Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, referred to section 123 of the Evidence Act and provisions of RTI Act to buttress his claim. But Justice Joseph said RTI Act applies for even sensitive information in cases of corruption and human rights violation, rejecting the government arguments. The A-G has urged the court to remove the leaked-out pages from the review petitions since the government is claiming privilege over these documents.
Prashant Bhushan cites Pentagon Papers case of US, in which defence documents relating to Vietnam War were allowed to be published. The US Supreme Court in an emphatic judgment had rejected the government claim of national security, says Bhushan. Bhushan cites the US SC judgment to buttress the claim that documents illegally obtained are admissible as evidence in court.
KM Joseph quizzes Attorney General KK Venugopal again on exempting the documents under national security and effect of RTI jurisprudence. He then passes on a circular to the Attorney General, which showed that the Government itself had asserted transparency. To this the A-G says, defence acquisitions, weaponry system relate directly to the security of the State."Should this court now add corruption in Govt as a new ground in the RTI? Issues here relate to national security" A-G says.
The A-G maintains that leaked papers aren't entitled to be made available under an RTI or under freedom to know. To this, the SC points out that in cases of corruption and human rights violation, RTI act may apply even for sensitive information. "Security of the State supersedes everything else," the govt says.
A day before the crucial hearing, the Centre on Wednesday told the top court that documents filed by the petitioners are "sensitive to national security" and those who conspired in photocopying the papers have committed theft and put the security in jeopardy by leaking them, targeting The Hindu newspaper over its investigative stories on the purchase of 36 fighter jets from France.
Illustration by Mir Suhail/News18.com
The top court had in December dismissed petitions alleging that the government had gone for an overpriced deal to help Anil Ambani's company bag an offset contract with jet-maker Dassault. A day before the crucial hearing, the Centre on Wednesday told the top court that documents attached in the review petitions are sensitive to national security and those who conspired in photocopying the papers have committed theft.
The affidavit, filed by the ministry of defence, asks the court to reject the petitions and states that leakage of documents on the fighter jet deal from the ministry through photocopying amounted to theft. It claimed that the documents are sensitive to national security as they relate to war capacity of the combat aircraft.
In the affidavit, the government said the review plea filed by former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie as also activist advocate Prashant Bhushan has been widely circulated and is available to the country's enemy and adversaries.
"This puts the national security in jeopardy. Without consent, permission or acquiescence of the Central Government, those who have conspired in making the photocopy of these sensitive documents and annexing it to the review petition/ miscellaneous application and thereby committing theft by unauthorized photocopying of such documents...have adversely affected the sovereignty, security and friendly relations with the foreign countries," the affidavit said.
It said that even though the Centre "maintains secrecy", the review petitioners are "guilty of leakage of sensitive information, which offends the terms of the agreements".
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