SC reserves order on Govt plea on Rafale documents

Kashmir Times. Dated: 3/15/2019 12:20:38 PM

NEW DELHI, Mar 14 (Agencies): The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on the government's plea claiming privilege over the documents filed by petitioners - former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, journalist-turned politician Arun Shourie and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan - in connection with the Rafale fighter jet deal case.
After an hour-long hearing, the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi reserved the order on the plea which also sought removal of the documents from the case records.
The Centre had on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the petitioners, who were seeking a review of the court's December 14 judgement giving a clean chit to the government in the Rafale deal, are guilty of leakage of sensitive information having a bearing on national security and combat capacity of the fighter jets.
In an affidavit, the government said the leaked information was now available to the "enemy/our adversaries", adding those who have conspired in this leakage were guilty of penal offences punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
The Centre had contended that the documents which were unauthorisedly photocopied belonged to a class for which it was "entitled to claim privilege under Section 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872."
Asserting that the petitioners had "no authority" to produce the documents before the court without its "explicit permission", the affidavit says that these documents are exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act.
The Supreme Court Thursday said 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.
It will be known later as to when the order will be pronounced on the issue.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan said that the Rafale deal documents, which AG says are privileged, have been published and are already in public domain.
Former Union minister Arun Shourie submitted that he was thankful to the Centre and the Attorney General for saying in their affidavit that these are photocopies, proving the genuineness of these documents.
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.
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.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for another petitioner Vineet Dhanda, said that the government cannot claim privilege on these documents.
The petitioners are seeking review of the Supreme Court verdict of December 14 which held that there was no occasion to really doubt the decision making process warranting setting aside of the defence contract for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

 

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