Centre’s plea for corrections in Rafale judgment
The Narendra Modi government on Saturday came down to earth and performed grammatical aerobatics, confirming errors in at least two sentences in the Rafale judgment, suggesting its note was “misinterpreted” by the Supreme Court and filing an application for “correction”.
Paragraph 25 of the judgment delivered by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Friday had said pricing details of the Rafale combat planes have been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and a redacted portion of the report was placed before Parliament and is in the public domain.
On Saturday, the defence ministry suggested some of the tenses got mixed up “perhaps on account of misinterpretation of a couple of sentences in a note handed over to this Hon’ble Court in a sealed cover”.
The ministry said the first part of Paragraph 25 was correct: it did share the pricing details with the CAG.
The errors apparently crept into the subsequent sentences. Present tense became past tense, hence what should have been read as “is” was interpreted as “has been” at one place and “was” in another, the ministry’s application to the court suggests.
Essentially, what the proposed corrections mean is that the CAG report has not yet been examined by the PAC (the CAG is yet to submit its report in the first place), no redacted portion has been placed before Parliament and neither is it in the public domain. (See chart)
The ministry is claiming that its note merely mentioned the procedures that are usually followed regarding CAG reports and the information was not specific to the CAG report on the Rafale deal.
In short, out of the four steps mentioned in the judgment regarding the CAG report, three have turned out to be incorrect.
The stunning disclosure by the government came less than 24 hours after the ruling establishment paraded its leading lights to brag about the “clean chit” verdict.
The judgment was uploaded around noon on Friday and was a relatively short document with 34 paragraphs in 29 pages.
However, neither the Union ministers nor BJP president Amit Shah made any mention of the mistakes on Friday.
The ministers included two lawyers, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad, who were specifically asked about the discrepancy by reporters who had read the judgment by then. The two said at separate media conferences that they would focus on the substantive issues, not what they described as procedural and technical matters.
Which meant that it fell upon the defence ministry, whose minister Nirmala Sitharaman had addressed the celebratory media conference along with Jaitley, to clean up the mess after the alleged “misinterpretation” exploded in the government’s face.
On Saturday, the defence ministry found itself pleading with the court, through the application filed on behalf of deputy secretary Sushil Kumar, that “the matter may be dealt with urgently”.
No one could recall corrections being sought in a verdict in recent memory, though modifications are not unknown.
The application said the “observations in the judgment have also resulted in a controversy in the public domain”.
But the court is already closed for Christmas holidays and the vacation bench is unlikely to “correct” judgments delivered by a bench headed by the Chief Justice who is out of the country now.
Justice Gogoi is expected back on December 19. But the other two judges on the bench, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph, are also out of Delhi and are likely to return around the New Year.