Supreme Court: The government has told the Supreme Court that documents related to the Rafale fighter jet deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry. The Hindu newspaper had published articles on the Rafale deal that were allegedly based on the said documents.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the Court that those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Official Secrets Act as also contempt of court.
However, The Hindu Publishing Group Chairman N Ram said those documents were published in public interest as the details of the Rafale deal were withheld or covered up. He said:
“You may call it stolen documents…we are not concerned. We got it from confidential sources and we are committed to protecting these sources. Nobody is going to get any information from us on these sources. But the documents speak for themselves and the stories speak for themselves.”
The 3-judge bench of CJ Ranjan Gogoi and SK Kaul and KM Joseph, JJ was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict dismissing all the pleas against the deal procured by India from France.
Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had jointly filed the petition, alleged that the Centre suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PILs.
When Bhushan referred to an articles written by Ram, AG said the write-ups were based on stolen documents. He also told the Court that an FIR has not been registered so far into the theft of documents.
The AG submitted that the documents were marked secret and classified and are therefore in violation of the Official Secrets Act. He also told the Supreme Court that the Rafale case pertains to defence procurement which cannot be reviewed judicially.
AG told the Court that every statement of the court made in the Rafale case may be used to destabilise either the government or the opposition and therefore court should refrain from making it.
CJI asked AG:
“if an act of corruption is committed in Rafale deal, will Govt take shelter behind Official Secrets Act? I am not saying it is committed, but if it is then government cannot take shelter behind OSA.”
The Court said that it been has settled in a catena of judgments that even if stolen documents are cited, and if they are found relevant, the court can look into them.
When AG said that any order to the effect would be damaging to the country as the recent incidents have shown how vulnerable is the scenario in which the country was trying to meet its defence requirements, the Court said that the issue of national security did not arise in the case as allegations were of grave crime of corruption.
The Court will next hear the matter on March 14.