The Union government on Monday made a mention before Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi seeking time to file its response to the Rafale review petitions.
Senior advocate R. Balasubramanium, for the government, sought permission to circulate a letter for additional time to file a reply. He sought a deferment of the hearing scheduled for April 30.
A contempt petition filed by BJP lawmaker Meenakshi Lekhi is listed for hearing along with the review petitions.
The court allowed the government to circulate the letter but did not comment on an adjournment.
On April 10, a Bench led by the CJI refused the government’s preliminary plea to keep the Rafale jets’ purchase documents a secret.
The court said the documents published first by The Hindu in a series of articles since February last would be considered while examining the merits of the five separate review petitions against its December 14 judegment upholding the 36 jets’ deal.
The government had claimed that the review applications were based on secret Rafale documents unauthorisedly removed from the Ministry of Defence and leaked to the media. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal argued that “stolen” documents came under the protection of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). They were not admissible in evidence in a court of law. Claiming privilege, the government wanted the court to ignore them, even if they were found to be germane to the Rafale case, and dismiss the review pleas at the preliminary stage.
The court, however, rubbished the government’s claim of privilege. It said neither the OSA nor any other law empowered the government to stop the media from publishing the documents nor the court from examining them.
“Exercise in utter futility”
Besides, Chief Justice Gogoi, in the main opinion, said that claiming privilege over the documents was an “exercise in utter futility”. They were already within the reach and knowledge of the entire citizenry. This being the scenario, there was no reason for the Supreme Court to stop itself from “reading and considering the documents or from shutting out its evidentiary worth and value”.
The court would hear the review petitions on merits. It would examine them on the basis of the published documents, which spanned issues such as disparity in pricing details of the 36 jets’ deal, objections raised by the Indian negotiating team to ‘parallel negotiations’ conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office, among others.