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Supreme Court reserves order on Centre’s plea to drop secret Rafale papers

Venugopal cited the Official Secrets Act to disallow the defence ministry documents, whose photocopies were presented by Bhushan to back petition seeking review of the Supreme Court judgment on Rafale deal last year.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2019 16:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Attorney General KK Venugopal,Prashant Bhushan
After Venugopal completed his argument, Justice KM Joseph told him that the Right to Information Act has overriding effect on the Official Secrets Act. (PTI)

The Centre made a renewed pitch in the Supreme Court on Thursday to persuade the judges to remove the secret Rafale papers from the review petition, arguing that this could be done under the reasonable restriction law under the Constitution and the right to information law, or RTI. But the government’s top lawyer faced many questions from the court that pointed to a clause in the RTI Act that it could override the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

The top court later reserved its order on the government request claiming privilege on use of documents classified as secret.

Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that the Official Secrets Act disallows the defence ministry documents to be admitted in the Supreme Court. Petitioner Prashant Bhushan has presented photocopies of the ‘secret’ documents related to Rafale deal in the court to support his contention seeking a review of the court’s December judgment on Rafale deal.

The attorney general told the Supreme Court that the documents presented were covered under privileged information and could be prohibited from being brought in public domain under the reasonable restriction clause of the Constitution and the RTI Act.

Justice KM Joseph, however, said the passing of RTI Act by Parliament was a revolution. He said the file notings have lost the sanctity after the RTI Act got notified. The government’s argument amounts to looking back, the judge said adding, “We must move and look forward.”

Justice Joseph told Venugopal that the Right to Information Act has overriding effect on the Official Secrets Act. He pointed out that “public interest outweighs” in cases of corruption and human rights violation. The government is bound to furnish documents in such cases, the Supreme Court judge said.

Petitioner Bhushan said the Centre’s argument is untenable as the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report submitted by it also deals with a large number of defence purchases.

He argued that details of all purchases are mentioned in the CAG report which will also go public. “To say that documents given relate to defence purchases and should not be considered by court is totally unsustainable argument,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Centre filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that the leaked defence ministry documents jeopardise national security and should be removed from the record. The Centre argued that the documents presented a “selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations” on Rafale deal.

Earlier on March 6, the Venugopal had argued for dismissing petitions seeking review of the Rafale verdict claiming that the petitioners relied on ‘stolen’ papers acquired from “present or former employees” of the defence ministry. Later, he told the apex court that the documents were not stolen but photocopied from the original papers.

First Published: Mar 14, 2019 15:49 IST