The Centre on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to “exercise restraint” in observations on the procurement of Rafale fighter jets, underlining that every statement by the Supreme Court will be used to target either the government or the opposition.
“Why should the court become a party to such an exercise,” the government’s top lawyer KK Venugopal told the bench that is to decide pleas to review its December ruling that did not find anything amiss in the deal.
Venugopal’s cautionary note to the judges comes at a time the Rafale deal is at the heart of the opposition campaign against government ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress-led opposition alleges malfeasance in the purchase to buy 36 fighter jets in an overpriced deal, a charge that the government denies.
The Narendra Modi government signed an agreement with France in 2016 for the purchase of Rafale fighter jets. Under the Rs 59,000-crore deal, French firm, Dassault Aviation will supply 36 Rafale fighter jets to India in flyaway condition. The delivery will begin from September this year.
“Every statement by this Court will be used to destablise either the government or the opposition….This is why I am appealing to this Court to exercise restraint. Defence procurements can’t be judicially examined,” Attorney General Venugopal told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Venugopal also referred to the recent intrusion by F-16 fighter jets of Pakistan Air Force in retaliation to Indian Air Force’s strikes at a Jaish terror camp run in Pakistan to justify the Rafale purchase.
“We are trying to protect the security of the country… Some F-16s come and bomb us. What we are to do?” he said.
“Without the Rafale, how can we resist them,” the attorney general told the top court, according to news agency PTI. He stressed that though the MiG-21 Bison of the 1960s “performed beautifully against F-16, the Rafale jets were still needed.
Venugopal told the court that “two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets are coming in flyaway condition, first one will be in September this year.”
He contended that if a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is ordered now, “huge damage will be done to the country”.
During pre-lunch hearing on petitions, Venugopal told the court that the documents relied upon by Bhushan were stolen from the defence ministry. He argued that the documents can’t be admitted for considering the review petition by the Supreme Court.
The “stolen document” saw heated exchange between Justice KM Joseph and AG Venugopal, Justice Joseph appeared to dismiss the government’s argument to reject the notes cited by Bhushan. “There were allegations of corruption in Bofors. Will you say the same thing that a criminal court shouldn’t look into any such document,” Justice Joseph asked Venugopal.
Bhushan countered the government’s argument saying that in previous cases including the one relating to coal scam, he had submitted the documents given to him by whistleblowers. The Supreme Court did not ask for the source then.
CJI Googi told Bhushan, “If we accept the attorney general’s arguments, we will not look into the documents relied on by you and we will reject it. Or, we will look into the papers and see how they are relevant and decide the case.”
The apex court adjourned the hearing in the case till March 14.