The Supreme Court will on Wednesday give its verdict on the Centre’s objections to the documents cited by petitioners seeking an inquiry into the Rafale fighter jet deal with France, Live Law reported. The court had reserved its verdict on March 14.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, along with other petitioners, had filed a plea to seek the inquiry last year, but the court had dismissed the demand in December 2018. They filed a review petition, which cited new documents revealed by the media in February. During the hearing of the review plea, the government told the court that the files were “stolen” from the Defence Ministry and hence, the petition should be dismissed.
On March 14, Bhushan told the court that it is settled law that a court should not be concerned about how a document is obtained if it happens to be relevant evidence. He said the objections raised by the Centre against his petition were mala fide. The government has claimed that the petitions are based on secret official files, publishing which is illegal and a threat to security.
The court had said it will deal with this objection first, before proceeding with the review pleas.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the court that such privileged documents cannot be published without the government’s permission, and that they should be removed from the court’s records. The disclosure of such details is exempted even by the Right to Information Act, he said, also citing Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, which prohibits evidence based on unpublished state records. The documents relate to national security, which supersedes everything, Venugopal said.
During the hearings, Justice KM Joseph had said the Right to Information Act had “intended to bring a revolution, let us not go back”. He had pointed out that the Act said even intelligence and security establishments were bound to give information in case of “corruption and human rights violations”. He said the Act had an overriding effect on the Official Secrets Act.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SK Kaul are also part of the bench.
Bhushan had argued that the documents were already in public domain, and the claim of privilege that applies to secret files is available only to unpublished documents. He said that the government had itself leaked the documents to “friendly media” in the recent past. This was an apparent reference to a report published by ANI news agency in February, with details of a Defence Ministry note that had not been included in an unfavourable report about the same note published by The Hindu hours earlier.
The Hindu’s reports in February were based on government documents accessed by the newspaper, which have also been cited by the petitioners Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan.