India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally in Junagadh, Gujarat, India, on Wednesday. Amit Dave/Reuters
India's Supreme Court said on Wednesday it will hear a request for an investigation into a $8.7 billion fighter jet deal with France's Dassault Aviation , in a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
As India heads into a general election on Thursday, the court agreed to examine new evidence published by newspapers after it rejected the petitions last December. The published material was privileged defence documents, the government says.
"Preliminary objections of the Centre are dismissed," said the court, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, referring to the federal government, adding that it would set a date for further hearings.
Modi, facing a tightening election, has vehemently denied opposition allegations of wrongdoing in the purchase of 36 Rafale planes and the government had asked the court to reject the petitions, citing national security.
The arms deal has been an election issue with Modi's chief rival, Rahul Gandhi, saying it exposed the claims of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government's assertions of running a clean administration.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Wednesday's decision was not a setback for the government and the court had only agreed to consider new evidence.
"We are very sure that the review petition in the light of these facts would not be considered," he said, adding it would probably be dismissed.
Two former ministers of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an activist lawyer seeking the investigation argued that the deal's escalating price should be investigated after documents relating to some aspects were published by the Hindu newspaper.
The government told the court national security was at stake and the leak of the documents infringed the Official Secrets Act, a law dating to the colonial era.
A spokesman for Congress, Sanjay Jha, said, "The attempt by the Modi government to stonewall the Rafale scam probe has been scuttled by the Supreme Court."
The second phase of voting to the lower house of Indian Parliament did not reflect an overwhelming response though important states were involved.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s assets have grown from Rs 9.4 crore in 2014 to over Rs 15.8 crore presently.
India went on high security alert Wednesday ahead of the start of its marathon election, after a campaign dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership that has focused on keeping the country safe from attack.
In the fourth phase, the BJP will be defending 45 of the seats it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle — 13 in Rajasthan, 12 in Uttar Pradesh, eight in Maharashtra, five in Madhya Pradesh, three in Bihar, three in Jharkhand and one in West Bengal.
US President Donald Trump has found himself at the centre of a fierce controversy after he was seen scratching his forehead with his middle finger when a female NASA astronaut corrected him during a video call to the International Space Station (ISS).
Police said the truck was believed to have come from Bulgaria and to have entered Britain at Holyhead in Wales on Saturday. The driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder, police said.
Regional authorities say that the rainfall caused power cuts that affected some 20,000 people. Some 40 roads in the region where cut off and several rivers burst their banks and flooded nearby streets.