The Supreme Court on Thursday, 14 February, reserved the order order on the preliminary objections and the government’s claim of privilege over the documents used by the petitioners seeking review of the apex court’s earlier judgment on Rafale deal.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, began his submissions before the SC stating that the government has made a “mistake” in filing the CAG report on the Rafale deal. He also added that the SC should direct removal of the leaked pages from the review petitions, as the government claims privilege over these documents.
Bhushan argued that Section 123 privilege does not apply to documents which have already been published, adding that the only touchstone to decide admissibility of the documents in question is public interest.
- During the 6 March hearing, Venugopal raised a preliminary objection on the basis that the documents relied on by the petitioners were secret and should not have been used by them
- The top court is also looking into applications seeking perjury prosecution of government officials for allegedly misleading the court
- On 14 December last year, the apex court had dismissed a clutch of PILs, including the one filed by Sinha, Shourie, and Bhushan, saying there was “no occasion to doubt” the decision-making process of the Centre in the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France
Catch all live updates on the SC’s verdict on the Rafale review petitions here.
SC Reserves Order on Preliminery Objections
The Supreme Court reserved the order order on the preliminary objections and the government’s claim of privilege over the documents.
Thank You for Revealing the Genuineness of these Docs: Shourie to AG
Former Union Minister and petitioner Arun Shourie ‘thanked’ the attorney general for saying in their affidavit that the documents are photocopies.
“They have proved the genuineness of these documents," said Arun Shourie.
Privilege Doesn't Apply When Document is Published: Dhandha's Lawyer
Advocate Vikas Singh, who represents Vineet Dhandha (another petitioners) also pointed out that section 22 of the RTI Act has an overriding effect on Section 123 of the Evidence Act as well.
“So even if documents considered published, privilege doesn't apply,” Singh said.
Relevant Docs Cannot be Ignored Even if Procured Illegally: Bhushan
Prashant Bhushan further argued that in the 2G spectrum case, the Supreme Court had turned down former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha's request to disclose identity of whistleblower who had accessed the visitors Register at Sinha's residence.
“It is completely irrelevant if a document was obtained in an illegal manner,” said Bhushan.
He also referred to Section 15(2),(3) of the Press Council Act to assert that journalistic privilege to protect sources is recognised by law.
He also referred to ‘Pentagon Papers Case’, to say that the apex court in US allowed publication of documents though they were related to Vietnam War.
“Secrecy in government functioning is the antithesis of democracy,” Bhushan quoted a line from the case.
Bhushan returned briefly to the argument that Section 123 privilege does not apply to documents which have already been published, adding that the only touchstone to decide admissibility of the documents in question is public interest.