Supreme Court: Making it clear that it will decide first on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre and then go into the facts of the Rafale fighter jet deal case, the 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, JJ reserved it’s order on the preliminary objections regarding admissibility of the leaked documents.
Attorney General K K Venugopal had argued that the Government had privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned. He referred to section 123 of the Evidence Act and provisions of RTI Act and said that no one can publish documents which relate to national security as the security of the State supercedes everything.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners seeking review, opposed the submission and said that the Rafale deal documents, which AG says are privileged, have been published and are already in public domain. He said that provisions of RTI Act say public interest outweighs other things and no privilege can be claimed except for documents which pertain to intelligence agencies. He also argued that the Press Council of India Act provides provisions for protecting sources of journalists.
In the case that has become a high voltage Courtroom drama, the government told the Court last week 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.
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.”
Yesterday, the Court had allowed the Defence Ministry to file an affidavit in the matter.