The Supreme Court on March 14 reserved orders on the preliminary objections raised by the government regarding the “privileged” documents in the Rafale deal case. The court was hearing a review petitions filed by Prashant Bhushan, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie against the court verdict dismissing all petitions seeking court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the government said in the Rafale review case that the documents so presented by petitioners were privileged documents which could not be considered in evidence. He cited Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, saying that the documents are protected under the Official Secrets Act. AG further said that the disclosure is exempted under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.
RTI overrides Official Secrets Act: SC
Petitioner Bhushan had presented the photocopies of the documents related to Rafale deal. AG argued that defence ministry documents are not allowed to be submitted in the SC under the Official Secrets Act. He further said that these documents were covered under ‘privileged information’ and should be disallowed from being brought in the public domain.
The three-judge headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi said, “What privilege do you claim? They (petitioners) have already produced them in court. File notings have lost the sanctity they had. The RTI Act brought about a revolution, a complete change.” The bench also asked how the government decided on privilege protection.
Petitioner Bhushan argued that documents related to Rafale, that AG says are ‘privileged’, are already in the public domain. “Virtually, all these have been published. If it is relevant to decide any corruption case, it is absolutely irrelevant whether the documents are obtained through legal means,” Bhushan further.
Justice KM Joseph, hearing the case, said that Section 22 of the RTI Act gives RTI an overriding effect over the Official Secrets Act. He further added that Section 24 of the RTI Act does not exempt security and intelligence establishments from disclosing information pertaining to corruption and human rights violation.
Affidavit submitted by govt
The Ministry of Defence in its affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court said that documents attached by the petitioners in the Rafale deal review case are sensitive to national security. MoD in its affidavit held the petitioners guilty of leaking sensitive information of the Rafale deal and for “putting National Security in jeopardy.”
The Supreme Court has been hearing a review petition on clean chit given by the court to the central government on Rafale deal. It may be recalled that on March 6, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that the important documents regarding the pricing of the deal were stolen from ministry files and given to The Hindu newspaper for publishing. N Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Publishing group earlier broke news about the serious inconsistencies in the Rafale deal through a series of articles.
Also Read: Petitioners Guilty Of Leaking Sensitive Information In Rafale Deal: MoD To SC
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