A Rafale fighter jet, manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA, is seen performing an air display (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Rafale Case: Supreme Court Allows New Evidence To Be Taken On Record

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment, today allowed new evidence to be taken into record for the hearing of a review petition in the Rafale case.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the preliminary objections by the central government concerning admission of the confidential documents for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets.

The apex court is yet to announce a date for hearing the review petition.

The government, which was represented by Attorney General KK Venugopal, had claimed privilege over the documents and opposed the court taking notice of them. The attorney general had said the documents were marked secret and pertained to the issues of national security and hence shouldn’t be taken on record. The government in its arguments had also sought to question the method by which they were obtained and had called them “stolen” documents.

The top court rejected the claim of privilege sought by the government and said the claim of privilege is for documents which are unpublished, whereas in this case the documents have already been published in the media.

“A practical and common sense approach would lead to the obvious conclusion that it would be a meaningless and an exercise in utter futility for the court to refrain from reading and considering the said document or from shutting out its evidentiary worth and value,’’ said the judgment authored by the Chief Justice of India.

The top court also rejected the arguments of the government to not take on record the documents as they have been obtained illegally. The court judgment said the government has not questioned the authenticity of the documents. “The case does not strictly involve in a sense the claim for privilege as the petitioners have not called upon the respondents to produce the original, and as already noted the state does not take objection to the correctness of the contents of the documents,” according to the concurring opinion by Justice KM Joseph.

The top court had on Dec. 14 rejected petitions to order a probe into India’s fighter jet deal with France.

“So far as the decision-making is concerned, we have studied the material and interacted with senior air force officers,” the Supreme Court bench had said. “There was no occasion to doubt the process.”

Subsequently review petitions were filed in the case seeking review of the judgment that upheld the inter-government aircraft purchase deal. The petitioners sought to include fresh documents which, according to them, revealed irregularities in the deal. Most of the documents that the petitioners relied on were the same ones with which media outlets such as The Hindu had published their stories.

Here Is The Chronology Of Events So Far:

  • Dec. 30, 2002: Defence Procurement Procedures adopted to streamline procurement.
  • Aug. 28, 2007: Ministry of Defence issues request for proposal for procurement of 126 MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) fighters.
  • May 2011: Air Force shortlists Rafale and Eurofighter jets.
  • Jan. 30, 2012: Dassault Aviation's Rafale aircraft comes up with the lowest bid.
  • March 13, 2014: Work share agreement signed between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and Dassault Aviation under which they were responsible for 70 percent and 30 percent of the work, respectively, for 108 aircraft.
  • Aug. 8, 2014: Then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley tells Parliament that 18 direct 'fly-away' aircraft expected to be delivered in three to four years from signing of the contract. Remaining 108 aircraft to be delivered in the next seven years.
  • April 8, 2015: The then foreign secretary says detailed discussions underway between Dassault, defence ministry and HAL.
  • April 10: New deal for acquisition of 36 direct 'fly-away' aircraft from France announced.
  • Jan. 26, 2016: India and France sign memorandum for 36 Rafale aircraft.
  • Sept. 23: Inter-governmental agreement signed.
  • Nov. 18: Government states in Parliament that the cost of each Rafale aircraft to be approximately Rs 670 crore and that all aircraft will be delivered by April 2022.
  • Dec. 31, 2016: Dassault Aviation's annual report reveals the actual price paid for the 36 aircraft at about Rs 60,000 crore, more than double the government's stated price in Parliament.
  • March 13, 2018: PIL in Supreme Court seeks independent probe into Centre's decision to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets from France and disclosure of the cost involved in the deal before Parliament.
  • Sept. 5: Supreme Court agrees to hear PIL seeking stay on Rafale fighter jet deal.
  • Sept. 18: Supreme Court adjourns hearing on PIL seeking stay on Rafale fighter jet deal to Oct. 10.
  • Oct. 8: Supreme Court agrees to hear on Oct. 10 fresh PIL seeking direction to Centre to file in "sealed cover" the details of the agreement for buying 36 Rafale fighter jets.
  • Oct. 10: Supreme Court asks Centre to provide details of decision making process in the Rafale fighter jet deal in a sealed cover.
  • Oct. 24: Former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan move Supreme Court, seeking registration of first information report into Rafale fighter jet deal.
  • Oct. 31: Supreme Court asks Centre to place before it in a sealed cover within 10 days the pricing details of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
  • Nov. 12: Centre places price details of 36 Rafale fighter jets in a sealed cover before Supreme Court. It also gives details of steps that led to finalisation of the Rafale deal.
  • Nov. 14: Supreme Court reserves order on pleas seeking court-monitored probe in Rafale deal.
  • Dec. 14: Supreme Court says there is no occasion to doubt the decision-making process of the Modi government and dismisses all petitions seeking direction to the CBI to register an FIR for alleged irregularities in the jet deal.
  • Dec. 15: Government moves Supreme Court seeking correction in para which makes reference to CAG report and PAC.
  • Jan. 2, 2019: Former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan moves Supreme Court seeking review of Rafale verdict.
  • Jan. 14: AAP MP Sanjay Singh moves Supreme Court seeking review of Rafale verdict.
  • Feb. 21: Bhushan seeks hearing on plea seeking perjury prosecution of some officials for misleading court in Rafale case.
  • Feb. 26: Supreme Court decides to hear pleas seeking review of Rafale verdict in open court.
  • March 6: Documents related to Rafale deal stolen from Defence Ministry, Centre tells Supreme Court, threatens The Hindu newspaper with the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on them.
  • March 8: Attorney General clarifies that Rafale documents not stolen, petitioners used photocopies.
  • March 13: Review plea based on leaked secret documents jeopardises national security, Centre tells Supreme Court.
  • March 14: Will first decide preliminary objection raised by Centre, says Supreme Court, reserves verdict.
  • April 10: Supreme Court allows use of leaked documents, dismisses Centre's objections claiming privilege.

(With inputs from PTI.)