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


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.