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PMO Monitoring of Rafale Deal Can’t be Called ‘Parallel Negotiations’: Centre to SC

In two separate affidavits before the Supreme Court, the Centre has asked for the review petitions to be dismissed.

New Delhi: The manner in which the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) monitored the progress of the Rafale deal should not be construed as “parallel negotiations”, the Centre has told the Supreme Court in new affidavits which argue that no review of the court’s earlier judgement is required.

On Saturday morning, the Narendra Modi government filed two affidavits before the apex court.

Both affidavits effectively argue that the earlier court judgment of December 2018, which upheld the controversial Rafale jet order, is correct and that “unsubstantiated media reports” or “internal file notings” that are “deliberately projected in a selective manner” cannot form the basis for a review.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing review petitions filed by former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, which use documents published by The Hindu and other media organisations to seek a re-examination of the court’s December 2018 verdict.  Besides the Bhushan-Sinha-Shourie trio, AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh has also filed a separate review petition in the case.

Also read: Rafale Case: Centre Asks Supreme Court to Defer Review Hearing Set for Tuesday

Last year, the Supreme Court declined to order a probe into the deal, noting that there was no occasion to “doubt” the decision-making processing the Rafale deal.

In its affidavits, the Centre has slammed the demand for production of documents in the review petition.

“It is submitted that in the garb of seeking review of the judgement, and placing reliance on some media reports and some incomplete internal file notings procured unauthorisedly and illegally, the petitioners cannot seek to reopen the whole matter by asking for production of documents in review petition since the scope of review petition itself is extremely limited,” one affidavit, signed by defence ministry official Sanjai Singh, says.

“The Review Petition, as well as the present Interlocutory Application submitted is an attempt to get a fishing and roving enquiry ordered, which this Hon’ble Court has specifically declined to go into based on perceptions of individuals,” it adds.

Also read: Missing Links: The Supreme Court’s Verdict on the Rafale Deal

The central government – even as it says it doesn’t want to be drawn into debating unsubstantiated media reports – also tackles two developments in the Rafale controversy that were brought out by organisations like The Wire, The Indian Express and The Hindu.

The first is the objections raised by members of the negotiating team and defence ministry with regard to the role played by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The Centre has said that any mention of the PMO playing a role on certain provisions of the deal  should not be viewed as “interference or parallel negotiations”.

“It is further submitted that monitoring of the progress by PMO of this Government to Government process cannot be construed as interference or parallel negotiations. The then Hon’ble Raksha Mantri had recorded on file that… ‘it appears that PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issues which was an outcome of the summit meeting’, one affidavit notes.

Also read: Why Were So Many Concessions Granted During the Rafale Negotiations?

With regard to objections raised on a sovereign guarantee and the benchmark price controversy, the Centre does not specifically respond in detail but merely says any file notings are “mere expression of opinion/views for consideration”.

“It is well settled by this Hon’ble Court that in governmental functioning files are generally examined/seen by various agencies and functionaries in the hierarchy.  While doing so there is free and frank expression of views /candour of opinion expressed by the functionaries. These internal file notings and views contained therein are mere expression of opinion/views for consideration of the competent authority for taking final decision in the matter.”

Subsidiary concession?

One affidavit also makes what appears to be an oblique reference to the Le Monde’s story on tax concessions granted to a telecommunication company owned by Anil Ambani’s Reliance, calling all attempts to link it to the Rafale deal as “far fetched”.

“The petitioners are also trying to interlink an unrelated issue and create controversies on the basis of certain media reports. The issue reported in the Media relates to the decision of a sovereign Government giving certain concessions to the subsidiary of an Indian private entity in a sector unrelated to Defence. It is farfetched and a figment of imagination to link the decision of the French Government in this case to the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft,” the affidavit says.