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Supreme Court’s final word tomorrow on Rafale deal, Rahul’s contempt case

The Supreme Court will deliver on Thursday its final verdict on a batch of petitions that asked a three-judge bench to revisit its December verdict that effectively gave a clean chit to the government on the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets.

The bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had completed oral hearings in this case in May and reserved its judgment. A Supreme Court notice said the bench will rule on the review petitions on Thursday, just days before Chief Justice Gogoi’s tenure ends on Sunday.

The top court had on 14 December 2018 dismissed all petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Rs 59,000 crore contract for the fighter planes made by Dassault Aviation of France.

But a batch of review petitions, including the one filed by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, sought a review and pointed to certain notings that they said had been concealed from the court. They said these documents including a dissent note by three members of the Indian negotiating team vitiated the December verdict.

The government had initially contended that the court could not take these documents into account since these were sensitive and had been obtained through “unauthorised photocopying and leakage”. This contention was rejected by the Supreme Court in April before it went ahead to hear the case on merits.

In its final arguments before the court reserved its order, the government had opposed reopening of the Rafale case and told the court that nowhere in the world do courts scrutinize agreements related to defence purchases. The petitioners, on the other hand, wanted the probe into the deal and proceedings against the government for what it insisted was a clear case of perjury.

The deal remained at the centre of opposition campaign in the run up to this year’s national elections, particularly the one led by then Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.

But Gandhi ran into trouble after a statement that was seen to attribute his political slogan “Chowkidar Chor Hai” to the top court. The BJP filed a contempt petition against Rahul Gandhi, who said he regretted the statement made in a rhetorical flourish in the heat of the moment.

Gandhi, who stepped down as Congress president after his party won just 52 seats in Lok Sabha, had told the top court that his reaction to the April 10 ruling on admissibility of documents “unfortunately got juxtaposed and mingled with a political slogan”.

The Congress-led opposition alleges malfeasance in the purchase to buy the fighter jets bought from the French firm in an overpriced deal, a charge that the government denies.

India had formally taken delivery of the first fighter jet when Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh travelled to France last month. But this was a notional exercise. The planes would start arriving in India only beginning May 2020.

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