Apex court to probe only after addressing Centre's objections

Apex court to probe only after  addressing CentreApex court to probe only after addressing Centre’s objections
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said it will decide first on the preliminary objections raised by...

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said it will decide first on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre and then go into the facts of the Rafale fighter jet deal case. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi wrapped up the hearing on preliminary objections by the Centre that review petitioners in the Rafale jet deal case cannot rely on privileged documents obtained illegally. It will be known later as to when the order will be pronounced on the issue.

The top court asked the petitioners seeking review of its order to focus on the preliminary objections regarding admissibility of the leaked documents. "Only after we decide the preliminary objection raised by the Centre, we will go into the facts of the case," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.

At the outset, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and told the Supreme Court that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned. Venugopal referred to Section 123 of the Evidence Act and provisions of RTI Act to buttress his claim. He told the top court that no one can publish documents which relate to national security as the security of the State supercedes everything.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners seeking review, opposed the submission and said that the Rafale deal documents, which AG says are privileged, have been published and are already in public domain.Former Union minister Arun Shourie, who is one of the review petitioners, submitted that he was thankful to the Centre and the Attorney General for saying in their affidavit that these are photocopies, proving the genuineness of these documents.

Bhushan further said that provisions of RTI Act say public interest outweighs other things and no privilege can be claimed except for documents which pertain to intelligence agencies. There is no government-to- government contract in purchasing Rafale jets as there is no sovereign guarantee extended to India by France in the Rs 58,000 crore deal, Bhushan said. He also said the Press Council of India Act provides provisions for protecting sources of journalists.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for another petitioner Vineet Dhanda, said that the government cannot claim privilege on these documents. Yashwant Sinha, another former Union minister, is also a petitioner seeking review of the Supreme Court verdict of December 14 which held that there was no occasion to really doubt the decision-making process warranting setting aside of the defence contract for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

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