As The Hindu on March 6, published more evidence of how the Narendra Modi government sabotaged India’s negotiating position and sold the country short in the Rafale deal with French aircraft manufacturing giant Dassault Aviation, the Government of India the same day asked the Supreme Court to dismiss Prashant Bhushan’s petition—seeking review of the court’s December 2018 verdict dismissing the need for a CBI inquiry into the obviously shady deal—as the petition is based on the Indian Negotiating Team (INT) documents published by The Hindu that were “stolen” from the Defence Ministry.
The Hindu got access the INT’s final report submitted to the government in July 2016, and an eight-page dissent note by three domain experts from the INT. The Governmental Agreement between India and France for the 36 Rafale fighter jets was signed in September 2016.
Reacting to the government's stance, N Ram, the author of a series of articles on the Rafale deal told PTI: “You may call it stolen documents... we are not concerned. We got it from confidential sources and we are committed to protecting these sources. Nobody is going to get any information from us on these sources. But the documents speak for themselves and the stories speak for themselves.”
The report in the national daily says that even though Dassault had provided the bank guarantee to India in the original MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) proposal for the delivery of 126 aircraft under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, the French giant refused bank guarantee during its negotiations with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government for 36 fighter jets.
Read more: CAG On Rafale: Tried To Absolve Modi, Unwittingly Exposed His 'Lies'
The French had also refused to provide a Sovereign Guarantee as the Ministry of Law and Justice in December 2015 had advised that India procure as a safeguard.
And the reason the Indian team failed to negotiate the bank guarantee from Dassault was because there was a parallel negotiation going on with the French company by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the National Security Advisor (NSA) from 2015, unbeknownst to the INT.
The failure to get a bank guarantee made the aircraft and weapons packages for the 36 Rafale fighter jets more expensive for India by €246.11 million than the estimated aligned cost of the Rafale deal under the UPA.
On March 6, the Supreme Court also began hearing the review petitions regarding its December 2018 decision that an inquiry into the Rafale deal was not required.
Petitioner Prashant Bhushan demanded from the court that government officials be punished for perjury as they had earlier submitted erroneous facts in sealed cover notes to the apex court, on which the court had relied for its December 2018 verdict, according to Live Law.
As another report in Live Law said, Attorney General KK Venugopal objected as Prashant Bhushan sought to provide evidence in the form of the dissent note as had been published by The Hindu, saying:
“I have an objection! These documents were stolen from the Defence Ministry by some former employee and the investigation is ongoing. These documents are marked secret and were published by two newspapers...this is an offence under the Official Secrets Act. We would be launching prosecution,” the AG was quoted as saying.
Read More: CAG Report: A Poor Defence of the Rafale Deal
However, the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph questioned the Attorney General, saying that even if publishing of the INT documents was an offence under the Official Secrets Act, it would not nullify the effect of the document, as another Live Law report stated.
The apex court, meanwhile, refused to hear one of the review petitions filed by Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh on the ground that the petitioner had made derogatory remarks about the court’s December judgement.
Since the beginning of February 2019, The Hindu has been reporting from the dissent note of the three domain experts from the INT — as evidence of how the Modi government deliberately negotiated a deal that was on far worse terms for India than it was under the Congress-led UPA.