The Supreme Court reserved its order on objections raised by the Centre over review petitioners citing secret Rafale deal documents. The apex court said that it will first decide on the premilinary objections raised by the government, and then look into the facts of the Rafale jet deal case. It will be known later as to when the Supreme Court will pronounce its order on Centre's preliminary objections.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, and former union minister Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha have jointly filed a petition for review of the December vedict by the Supreme Court regarding the Rafale jet deal case. Hearing the contentions raised by the government, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the petitioners seeking review of the Supreme Court order in Rafale deal to focus on the preliminary objections regarding admissibility of the leaked documents.
"Only after we decide the preliminary objection raised by the Centre, we will go into the facts of the case," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
At the beginning of the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal. Referring to Section 123 of the Evidence Act and provisions of RTI Act, he argued that no one can produce these documents in the court without obtaining prior permission from the concerned department.
The Supreme Court bench asked the Attorney General that the RTI Act overrides the Offical Secrets Act as its Section 22 and Section 24 states that even intelligence and security establishments are bound to provide information about corruption and human rights violation. To this, Venugopal replied that no one can publish documents which relate to national security as the security of the State supercedes everything.
Former Union minister Arun Shourie stated before the court that he was thankful to the Centre and the Attorney General for stating in their affidavit that these are photocopies, proving the genuineness of these documents.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan challenged the Centre's objections and said that the Rafale deal documents, which AG says are privileged, have been published and are already in public domain. A report in The Hindu by senior journalist N Ram had referred to the documents in question. The report said that the cost of Rafale deal went up because the French supplier did not agree to provide bank guarantees.
Bhushan further argued 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.
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, Bhushan said. He also said the Press Council of India Act provides provisions for protecting sources of journalists.
With agencies input