Supreme Court refuses government plea for Rafale time
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the government time till May 6 to respond to a batch of review petitions on the Rafale deal and file counter-affidavits, rejecting attorney-general K.K. Venugopal’s plea for a four-week adjournment.
The review pleas have challenged the court’s December 14 judgment that had said there was no illegality in the decision-making process related to the controversial purchase of 36 Rafale combat jets from France.
Venugopal had sought four weeks to file the counter-affidavit but Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi declined the plea.
The bench of Chief Justice Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph issued a formal notice after Venugopal sought one.
No formal notice had been issued at the earlier hearing.
The bench permitted the Centre to file objections to two separate but joint applications by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The applications have sought perjury proceedings against government officials for alleged submission of false documents related to the deal and production of certain documents the petitioners claim have been withheld from the court.
Sinha and the others have contended that government officials misled the court on various issues, including suppression of material related to parallel negotiations the Prime Minister’s Office had conducted with Dassault Aviation, the makers of the Rafale, despite objections from the defence ministry.
Under the penal code’s Section 193, which deals with perjury, whoever intentionally gives false evidence at any stage in judicial proceedings, or fabricates evidence, can be punished with a jail term that could go up to seven years.
The perjury application referred to a sealed-cover note the government had submitted. “Note suppressed unauthorised Parallel Negotiations against the Conduct of Business Rules and against the mandate of Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) conducted by (the) PMO bypassing (the) Ministry of Defence & INT (Indian Negotiating Team). Paras 47 to 59 of (the) DPP, 2013, state that negotiations on all aspects are to be done by (the) INT. Government’s note suppresses that (the) Ministry of Defence vide note dated 24.11.2015 objected to ‘parallel negotiations’ being conducted by officers in the PMO and stated that such negotiations weakened the negotiating position of (the) MoD and (the) Indian Negotiating Team,” the application said.
It also referred to a purported note that said “we may advise (the) PMO that any Officers who are not part of (the) Indian Negotiating Team may refrain from having parallel parleys with the officers of (the) French Government”.
The application says the note was suppressed.
The review petitions say the government had misled the court into relying on non-existent facts and reports.
Instead of admitting that it misled the court, the petitions say, the government had through an application for “correction” imputed that the court misinterpreted tenses in English.
“The government’s act of stating untruth to (the) Hon’ble Court in a sealed cover on ‘pricing’ and thereafter its scandalous application have lowered (the) sanctity of judicial proceedings,” the petitions have said.
The perjury application too says the government misled the court about a prior arrangement between industrialist Anil Ambani’s company and Dassault Aviation in 2012, although Reliance Aerostructure Ltd had come into existence only in December 2014.
“Mr. Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure is the parent company of Reliance Aerostructure Ltd (the beneficiary of the Rafale offset contract). There is no possibility of any arrangement between Reliance Infrastructure with Dassault Aviation in 2012.
“Mr. Ambani’s first foray into the defence sector was on 22nd of December, 2014, when Reliance Infrastructure incorporated Reliance Defence Technologies Pvt Ltd and Reliance Defence and Aerospace Pvt. Ltd as apparent from the balance sheet of Reliance Infrastructure…
“(The) ‘Note’ on offsets mischievously suggests that there was possibly an arrangement between the parent Reliance company and Dassault starting from the year 2012,” the application said.
It also referred to the suppression of facts relating to insistence on sovereign guarantee by the defence ministry instead of the “letter of comfort” given by the Union government to France for finalising the deal.
The application for documents has, among other things, sought materials relating to “redacted” versions of technical, operational and logistical details of the aircraft either to the petitioner or the CBI for further investigations.
It has also sought the original work-share agreement between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Dassault, as referred to by T. Suvarna Raju, the former chairman of the public sector aerospace and defence firm, in certain media interviews and the final Indian Negotiation Team report dated July 21, 2016.