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Rafale case: Apex court allows Centre to circulate letter seeking adjournment on hearing

PTI New Delhi | Updated on April 29, 2019 Published on April 29, 2019

Rafale performing, during the AERO INDIA 2019 at IAF station Yelahanka   -  THE HINDU

The Supreme Court, on Monday, allowed the Centre to circulate a letter among parties concerned for adjournment in tomorrow’s scheduled hearing on pleas seeking review of its Rafale deal verdict of December 14 last year.

The Centre, in its letter, said it needs time to file reply on merits on the review petitions.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna allowed senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Centre, to circulate the letter among the parties which include petitioners who have filed review pleas. The bench, however, did not say anything on the issue of adjournment of scheduled hearing on Tuesday.

The review petitions filed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan is listed for hearing before a bench headed by the Chief Justice on Tuesday in the post lunch session. Two other review petitions, filed by Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh and advocate Vineet Dhanda, are also listed for hearing on Tuesday.

The Centre has said in the letter that the government has raised certain preliminary objections on maintainability of certain documents relied upon in the review petitions and the court had decided the issue on April 10. It said that since the government has not filed any reply on merit of the review pleas, it would need some time to file a detailed reply to the petitions seeking review of December 14, 2018 verdict in Rafale fighter jet deal case.

In a setback to the Centre, the apex court on April 10 allowed the pleas which relied on leaked documents for seeking review of its Rafale judgement and dismissed the government’s preliminary objections claiming "privilege" over them.

The Centre had submitted that three privileged documents were unauthorisedly removed from the Defence Ministry and used by the petitioners to support their review petitions against the December 14, 2018 judgement of the apex court which had dismissed all pleas challenging the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

The Supreme Court had rejected the objections raised by the Centre that those documents were not admissible as evidence under Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, and no one can produce them in court without the permission of the department concerned as they are also protected under the Official Secrets Act. It had noted that all the three documents were in "public domain" and published by The Hindu were “in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech".

The apex court had also noted that no law enacted by Parliament specifically barring or prohibiting the publication of such documents on any of the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution has been brought to its notice.

The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation. A deal to procure the jets was signed between India and France in 2015. The delivery is expected to begin in September this year.

In the December 14 verdict, the apex court said there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France and dismissed all the petitions seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities in the Rs 58,000 crore deal. The top court had said there was no substantial evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity.

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Published on April 29, 2019
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