The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the Centre, asking it to file response to the petitions seeking review of the Rafale verdict by 4 May.
The court has fixed the hearing of the review petitions for 6 May.
The Centre had on Monday sought deferment of today’s hearing on the pleas seeking review of the 14 December Rafale deal verdict, saying it needed time to file a detailed reply on these petitions.
The Centre’s prayer was made before a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
The review petitions have been filed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Two other review petitions have been filed by Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh and advocate Vineet Dhanda.
In a setback to the Centre, the top court had on 10 April allowed the pleas which relied on leaked documents for seeking review of its Rafale judgement and dismissed the government’s preliminary objections claiming “privilege” over them.
The Centre had submitted that three privileged documents were unauthorisedly removed from the Defence Ministry and used by the petitioners to support their review petitions against the 14 December 2018 judgement of the apex court which had dismissed all pleas challenging the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
The top court had rejected the objections raised by the Centre that those documents were not admissible as evidence under Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, and no one can produce them in court without the permission of the department concerned as they are also protected under the Official Secrets Act.
It had noted that all the three documents were in “public domain” and published by prominent daily The Hindu were “in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech”.
It had said the documents used in the pleas were published in The Hindu in February and one of the papers was also published by The Wire.
The apex court had also noted that no law enacted by Parliament specifically barring or prohibiting the publication of such documents on any of the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution has been brought to its notice.
The Rafale fighter is a twin-engine Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft manufactured by French aerospace company Dassault Aviation. A deal to procure the jets was signed between India and France in 2015. The delivery is expected to begin in September this year.
In the December verdict, the court had said there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France and dismissed all the petitions seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities in the Rs 58,000 crore deal. The top court had said there was no substantial evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity.