Centre Wants Rafale Case Deferred, Hearing Could Be Pushed Back

In a setback to the centre, the top court had on April 10 flat-out rejected the centre's argument that classified documents accessed by the media on the Rafale fighter jet deal can't be evidence.

The Supreme Court allowed the centre to circulate a letter seeking delaying the hearing.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the government to circulate a letter seeking adjournment of tomorrow's hearing on the review petitions filed against its verdict on the Rafale fighter jet deal. If the top court accepts centre's request tomorrow and grants it even two weeks' time, it would push the hearing of the contentious case to well after the Lok Sabha elections since the court goes on a summer break on May 10.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi allowed the centre's lawyer to circulate the letter among parties which include petitioners who have filed the review pleas.

In a setback to the centre, the top court had on April 10 flat-out rejected the centre's argument that classified documents accessed by the media on the Rafale fighter jet deal can't be evidence. The court said it will examine the secret documents while considering petitions asking for a review of its order giving the government a clean chit on the deal that the opposition alleges was corrupt.

The judges unanimously dismissed the centre's objections to considering documents leaked from the defence ministry as evidence and said they would go ahead with the hearing of review petitions, which would be decided on merit.

This meant classified documents sourced by the media without authorisation can be considered by the court. It was a huge win for free press at a time questions have been raised over strong-arm tactics to suppress the media.

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Citing internal notes of the defence ministry, a series of reports published by The Hindu said the ministry had objected to "parallel negotiations" for the jets by the Prime Minister's Office.

Pointing to the documents, petitioners had called for a review of the verdict. "These are sensitive documents relating to defence, but that was precisely what we said too - that because they are documents of importance, they must be treated as part of supporting documents," said former union minister Arun Shourie, one of the petitioners.

The centre had told the court that the documents filed by the petitioners are "sensitive to national security", those who conspired in photocopying the papers have committed theft and put national security in jeopardy by leaking them to the public.

Dismissing the argument, the court was set to hear the petitions tomorrow.