New Delhi (Sputnik): In a major setback for the Indian government, the Supreme Court of India on Wednesday agreed to hear a review petition based on the "stolen documents" published in an Indian newspaper pertaining to the $8.7 billion Rafale fighter jet deal. The country's former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha had filed a review petition against the 14 December 2018 judgement of the Supreme Court, which had upheld the deal for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets.
The court, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, unanimously dismissed the government's objection, citing ‘privilege over documents' used by petitioners to seek a review of the December 2018 judgement. The public prosecutor K. K. Venugopal had submitted that the review petition was based on ‘stolen' Rafale documents and as such, was not admissible as evidence.
"We deem it proper to dismiss the preliminary objections to hold and affirm that the review petitions will be adjudicated on their merits on the basis of the relevance of the three documents whose admissibility was questioned by the respondents (government)," Chief Justice Gogoi announced, reading from the judgement that he and Justice S. K. Kaul wrote together.
The Supreme Court has not determined a date for its next hearing. As per the order, every published document, including those in possession of the media daily The Hindu would be examined afresh.
Earlier, the government had urged the court to dismiss the plea as the documents were ‘unauthorised photocopies from the originals' kept with the Ministry of Defence, which had sneaked into the public domain. The government pleaded that national security was at stake and that the leak of documents amounted to an offence under the Official Secrets Act.
On 14 December 2018, the Supreme Court of India exonerated the government in response to several petitions that had sought a court-monitored probe into the purchase of the Rafale jet fighters. The petitioners had alleged that the contract was awarded to Dassault Aviation in exchange for contracts with certain industry players purportedly favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had concluded a $8.7 billion deal with the French Government in 2016 to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets under a government-to-government contract agreement. Indian opposition parties have been demanding a probe into the whole affair. According to them, the price of fighter jets under the concluded deal was inflated and the Indian government had favoured a private company as one of the key beneficiaries of the deal.