SC to hear Rafale review petition on merits

The Supreme Court today ruled that petitioners seeking a review of its earlier judgement on the government Rafale fighter jet deal could use leaked documents, allegedly obtained from the defence ministry and dismissed the government's preliminary objections claiming "privilege" over them.

The apex court said the leaked documents from the defence ministry could be used to seek a review of the Rafale fighter jet purchase, even as the defence ministry reiterated that petitioners are using documents with an intention to present a selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to national security and defence.
The apex court allowed leaked documents to be relied upon by petitioners seeking review of its Rafale judgement and dismissed the government's preliminary objections claiming "privilege" over them.
The defence ministry also highlighted that the documents presented by the petitioners are failing to bring out how the issues were addressed and resolved and necessary approvals of the competent authorities taken, as reported by news agency ANI. 
These are selective and incomplete presentation of facts and records by the petitioners and that the main concern of the government is related to the availability of sensitive and classified information concerning national security in the public domain.
The ministry also added that the government had provided requisite information as desired by the top court and also provided all records and files as required by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). 
"It's reiterated that petitioners are using documents with the intention to present a selective & incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to National Security & Defence. The documents presented by the petitioners are failing to bring out how the issues were addressed and resolved and necessary approvals of the competent authorities taken. These are the selective and incomplete presentation of the facts and records by the petitioners," said the ministry.
"Govt had provided requisite information as desired by SC & also provided all records & files as required by CAG. The main concern of the Government is relating to the availability of sensitive & classified information concerning National Security in the public domain," added the ministry.
Earlier in the day, the apex court's verdict came as a major setback to the centre.
The centre had submitted that the privileged documents were procured by petitioners in an illegal way and used to support their review petitions against the apex court judgement of 14 December 2018, dismissing all pleas challenging procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
A bench comprising of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said, "We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition." 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 highlights 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. 
The top court said review petitions against its 14 December verdict dismissing all petitions against procurement of Rafale jets will be decided on merits. The apex court said it will fix a date for hearing review petitions. 
The petitioners include former union minister Arun Shourie, former union minister Yashwant Sinha and activist advocate Prashant Bhushan. 
The Centre had claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said those documents cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.
The Centre had contended that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned as those documents are also protected under the Official Secrets Act and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).