A day after the Supreme Court dismissed review petitions seeking a probe into the Rafale deal, advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union minister Arun Shourie called for a CBI probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets by the government. They claimed that the separate judgment authored by Justice K M Joseph mandates that the CBI launch a probe.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi turned down petitions seeking a review of its 2018 decision on the matter. It stated that there were no grounds for the CBI to initiate a probe into allegations of impropriety or irregularity in the deal.
Justice K M Joseph, who along with the CJI and Justice S K Kaul made the bench, in a separate concurring judgment said though the review had been dismissed, it will “not stand in the way” of the CBI from taking action on the document after obtaining previous approval under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Bhushan and Shourie contended at a press conference that the SC has “acknowledged that the judgment notwithstanding, the CBI is still required to comply with the direction issues in Lalita Kumar vs Government of Uttar Pradesh on time-bound inquiry and investigation into the matter leading to registration of FIR for which the first step the CBI is required to take is seek approval of the very government against” whose Prime Minister the complaint has been made.
Bhushan said “we hope now the CBI will move” as the judgment by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S K Kaul “has not said anything to the contrary”, and this makes the concurring judgment binding.
Shourie said the “self-restraint of the SC” along with Section 17A makes for a “dangerous combination” and gives the government “khulli chhoot” (absolute freedom) in matters of national security.
A senior Defence Ministry official disagreed with the assessment of Bhushan and Shourie, and told The Indian Express, “Both the judgments state that an FIR cannot be filed now.” A probe by the CBI, the official added, “will be in express violation” of the SC verdict and “there is no scope for further inquiry”.
Shourie, Bhushan and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha had moved the Supreme Court in October 2018 demanding an FIR on the Rafale deal. After the SC in December decided there was no case to doubt the decision-making on the deal, the three sought a review in January.