SC’s Clean Chit to NDA Government

The Rafale Review Petition sought by the Congress falls flat on its face, as the Apex court rejects it as ‘lacking in merit’

On November 14, 2019, a three-judge bench of Supreme Court of India comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph unanimously dismissed the petitions seeking re-examination of earlier verdict of 14th December 2018 into the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by the NDA Government from Dassault Aviation of France. The Supreme Court said, “We do not find it appropriate to consider passing order for registration of an FIR. We find the review petitions are without any merit." In a hard-hitting statement, the court further added that “perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this court.”
It may be recalled that the Rafale deal pertains to a government-to-government agreement for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from the French Dassault Aviation. On December 14, 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that there was no need for a court monitored probe into the 36 Rafale aircraft deal as there was no reason to doubt the decision-making process of the NDA Government behind the contract. It thus had rejected the Congress Party’s accusation of corruption against the government in the Rafale contract. The Congress and other opposition parties had alleged that the government had gone in for an overpriced deal to help industrialist Anil Ambani's company bag an offset contract with Dassault Aviation. Thereafter on May 10, 2019, the Supreme Court had reserved the decision on a set of petitions by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan and by Sanjay Singh (AAP Rajya Sabha member) and others, who had sought re-examination of its findings of December 14, 2018. They had contended that this judgment of the Supreme Court had basically relied upon incorrect claims made by the government who had concealed vital information and misled the court. They further claimed that the government “wilfully and deliberately” misled the court regarding details of the Rafale contract. They had sought registration of an FIR and a CBI probe into their complaint against the Rafale purchase. The centre on its part had said the petitioners had relied on media reports and that the case cannot be reopened. The media reports had claimed that the Union Government had not revealed all the details in the court.
While dismissing the petitions, the Supreme Court also dropped the contempt proceedings filed against Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing to the Supreme Court his “chowkidar chor hai” remark in Rafale case against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi had built their entire Lok Sabha election Campaign around this slogan—“chowkidar chor hai” and continued with it during the Maharashtra elections. The court has cautioned Rahul Gandhi to be more cautious in the future. The contempt petition against Rahul Gandhi was filed by Ms Meenakshi Lekhi. Rahul Gandhi had offered an unconditional apology for wrongly attributing the remarks relating to the Prime Minister to the top court. He had submitted that the remarks were made by him in the thick of campaigning.
This verdict (read political victory) has given the government, led by BJP fresh ammunition to hit back at the Opposition at this crucial juncture when the economy is not doing so well and the upcoming winter session of parliament. Commenting on the Supreme Court decision, the former Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa is reported to have said (refer Sudhi Ranjan Sen, Hindustan Times, New Delhi dated 14 Nov 19) “The price-negotiations were done by the then deputy chief who is now the Chief of Air Staff. We were absolutely sure the deal was above board. Nonetheless, when we had defended the deal, we were criticised for making a political statement. We were, however, defending the deal on merit.” He further added that “In December 2018, as the Chief of the Air Staff, I had welcomed the Supreme Court judgement on the original petition. I am happy the Supreme Court has stood by its earlier judgement.” The IAF is presently facing critical shortages in fighter aircraft and as per him “The two squadrons of Rafale, an additional Russian made Su-30 MKI squadron and two more squadrons of indigenously made Light Combat Aircraft-Tejas will give the (IAF) required muscle.”