Rafale deal documents stolen from Defence Ministry, Modi govt tells Indian SC


The Modi government Wednesday told the Indian Supreme Court that the documents related to Rafale aircraft deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and the petitioners seeking a review of its verdict dismissing all pleas against the purchase of the jets relied upon those documents, reported The Hindu. 

Indian SC began the open court hearing, during which former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had jointly filed the petition, alleged that the Centre suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PILs against the Rafale deal in December.

When Bhushan referred to an article, Indian Attorney General KK Venugopal opposed it, saying that the articles were based on stolen documents and an investigation into the matter is ongoing.

Venugopal said the first article by the senior journalist in The Hindu’s February 8, Wednesday’s edition, was aimed at influencing the proceedings and that amounted to contempt of court, he said.

While Venugopal was seeking dismissal of the review petitions and raising objections to Bhushan’s arguments based on the articles published in The Hindu, the bench sought to know from the Centre what it has done when it is alleging that the stories are based on stolen material.

The AG also submitted that the documents on the deal relied on by the petitioners were marked secret and classified and, therefore, are in violation of Official Secrets Act.

Advancing his arguments on behalf of Sinha, Shourie and himself, Bhushan said critical facts on Rafale were suppressed when the petition for an FIR and investigation were filed.

He said that the top court would not have dismissed the plea for FIR and probe into Rafale deal had there not been suppression of facts.

However, Venugopal said the documents relied upon by Bhushan were stolen from the Defence Ministry and an investigation into the matter was underway.

At this point, the CJI said that hearing Bhushan did not mean that the top court was also taking on record the documents on the Rafale deal.

Last week, Modi said that India would have achieved much more if the country had the possession of French-made Rafale aircraft, and accused the opposition of letting down the nation.

The Rafale deal was agreed by the Manmohan Singh government with France, but Modi changed its terms, which the opposition says was aimed to benefit a businessman close to the prime minister.

“The country has felt the shortage of Rafale. Today, India is speaking in one voice and saying what all could have happened if we had Rafale. Ego politics over the Rafale deal has harmed the nation,” the prime minister said at the India Today Conclave 2019 in Delhi.

It was not clear if the remarks were a critique of the Indian Air Force’s preparedness in the recent encounter with Pakistan, but reports noted that they came shortly after what India claims to have been a bombing raid by Mirage-2000 planes on Balakot in Pakistan while Islamabad disputes the version.

Indian Express noted that Modi’s remarks came days after India and Pakistan were engaged in an aerial confrontation in Jammu and Kashmir. The report said the air skirmish saw both nuclear-armed countries downing a fighter jet each, but there has been no evidence from India of a Pakistan plane being shot down. Taking of the opposition over the issue of the alleged air strikes on terror camps in Balakot, the prime minister said that while the entire world stood behind India in its fight against terror, “some parties” raised questions over it.

“One of the challenges before the country is some people opposing their own country. When the entire nation today is standing with the armed forces, some parties are casting doubts on them,” Mr Modi told the gathering.