NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has dismissed the preliminary objections raised by the central government against using 'privileged' documents for considering the review petitions in the Rafale case.

The apex court has ruled that the Rafale review petitions will be heard on merit. Documents published by newspapers to which the Modi government objected are now admissible in the courts.

The bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph pronounced the judgment where Justice Joseph wrote a separate judgment concurring with CJI Gogoi and Justice Kaul.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati said, “PM Modi was telling everybody that he received a clean chit from the Supreme Court in Rafale deal case. Today's Supreme Court decision proved that PM Modi has stolen under the Rafale scheme, has cheated the country's army, and misled the Supreme Court to hide his crimes."

The CPI-M tweeted, “Modi Govt tried its best to suppress the truth of the #RafaleDeal including misleading the Supreme Court and then claimed the Court has provided a clean chit. With this ruling, the stage is set for the Truth to come out about this Mega Scam to favour Anil Ambani!"

The Congress hailed it as a “victory for India! We welcome the Supreme Court’s judgement to review the Rafale petition.”

Arun Shourie who was amongst those who filed a review plea in the Rafale deal said, “Our argument was that because the documents relate to defence, you must examine them. You asked for these evidences and we have provided it. So the Supreme Court has accepted our pleas and rejected the arguments of the government.

The central government had objected to the use of documents published by the newspaper The Hindu and presented by the petitioners. The government had claimed that documents could not be relied on by the Court as they were privileged documents and stolen.

Earlier in February 2019, during the hearing the Attorney General argued that the documents presented were privileged documents and cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Government of India also claimed that the documents are protected under the Official Secrets Act and added that the disclosure of such documents is exempted under the Right to Information Act.

During the earlier hearing, Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners said, that the claim of privilege cannot be made over documents which are already in public domain. Highlighting Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act as mentioned by the AG, he said it only protects unpublished documents.

What is the Rafale Review Petition?

The case is related to the procurement of Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force from the French company Dassault. The procurement was because to be routed through an offset contract which was then given to an Indian company, Reliance Aerostructure Limited (RAL).

It has been alleged that RAL got the contract due to the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office after parallel negotiations conducted by the PMO.

Earlier in December 2018, the case was heard and dismissed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was out of 'judicial expertise' to intervene in a sensitive issue.

The Court also stated that it had not found any substantial evidence on record to prove that there was any sort of favouritism to any company by the Indian government as the offset partner was decided by its French counterpart.

The original petitioners Prashant Bhushan, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie approached the Supreme Court again in February for a review of its December Rafale order.

The grounds for the petition were that due to factual errors and later developments the verdict had to be corrected; these developments came to light after N.Ram published a series of reports in The Hindu exposing the government's lies.

The petitioners brought to the notice of the Court had it had been misled by the Central Government which suppressed relevant information and provided false information.

The petitioners also sought perjury proceedings against the concerned government officials.

Last year, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group also filed a Rs 7,000 crore defamation suit against founder editor of The Citizen, Seema Mustafa, for its reportage on the defence deal.

The Citizen released a statement on our website saying “We reject attempts to silence the media, and believe that an independent media – devoid of political or corporate funding – is crucial to the future of journalism.”