#RafaleDeal: Former ministers call for review of SC's decision
Half a month after the Supreme Court gave a clean chit to the government on the controversial Rafale deal, former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, along with activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, have requested the apex court for a review of its decision. The trio's petition holds that the SC's verdict had relied on incorrect claims made by the Center, and hence requires review.
What the SC had observed in its December 14 verdict
On December 14, the SC said that it had found the Center's decision-making process in the deal 'satisfactory'. The SC's decision had been based on filings by the Center that claimed that a report on the deal's pricing by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had been submitted to and had been reviewed by the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The all important paragraph from the SC verdict
"The pricing details have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General...and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee...Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before the Parliament, and is in public domain," read an excerpt from the verdict.
Why the Center's filings have been deemed to be misleading
Turned out, no such CAG report had been submitted to the PAC. Several PAC members, including PAC chairman Mallikarjun Kharge, BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, and Congress MP Rajeev Gowda confirmed that no such report had been submitted to the PAC, let alone reviewed by it. This, of course raised questions about whether the Center deliberately misled the Supreme Court to avoid a court-led inquiry.
How the Center had responded to questions being raised
Once questions were raised, the Center responded by filing an affidavit in the SC. In the affidavit, the Center claimed that the SC had misinterpreted its filing, which had been submitted in a sealed cover. The affidavit claimed that the Center only highlighted the procedure, and did not say that the CAG report had already been reviewed by the PAC.
A war of words had broken out between BJP, Congress
Subsequently, a political storm had broken out. The BJP had initially flaunted the SC verdict as a vindication of the Modi government, and had demanded an apology from Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for his allegations of corruption. After the Center's faulty filing came to light, RaGa accused the Center of lying to the SC, and undermining the apex court, which is a sacrosanct institution.
The call for a review comes after PM Modi's interview
Given the dubious basis on which the SC verdict had been based, Sinha, Shourie, Bhushan have not just called for a review of the SC verdict, but have also called for an oral hearing of their petition in an open court. Notably, the move comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an interview with ANI, dismissed claims of crony capitalism against his government.
Fresh details, too, have emerged about the Rafale deal
It also comes on a day when the Rafale deal is slated to be debated in the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, The Wire has also uncovered fresh facts about the Rafale deal, wherein it has been found that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had compromised the negotiating position of the defense ministry during negotiations. Notably, these 'problems' caused by the PMO have been officially documented.
The defense ministry had flagged the PMO's intervention as problematic
In its report, The Wire said internal memos circulated within the defense ministry flagged the PMO's intervention in proceedings as problematic. As per procedure, the defense ministry's contract negotiating team is supposed to independently assess purchases of defense equipment. However, the internal memos indicate that the PMO intervened at a crucial stage, and even diluted the requirement for a sovereign guarantee from France.
The deal had been resisted by many on the inside
These interventions primarily took place in December 2015, when the law ministry had said that a sovereign guarantee was a necessity for the deal. Meanwhile, it has also been reported that the increased benchmark price of 36 Rafale jets had been resisted by the defense ministry's negotiating team before it was sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval.
Reportedly, Parrikar had not signed off certain aspects
Further, it has also been learnt that then defense minister Manohar Parrikar had not signed off on the increased benchmark price for the 36 Rafale jets, which had risen from €5.2bn earlier to €8.2bn. Neither had he approved the dilution of a sovereign guarantee from France to a mere letter of comfort.