NEW DELHI The Union government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the documents related to Rafale fighter aircraft deal have been stolen from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and the petitioners seeking a review of the verdict dismissing all pleas against the purchase of the jets relied upon those papers.
A three-judge Bench, comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph, began the open court hearing of the Rafale case, during which former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had jointly filed the petition, alleged that the Central government suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PIL (public interest litigation) petitions against the Rafale deal in December.
When Mr. Bhushan referred to an article written by The Hindu’s N. Ram, Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal opposed it, saying that the articles were based on stolen documents and an investigation into the matter was on.
Mr. Venugopal said the first article by the senior journalist appeared in The Hindu on February 8. The Hindu report on March 6 was aimed at influencing the proceedings and that amounted to contempt of court, he added.
While Mr. Venugopal was seeking dismissal of the review petitions and raising objections to Bhushans arguments based on the articles published in The Hindu, the Bench sought to know from the Centre what had it done when it was alleging that the stories were based on stolen material.
The AG submitted that the documents relied on by the petitioners were marked secret and classified, and therefore, are in violation of the Official Secrets Act.
Advancing his arguments on behalf of Mr. Sinha, Mr. Shourie and himself, Mr. Bhushan said critical facts on the Rafale deal were suppressed when the petition for an FIR and investigation were filed.
‘Suppression of facts’
He said that the top court would not have dismissed the plea for FIR and probe into Rafale deal had there not been suppression of facts.
However, Mr. Venugopal said the documents relied upon by Mr. Bhushan were stolen from the Defence Ministry and an investigation into the matter was on.
At this point, the CJI said that hearing Mr. Bhushan did not mean that the court was also taking on record the documents.
The Bench rose for the lunch break, asking Venugopal to apprise it in the post lunch session the whole development related to the stealing of the documents and the investigation by the Centre.
Were Committed To Protect Our Sources: The Hindu
Documents related to the Rafale deal were published in public interest and nobody would get any information from The Hindu on the confidential sources who provided them, The Hindu Publishing Group chairman N. Ram said on March 6.
The documents were published because details were withheld or covered up, the veteran journalist said as the government told the Supreme Court that documents related to the Rafale aircraft deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and an investigation into the theft is on.
You may call it stolen documents… we are not concerned. We got it from confidential sources and we are committed to protecting these sources. Nobody is going to get any information from us on these sources. But the documents speak for themselves and the stories speak for themselves, Mr. Ram told PTI.
He has written a series of articles on the Rafale deal, the latest one on March 6.
Those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Official Secrets Act and contempt of court, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said on March 6 before a Bench hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of the courts verdict dismissing all the pleas against the agreement on the fighter jet.
I will not comment on the proceedings of the Supreme Court. But whatever we have published has been published. They are authentic documents. And they have been published in the public interest because these details have been withheld or covered up, Mr. Ram said.
…It is the duty of the press through investigative journalism to bring out relevant information or issues of great importance for the public interest, he said.
On February 8, Mr. Ram wrote in The Hindu that the Defence Ministry raised strong objections to parallel discussions conducted by the Prime Ministers Office during the negotiations over the ?59,000 crore Rafale deal between India and France.
What we have done is completely protected under article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution freedom of speech and expression and also under the relevant sections of the Right to Information Act, specifically, its section 8 (1) (i) and section 8 (2), which clearly protects this, Mr. Ram said.