Rafale ruling: Wrong precedent

The petitions had sought a CBI investigation on the basis of some obvious anomalies that had come into the public realm after the deal was signed with the prime minister and his office taking a special interest in it.

It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has rejected the petition by lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie for a review of its December 2018 judgement which had ruled out any irregularities in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by the Narendra Modi government.

The petitions had sought a CBI investigation on the basis of some obvious anomalies that had come into the public realm after the deal was signed with the prime minister and his office taking a special interest in it.

The court rejected the petition on the ground that there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process, but new information and documents which were available after the judgement and presented to the court had made a case for a review. The court, however, stuck to its ruling and dismissed the review pleas, saying they were devoid of merit. 

The questions about how the government arrived at its decision and its handling of the deal have not been satisfactorily answered. It had given inconsistent and unconvincing answers on many of them and refused to accept the demand for an investigation. That is why the petitioners, who represented many others who had such questions, had approached the court. The doubts and questions still remain.

One was how a company, Reliance Defence, which was not in the picture until the prime minister’s visit to France in April 2015, won the offset contract as part of the deal. Another was why the PMO showed undue interest in the deal and went over the heads of the then defence minister and the negotiating committee to grant favourable terms to the French company. The government first said it would make the pricing details public, then backtracked on it and different ministers gave different details about it.

The sealed envelope submitted to the court by the government misrepresented facts. The government also accused all those who asked questions about the deal of trying to help Pakistan. All this indicated that it had something to hide. The only thing it had in its favour was that there was no money trail.

These are questions that should not go unanswered in a democracy, and they remain valid even after the court rejected them. The ruling sets a wrong precedent. By rejecting the need for an inquiry into a deal about which many questions have been raised, it has set a high bar of prima facie evidence to order an enquiry. This is disappointing and has left the impression that the ends of justice have not been met. Justice KM Joseph’s separate view that the CBI can still investigate the case may be positive, but without consequence.

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