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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Rafale case: SC adjourns hearing to March 14 after A-G, petitioners engage in slugfest over ‘stolen files’

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict dismissing all the pleas against the deal procured by India from France.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 6, 2019 8:19:04 pm
Rafale case: SC adjourns hearing to March 14 after A-G, petitioners engage in slugfest over 'stolen files' In the marathon hearing, the Centre told the apex court that documents pertaining to the Rafale deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and that the papers relied on by the petitioners were marked secret and, therefore, in violation of the Official Secrets Act.

The Supreme Court Wednesday adjourned till March 14 the hearing of review petitions filed in the contentious Rafale aircraft case against the apex court’s December 14 verdict. In the marathon hearing, the Centre told the apex court that documents pertaining to the deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and that the papers relied on by the petitioners were marked secret and, therefore, in violation of the Official Secrets Act.

Vociferously opposing the Centre’s contention, Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners in the case, argued that all documents he submitted before the court were sourced from various publications. He also went on to cite how he received documents from whistleblowers in the 2G case and cases against former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha and how the top court relied upon them. READ the highlights

VIDEO | Rafale Deal Controversy

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict dismissing all the pleas against the deal procured by India from France.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened in today’s hearing

*Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal said papers related to the Rafale deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and threatened The Hindu newspaper with the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on them. Venugopal said those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Official Secrets Act and contempt of court.

*When asked by the CJI on what action has been taken on the theft of documents, the Attorney General said although an internal probe was conducted, an FIR into the case has not been registered.

ALSO READ | Enough proof now to prosecute PM Modi, says Rahul Gandhi as Centre cites ‘stolen’ Rafale files in SC

*Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Bhushan, who had jointly filed a petition, alleged that the Centre suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PILs against the Rafale deal in December. When Bhushan referred to an article written by senior journalist N Ram in The Hindu, Venugopal said the write-ups were based on stolen documents. The AG further argued that the first write-up by Ram appeared in The Hindu on February 8 and Wednesday’s edition had another article aimed at influencing the court’s proceedings. This amounted to contempt of court, he said.

*A-G Venugopal subsequently argued that the newspaper published the documents by omitting the word ‘secret’ on top and sought a dismissal of the review petitions while raising objections to Bhushan’s arguments based on the The Hindu’s articles.

*When the A-G said Bhushan relied on documents that were stolen from the Defence Ministry, the Chief Justice said hearing Bhushan did not mean the top court was taking on record the documents on the Rafale deal.

*Shourie contended that clauses related to sovereign guarantee and anti-corruption were deleted from the agreement despite opposition from officials.

*The attorney general also told the Supreme Court that the Rafale case pertains to defence procurement which cannot be reviewed judicially.

*The apex court also said it will not hear the review petition of Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh against its verdict on the Rafale fighter jet deal, saying that he has made some “very, very derogatory statements” about the institution of judiciary. “We have with us some statements made by your client (Sanjay Singh) about this institution. It is very very derogatory. We are not going to hear you,” said the SC bench.

*Citing the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, Attorney General K K Venugopal underscored the importance of having Rafale jets in the air force. “We need Rafale jet to defend our country from F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us. Without Rafale how can we resist them,” the AG told SC. “Rafale fighter jets are needed although MIG 21 of 1960s performed beautifully against F16,” he said, adding that two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets are coming in flyaway condition. The first one will be in September this year, Venugopal said.

*Coming down heavily on the Centre, Justice K M Joseph asked, “if there is a question of corruption, can anyone take shelter under the argument of national security.” Justice Joseph’s rejoinder came after the Centre contended that “we need Rafale jet to defend our country from F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us. Without Rafale how can we resist them.” Further, CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S K Kaul quizzed the Attorney General and wondered whether it can be contended that the stolen material cannot be relied at all.

*The Attorney General observed that anything falling from the court in the matter will be used to “destabilise” the nation. He submitted that the CAG report had also been placed in Parliament.

With PTI inputs

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