In what can be seen as yet another clean chit for the Modi government on the Rafale aircraft deal, the Supreme Court has dismissed the review petitions against the SC judgement on Rafale which had declined to probe the defence deal on the purchase of 36 fully loaded Rafale fighter jets from France through an inter-governmental deal.
These review petitions were filed by the former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, journalist-turned-politician Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan. The dismissal of these petitions has once again confirmed the frivolous nature of this legal onslaught on the Modi government, which started ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, more seemingly to influence the outcome of the elections based on perception.
The three judge bench, led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices KM Joseph and SK Kaul, held that the petitions lacked merits. Justice SK Kaul who read out the verdict, said that there are no grounds to order an FIR and that the court cannot initiate a “roving and fishing inquiry”. Notably, the Supreme court observed, “We do not consider the submissions for the registration of FIR to be fair.”
The controversy surrounding the Rafale matter had almost come to an end when the Supreme Court bench had given the NDA government a clean chit, dismissing all petitions on 14th December, 2018. During the said judgment on the Rafale deal, the apex court had taken into account three broad areas of concern, namely, the decision making process, difference in pricing and the choice of Indian Offset Partner (IOP). The court, while respecting the confidentiality of the matter held that it is not necessary to dwell into this issue and dismissed the writ petitions.
Thereafter, on the basis of confidential reports published by ‘The Hindu’, petitions were filed, seeking review of the December 14th judgment. However, the documents relied on by the petitioners were stolen from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as alleged by Attorney General KK Venugopal. The Supreme Court, however dismissed the preliminary objections by the centre against use of ‘privileged documents’. The Court said that the review petitions will be heard on merits on a later date, and observed its judgement in May this year.
The Hindu report written by N Ram had fallen flat on the face of many well known facts of the aircraft deal, and it had alleged the interference of the Prime Minister’s office through secret documents acquired or presumably stolen from the Defence Ministry. These documents had later been shared by the Ministry of Defence itself and on comparison it was found that the writer N Ram had resorted to cropping out parts of the document to strengthen the narrative against the government. The doctored images greatly put into question the journalistic ethics followed by The Hindu newspaper.
Apart from that, N Ram also claimed that the Rafale aircrafts were bought by Modi government at a price 41 per cent higher to the market price. To give a sensational headline, The Hindu did not calculate the escalation in India specific enhancements (ISE) and kept it flat for the price calculation in 2007, 2011, and 2015. In the headline, it was prominently highlighted that the deal was 41 per cent but in subsequent paragraphs, N Ram himself writes that after the escalation addition, the Rafale price is just 14.2 percent higher.
It had become awfully clear that N Ram had used rookie tricks to create suspicion about the Rafale deal in the days ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The article was an embarrassing attempt to malign the government by regurgitating already known facts of the deal but twisting them so as to mislead the readers. Such a tainted, and brutally debunked report had been asked of the Supreme Court to take into consideration by the petitioners.
Previously, the government had even received a clean chit from the CAG, whose report, submitted on the last day of parliament stated, “The deal under NDA at 7.87 billion Euros for 36 jets was 2.86 percent cheaper than the price that was being negotiated by the UPA in 2012.”
The Rafale deal was being aggressively portrayed as a scam by the opposition, led by the Congress and aided by the likes of the petitioners mentioned above so as to design an illusion detrimental to the image of the Modi government. Campaigns like “Chowkidar Chor hai” were being carried out in full throttle. Nonetheless, these attempts yielded no benefit in the LS 2019 elections as the Modi government returned with a massive majority. Finally, the Supreme Court’s judgement lands a final blow on this campaign.