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Will SC examine 'stolen' Rafale deal documents? Verdict likely today

The order will come on a batch of pleas which want the court to review its judgement in the wake of new evidence coming to light.

Published: 10th April 2019 02:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th April 2019 09:58 AM   |  A+A-

Rafale fighter jet made by Dasault Aviation

Rafale fighter jet made by Dasault Aviation (File | AFP)

By Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court is likely to deliver its verdict on Wednesday on whether it would examine documents related to the Rafale deal that the government says were stolen from the Ministry of Defence and should not be presented in court.

The order will come on a batch of pleas which want the court to review its judgement in the wake of new evidence coming to light.

During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, has urged the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to dismiss the petitions on the ground that they relied on documents covered under the Official Secrets Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, opposed the AG’s submission, saying that the documents were already in the public domain.

"Only after we decide the preliminary objection raised by the Centre, we will go into other aspect of the review petitions," the bench said, adding that "only if we overrule the preliminary objection, we will go into other details".

The Centre had claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said those documents cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Venugopal also contended that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned as those documents are also protected under the Official Secrets Act and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).

Bhushan had contended that the Centre's objections were "mala fide and totally untenable arguments".

The top court had further noted that according to the AG's submissions "there are three Rafale documents whose publication comes under Official Secrets Act, 1923. These documents were unauthorisedly published. You claim privilege under section 123 of Evidence Act. You want us to adjudicate and strike down the review on this basis".

Bhushan had submitted a note countering the preliminary objections raised by the centre on maintainability of the review petitions, stating that "preliminary objection are mala fide and totally untenable arguments".

He had said government cannot claim privilege over the documents which are already published and is in public domain.

Bhushan had said that Section 123 Indian Evidence Act only protected "unpublished documents".

While the Centre was making submission that the documents can be withheld from disclosure under the RTI Act in view of the national security, the top court said Section 22 of the RTI Act gave it an overriding effect over the Official Secrets Act.

It also said that under Section 24 of the RTI Act even security and intelligence establishments are not exempted from disclosing information in relation to corruption and human rights violations.

"The RTI Act brought a revolution. In 2009, your own government said file notings can be made available under the RTI. Let us not go back now," the bench has said.

Bhushan further said that provisions of the RTI Act say public interest outweighs other things and no privilege can be claimed except for documents which pertain to intelligence agencies.

He also said that there is no government-to-government contract in purchasing Rafale jets as there is no sovereign guarantee extended to India by France in the Rs 58,000 crore deal.

He had submitted why the government didn't lodge any FIR when these documents started coming out in November 2018.

He had further said that the government has itself filed a detailed CAG report regarding as many as 10 defence purchases and it is untenable on their part to now claim the privilege.

(With PTI Inputs)

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