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Rafale: Can a ‘stolen’ document be overlooked if it is relevant?

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New Delhi, Mar 6: The hearing of the Rafale review petitions in the Supreme Court Wednesday brought an interesting exchange between the judges on the Bench and Attorney General KK Venugopal to the fore.
It all started when Prashant Bhushan, one of the review petitioners, submitted an eight-page note to the Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph.
At this point, AG KK Venugopal took exception to the same, stating that the contents of the note were “stolen” from the Defence Ministry, and that a probe into that was underway.
Referring to news items published in The Hindu and other publications, Venugopal stated that disclosure of the contents of the Defence Ministry note amounted to an offence under the Official Secrets Act.
Specific reference was made to an article in The Hindu titled ‘No bank guarantees meant a more expensive new Rafale deal’, published today.
“The strategy is to put out as a news item the day before the hearing so as to influence the hearing. Today also, [The] Hindu has published something. This by itself is contempt of court”, submitted Venugopal.
The review petition and perjury plea were liable to be dismissed on this ground alone, Venugopal further said.
Venugopal continued this line of argument when the Bench reconvened after lunch.
At one point, Justice Joseph queried,“Can relevant evidence be cut out saying it is illegally obtained? Can’t stolen evidence be looked into if it is relevant?”
An intense exchange between the AG and the judge ensued on whether or not illegally obtained evidence can be relied upon. Venugopal said,“They have come with a document which is stolen. Your Lordships might have your view on it (admissibility of such a document) but I have a different view.”
The AG went on to ask whether the Supreme Court will give directions to go to war or negotiate for peace. He also sought to find out where the petitioners got the document from.
Then, CJI Ranjan Gogoi weighed in, asking,“An accused is having difficulty in proving his innocence. He steals a document and shows it to judge. The document clearly shows he is innocent. Should the judge not admit the document?”
Venugopal responded,“He has to disclose the source of the document. The submission is, once the document is a subject matter of criminality, in my opinion, the court should not look into it.”
CJI Gogoi shot back,“If your submission is that petitioners have not come bona fide, then that’s different. But can you say that the document is completely not touchable?”
Venugopal went on to submit that the matter has been given a political colour. He called for the Court to exercise restraint in passing orders.
“In this limited area concerning the defence of frontiers, would it not be appropriate for Your Lordships to exercise restraint? This is a matter by which opposition is trying to destabilise the government.”
The hearing in the case will resume on March 14. (Courtesy Bar & Bench)

Says The Hindu chairman
‘Won’t give any info on source’
Press Trust of India
New Delhi, Mar 19:
Documents related to the Rafale deal were published in public interest and nobody would get any information from The Hindu newspaper on the confidential sources who provided them, The Hindu Publishing Group Chairman N Ram said on Wednesday.
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,” Ram told PTI.
He has written a series of articles on the Rafale deal, the latest one on Wednesday.
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 Wednesday before a bench hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of the court’s 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,” 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 added.
On February 8, Ram wrote in The Hindu that the Defence ministry raised strong objections to “parallel discussions” conducted by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) during the negotiations over the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal between India and France.
It was allegedly based on government documents related to Rafale deal.
“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,” Ram said.

 
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Principal’s ‘custodial killing’: Probe officer meets family, locals

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Srinagar, Mar 23: Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) Pulwama Qazi Masood probing the “custodial killing” of a school principal Saturday met the victim’s family in Awantipora area of Pulwama district.
Rizwan Asad Pandit, the Principal of Sabir Abdullah Public School Tral, was picked up by the police from his home late on March 17 during a raid and was killed in police custody at the Cargo Building two days later, according to his family.
Although the police had initially admitted that Rizwan had “died” in custody and that the matter was being probed under “procedure laid down in Section 176 of CRPC,” it later filed an FIR against him for “escape or attempts to escape from custody”, lending a new twist to the case.
The magisterial inquiry that was ordered in Srinagar was also closed and a fresh probe ordered in Pulwama district and a report sought in “four weeks.”
“Government has appointed me as an inquiry officer, I assured the family that I will conduct the fair investigation into the case,” the inquiry officer Qazi Masood told GNS after meeting Rizwan’s family members and local residents.
Masood said he has sought a report from SP Awantipora on why and how Rizwan was detained and the circumstances that led to his death.
“I have also sought a postmortem report from the SP,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, reports said that soon after the inquiry officer arrived in the area and met the family members, locals held a protest demonstration demanding stern action against the guilty.

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Civil society, traders, Bar demand special inquiry commission

Syed Nashir Ali Gillani

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Srinagar, Mar 23: Kashmir business community, civil society, and High Court Bar Association on Saturday asked Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Paul Malik to set-up an independent Special Commission of inquiry in the custodial killing of Awantipora school teacher Rizwan Asad Pandit.
Addressing a press conference in Srinagar, they said that there have been countless instances of inquiries being ordered in killings without any results.
“To deter future violations, we appeal to the Governor for setting up of a time-bound Independent Special Commission of Inquiry,” they said.
The members said that till the time the commission submits its report, it would serve justice if the case is treated to be one of custodial killing and all persons associated with it are put behind bars and kept away from active duty.
“Such inquiries, suffering from institutional bias and state interference, have rarely served the interests of justice,” they said.
“We have a reason to believe that this killing would also suffer the same fate and the killers would again roam free to kill, more confident in the fact that their crimes will never be brought to account,” they said.
They said that the repeated perpetration of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law needs in-depth fact-finding and investigation.
On Tuesday, Rizwan Asad Pandit, a 29-year-old school teacher, died inside the Jammu and Kashmir’s CARGO camp in Srinagar.
He was picked up for questioning from his home in Awantipora on Sunday.
The family had said that his body bore evidence of being subjected to extreme physical violence.
The press conference was jointly held by KCC&I, High Court Bar Association, KTMF, KEA, KTMF (R), FCIK(A), FCIK(M), JKSECC, KCSDS, KHARA, CCIK, All Transport Welfare Association, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Dealers Association, Houseboat Owners Association, KHAROF, Pvt School Association, Kashmir Bakers Association, All Kashmir Chemist & Distributors Association, Hoteliers Club, All Traders & Transporters Coordination Committee, All J&K Taxi Owners Association, Association Of Kashmir Tour, Environmental Protection Group, Shehr E Khaas Coordination, Beopar Mandal S R Gunj, Rehabilitation Alliance, and Batamaloo Traders Association.

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ED imposes Rs 14.4 lakh penalty on Geelani

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Srinagar, Mar 22: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Friday imposed Rs 14.4 lakh penalty, on Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani for “illegally” possessing foreign exchange of around $10,000, news agency PTI reported.
After completion of the probe and adjudication proceeding, the ED an order on Wednesday under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), levying the penalty and confiscating forex of $10,000 that was allegedly recovered from Geelani, they said.
The ED will also impose a penalty on Yasin Malik, Chairman of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and confiscate foreign exchange recovered from him. The adjudication proceedings against Malik are in progress.
On Wednesday, a Delhi court also allowed ED to quiz Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah and others in connection with an alleged funding case.

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