Rafale case: The Supreme Court verdict is a boost for transparency
The apex court’s ruling makes it clear that the Official Secrets Act cannot be invoked to escape legal scrutiny on matters involving public moneyUpdated: Apr 10, 2019 22:33 IST
The Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday in the Rafale case came as a setback to the government. The unanimous judgment by the three-member bench, led by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, overruled the central government’s objections over the admissibility of some documents, which, the latter claimed, were sensitive in nature and had been obtained through “unauthorised photocopying and leakage”. Those documents will now be judged on merit as part of the review of the December 14, 2018, verdict of the apex court, which had ruled out a court-monitored probe into the allegations of procedural violations and favouritism in a deal to procure 36 Rafale jets, effectively giving the government a clean chit.
The Wednesday ruling is unequivocally a welcome one. On the legal front, this case makes it clear that the Official Secrets Act cannot be invoked to escape legal scrutiny on matters involving public money. The government was the winner in the Rafale case in December last year but if any new material is brought to the notice of the judiciary and the public, then the question of a review should be entirely decided on the merits of the new material and not how the material was procured. The onus of leaks, based on the Official Secrets Act, should be on the insider who leaked the documents and not on the media house which chooses to publish it.
From the government’s perspective, the logic of invoking secrecy and the bogey of national interest to stall judicial scrutiny was befuddling, especially when the documents had already been put out in the public domain by multiple media agencies. If the government has nothing to hide, it should welcome further scrutiny. The government’s logic was still more incomprehensible given that the national elections were approaching. The Congress is likely to seize upon this verdict to score political points, even though a final judgment on the merits of the Rafale deal is still awaited. Finally, by putting fewer obstacles in the way, the government could help expedite the case. Speedy disposal of cases involving defence deals will, in fact, help the cause of efficient defence procurement, which remains mired in corruption allegations and lengthy court cases.