The Supreme Court has rejected a plea by the Centre to ignore documents that have come to light while reexamining its order on the Rafale jet fighter deal.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph rejected attorney general K K Venugopal’s preliminary objections to the court entertaining a joint review petition by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former BJP leaders Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, who had annexed ‘secret’ documents relating to the Rafale deal after they were published by ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.
“We deem it proper to dismiss the preliminary objections raised by the Union… questioning the maintainability of the review petitions,” said the three-judge bench. “We hold… that the review petitions will have to be adjudicated on their own merit by taking into account relevance of the contents of the three documents, admissibility of which, in the judicial decision-making process, has been sought to be questioned.”
The documents include an eight-page note written by three members of the Indian negotiating team, Note 18 of the defence ministry and Note 10 written by SK Sharma, then defence deputy secretary.
“When the documents in question are already in public domain, we do not see how the protection under Section 8(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act would serve public interest,” the CJI said as he pointed out that it was futile on the part of the Centre to claim privilege over the three documents and seek their deletion from court records since due to their appearance in a newspaper publication, they had already become a part of the public domain.
The documents appear to suggest that the earlier deal for 126 planes was scrapped after last-minute parallel negotiations by the Prime Minister’s Office and that the sovereign guarantee clause and the anti-corruption clauses were inexplicably dropped.
The court had last year refused to order an investigation into accusations of corruption in the $8.7-billion purchase of 36 Rafale jets.