Concerned over annexing of protected documents along with PILs, Government tells SC

The Centre expressed concern that various privileged and sensitive documents, including Cabinet notes, which are outside the purview of the RTI law have been forming the basis of PILs.

Published: 16th November 2017 06:23 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2017 06:56 PM   |  A+A-

The Supreme Court of India

By PTI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today took a "serious" note of the Centre's "extreme concern" that various privileged and sensitive documents, including Cabinet notes, which are outside the purview of the RTI law have been forming the basis of PILs.

While the Centre said that such documents including file notings, which otherwise are protected material, were coming into hands of some through "disgruntled" employees, a bench comprising justices A K Goel and U U Lalit termed the development as "serious" warranting apex court's intervention.

The Centre flagged its concern through Attorney General K K Venugopal when activist advocate Prashant Bhushan was arguing a PIL relating to AgustaWestland helicopter scam.

Venugopal told the bench that the government was "extremely concerned" as even the investigating agencies were not able to protect sensitive documents.

"This is a serious issue. The government of India is extremely concerned that it is unable to protect its documents and even the documents of investigating agencies are in the hands of others," the attorney general told the bench.

The bench agreed with submissions of the top law officer and said it would consider this issue.

"Certainly, what you are saying is serious," the bench said, adding, "yes, we will consider it".

Venugopal made these submissions when the apex court was hearing a plea seeking probe into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of an Agusta helicopter for VIP use by the Chhattisgarh government and also the foreign bank accounts, purportedly linked to the son of Chief Minister Raman Singh.

The bench also asked the Chhattisgarh government to place before it the original files pertaining to the purchase of the helicopter in 2006-2007 by the state.

During the hearing, the attorney general referred to the petition filed in the matter and said that internal file notings, like the August 2007 decision of the state Cabinet and relevant files, have been annexed with it.

"This is a matter of daily concern. PIL after PIL are filed wherein entire CBI documents are annexed. Documents of Enforcement Directorate (ED), Cabinet proceedings everyone of them are filed. Electronic copy (of these documents) is taken.

It is an offence under the Information Technology Act," he said.

Bhushan, representing the petitioner, told the bench that the petitioner has received some of these documents through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

To this, the bench asked Venugopal, "Are anyone of these documents disputed?" Venugopal said that these documents were all "copies" and no original documents have been filed.

He said there might be some "disgruntled employees" in the departments who were leaking the documents.

"Have you (Centre) taken any action on it? Are these marked under official secret," the bench asked.

Responding to this, the attorney general said, "According to me, Cabinet note is privileged. He (petitioner) does not say which documents have been received under the RTI." When the bench said whether the Chhattisgarh government was disputing that these documents were not correct, Venugopal said he was not appearing on behalf of the state but for the Union of India.

"Source of document matters. We are concerned with this case. We are concerned with the issue of documents," he said, while requesting the court to consider this aspect.

Venugopal also citied the instance of the entry register at the residence of former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha which had came up before the apex court.

When the attorney general referred to certain judgements of the apex court on the issue of documents, the bench said it was a settled law that a litigant has to come to the court with a clean hand.

Venugopal also said though the petitioner has claimed he has received documents through RTI, the replies received under the RTI has not been filed in the court.

At the fag end of the hearing, the bench told Bhushan that it would see the RTI replies received by the petitioner and asked Bhushan to keep them ready.

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