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“Can national security be cover for corruption?” asks SC

Posted in S. Asia

Published on March 10, 2019 with No Comments

Supreme Court of India began hearing review petitions on the Rafale jet deal, the government told the court that Rafale papers were stolen from the defence ministry. The apex court, which is hearing petitions seeking a review of its December 2018 verdict refusing to order a probe into the deal, put off hearing until March 14.
The Centre told the bench that the documents related to the Rafale fighter jet deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and threatened The Hindu newspaper with the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on them. Those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Act as also contempt of court, Attorney General K K Venugopal said.
The bench, which will hear the review petitions further on March 14, was told by Venugopal that every statement of the apex court made in the Rafale case may be used to destabilise either the government or the opposition and therefore court should refrain from making it. The high voltage hearing saw the bench showering several tricky questions to the AG who was buttressing that the stolen materials cannot be relied to revisit the judgement dismissing the pleas and it was necessary to determine the sources who provided the sensitive documents.
The Centre took a strong exception to advocate Prashant Bhushan reading out from “secret” documents. Attorney General KK Venugopal said these documents were stolen from the government either by current or former officials.
“What have you done about it?” the three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the AG, who said an investigation had been ordered into the matter. The Bench left it to the government to file an affidavit detailing the action taken.
The CJI also refused to accept any new documents from Bhushan, including The Hindu reports, and asked him to confine himself to the documents on record. Explaining the government’s case, the AG sought the dismissal of the review petitions. At one point he said without Rafale, how cpuld India resist F-16s (of Pakistan). Venugopal requested the court to exercise restraint while commenting on the Rafale deal as such statements would be used to target either the government or the Opposition. As he asserted that courts cannot rely upon stolen documents, the Bench asked several pointed questions on the issue. “When there is an allegation of corruption, can the government take shelter under national security?” asked Justice KM Joseph. The Bench said the government can’t take a general stand that no secret documents can be considered. There were judgments which said courts could look into secret documents even when the government had claimed privilege in terms of Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, Justice Joseph pointed out.
As Venugopal insisted that the petitioners must reveal the source of the documents, the CJI sought to know what if an accused established the plea of alibi based on a stolen document. “Should the Court ignore?” he asked.


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