt case filed against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi for wrongly attributing his chowkidar chor hai remark in Rafale case against Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the top court.
The bench said that Gandhi, being a person holding a place of importance in the political spectrum, should have been more careful before attributing to SC certain things which were not part of the order.
“Rahul Gandhi needs to be more careful in future about attributing his political comments to the court,” the bench remarked.
The bench today also allowed a plea by the Union government for correction in December 14, 2018 Rafale judgement, wherein it was stated redacted version of CAG report has been placed in Parliament.
The rejection of review petitions is tantamount to the apex court giving a second clean chit to the Modi government.
Reading out the judgement, Justice Kaul said the judges had reached the conclusion that it is not appropriate to order a roving inquiry into the allegations.
Maintaining that the review petitions have sought registration of an FIR in connection with Rafale fighter jets jet deal, the bench said, "We do not consider it to be a fair submission".
Justice Joseph, who wrote a separate judgement, said he agreed with the main verdict written by Justice Kaul subject to certain aspects on which he has given his own reasons.
In December last year, the apex court had dismissed the petitions seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities in the deal.
While reserving the judgement on the review petitions, the apex court asked the Centre searching questions 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 inter-governmental agreement (IGA).
The bench referred to an earlier judgement which said an FIR is a must when information revealed commission of a cognizable offence.
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 the commission of the cognizable offence".
Justice Joseph had referred to the earlier deal and asked the Centre why the IGA on Rafale with the French administration does not have the clause of transfer of technology.
"The court cannot decide such technical aspects," Venugopal said in response.
On the court's question of waiver of sovereign guarantee by France in the IGA and its replacement with a letter of comfort, Venugopal said it is not an "unprecedented practice".
"It is a question of national security. No other court in the world will examine a defence deal on these kinds of arguments," he said.
Bhushan, arguing his own case, had submitted that the December 2018 judgement did not deal with the prayer seeking a probe into the deal and decided the petition on the premise that it is seeking cancellation of IGA.
He contended that the Centre misled the court by referring to a non-existent CAG report in November 2018 hearing when it is on record that the report came later in February this year.
Bhushan also alleged suppression of material facts from the court by the Centre and said as many eight critical clauses of the standard defence procurement procedure were dropped in the deal in the meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security in September 2016.
One clause dealt with the aspect that the government can cancel the deal if the information of any involvement of middleman comes to the light, he said.
Venugopal had vehemently opposed the submissions and sought dismissals of review petitions, saying the basic grounds of these pleas were the same as in the main case.
The government is under obligation to put defence material undercover, he said, adding that "when the security of the country is involved, you do not view it as a contract to build a highway or a dam".
(With PTI Inputs)