New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said that the Right to Information Act had ushered a revolution on the concept of confidentiality of documents after the government asked it to dismiss the petitions seeking a probe into Rafale fighter jet deal on the grounds that national security supersedes everything.
After Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that the petitoners had illegally got access to classified files and made them public, Justice KM Joseph, a part of the three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, pointed out that in cases of corruption and human rights' violation, the RTI Act may apply even for sensitive information in sensitive organisations.
"According to you, these documents affect national security and court should not interfere... we have to consider it under the RTI act," said Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The Supreme Court has reserved its order on whether it would examine the documents that the government says were stolen from the ministry of defence and should not be presented in court.
"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 Justice SK Kaul.
At the outset, the Attorney General, appearing for the Centre, claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the 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 supersedes 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.
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.
Regarding the government's argument that the documents have been accessed through illegal means, he said, "If a document is relevant in deciding a fact, it is irrelevant how it was obtained".
He also cited the 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, said Bhushan.
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.
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.