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Rafale deal: Supreme Court delivers jolt to Modi govt, says leaked documents admissible in court

A three-judge Supreme Court bench has dismissed objections raised by Centre regarding the pleas asking for a review of the apex court’s decision on the Rafale deal.

Delivering a unanimous verdict, the court dismissed the Centre’s preliminary objections seeking review of earlier judgment giving a clean chit to the Union government in the Rafale deal.

The Supreme Court has said that Rafale review pleas will be heard in detail by the court. The court has also said that defence ministry documents are admissible for review. The court has said it will fix a date for hearing review petitions on the Rafale deal.

“We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said.

The Centre had submitted that the privileged documents were procured by petitioners in an illegal way and used to support their review petitions against the December 14, 2018 judgement of the apex court dismissing all pleas challenging procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

Celebrating the verdict, petitioner Arun Shourie said, “We are delighted it is a unanimous verdict dismissing Central government’s peculiar argument on the admissibility of documents. Centre’s argument meant no wrong can be done in the defence deal. Our argument was that because the documents relate to defence you must examine them. You asked for this evidence and we have provided it. So the court has accepted our pleas and rejected the arguments of the government.”

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR

On December 14, the Supreme Court had dismissed petitions by several individuals who had demanded a court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal.

On March 14, the apex court had reserved verdict on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre on admissibility of privileged documents annexed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and also activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan in their review petition against the top court’s December 14 judgement that dismissed all petitions against the Rafale jet deal.

The Centre had claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said those documents cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre had contended that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned as those documents are also protected under the Official Secrets Act and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).

Prashant Bhushan had contended that the Centre’s objections were “mala fide and totally untenable arguments”.

The top court had further noted that according to the AG’s submissions “there are three Rafale documents whose publication comes under Official Secrets Act, 1923. These documents were unauthorisedly published. You claim privilege under section 123 of Evidence Act. You want us to adjudicate and strike down the review on this basis”.

Prashant Bhushan had submitted a note countering the preliminary objections raised by the centre on maintainability of the review petitions, stating that “preliminary objections are mala fide and totally untenable arguments”.

He had said government cannot claim privilege over the documents which are already published and is in public domain.

Prashant Bhushan had said that Section 123 Indian Evidence Act only protected “unpublished documents”.

Source: indiatoday.in

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