Rafale documents admissible, says Supreme Court dismissing Centre’s objection

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the government’s objection over documents used by petitioners to seek review of Rafale judgement. The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that the documents are admissible.

“We deem it proper to dismiss preliminary objections and hold and affirm the review petitions will be adjudicated on the basis of relevance of the three documents whose admissibility was questioned by the government,” the bench said.

On March 14, the apex court had reserved verdict on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre on admissibility of privileged documents annexed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie as also activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan in their review petition against the top court’s December 14 judgement that dismissed all petitions against the Rafale jet deal.

The Centre had opposed admissibility of the three documents obtained and published by a leading newspaper in its report claiming these documents were stolen from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and violated the Official Secrets Act (OSA), where government – due to national security issue – had kept such crucial information hidden from public domain.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had contended that no one can produce the documents in the court without the permission of the department concerned as these are protected under the OSA and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).

The Centre had also claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said they cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

The court had then question as to how important secret documents were stolen from the defence ministry and told the MoD to get its house in order.

Bhushan had, however, contended that the Centre’s objections were “mala fide and totally untenable arguments”.

Bhushan had said that government cannot claim privilege over the documents which are already published and are in public domain. He further said that Section 123 Indian Evidence Act only protected “unpublished documents”.

While the Centre was making submission that the documents can be withheld from disclosure under the RTI Act in view of the national security, the top court said Section 22 of the RTI Act gave it an overriding effect over the OSA.

(With inputs from agencies)

Story highlights

The Centre had claimed privilege over documents and said they cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act

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