Two of the most critical issues were discussed on the Apex Court on Wednesday. The decision of mediation on the disputed Ayodhya Temple and the Review-Petition on the Rafale Deal. Some really dramatic events unfolded in the hearing of the latter which puts the Central Government in suspicion again regarding the very much talked about corruption in Rafale deal.
In a review petition on the Rafale case benched by the Cheif Justice, Ranjan Gogoi along with Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph the Government has defended itself by stating that, “the documents linked to the Rafale deal have been stolen from the Ministry of Defence.” The Government further threatened to charge the news publications, which reported on the basis of the procured documents with the ‘Official Secrets Act‘.
The review petition took place because of a verdict by the Apex Court on December 14, where the Government was given a clean-chit and an independent probe against the matter was dismissed. Former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with advocate Prashant Bhushan had filed the petition and the review petition as well.
#Rafale: I am suggesting that the newspaper is guilty under IPC for theft and under Official secrets Act for accessing privileged documents.
Review petition and perjury petition are liable to be dismissed in limine on this ground alone, AG KK Venugopal submits. #RafaleDeal
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) March 6, 2019
The matter came into light when one of the petitioners and lawyer Prashant Bhushan referred to one of the articles published by The Hindu about how the Indian Negotiating Team was weakened and how the French position was bolstered by a parallel negotiating track. The Attorney General opposed that evidence and said that the articles were based on stolen documents and an investigation into the matter was on.
The AG submitted that the documents relied on by the petitioners were marked secret and classified, and therefore, are in violation of the Official Secrets Act. He added that there were several articles published by the newspaper that aimed at influencing the proceedings and that amounted to contempt of court. One of the articles that the AG was referring to was published on February 8. Almost all the articles were written by senior journalist N Ram for the publication.
The AG had said that”the matter involved national security and stolen material could not be relied upon unless the source was established”. The bench raised several questions to the AG. Justice K.M Joseph asked,
“If the law has been broken by the corruption, can you seek protection under national security?”
He further added, “Even if the law has been broken through a corrupt practice, can you seek protection?” The next hearing is scheduled for 14 March.
How does it put the Government in suspicion again?
The Government was supposed to defend itself with logical claims and instead, it has used the age-old Official Secrets Act as its shield. If the Attorney General is to be believed and if the documents were a violation of Official Secret Act then it automatically proves that the ‘secretive’ documents are authentic. If the documents are authentic then the allegation and revelations by these publications must be true.
How does it put the fourth-pillar in danger?
The Government’s defense to initiate action against the media publications for making the documents public looks like a move to intimidate the press, threatening the investigative reporting that holds government accountable.
The Editor’s Guild of India also condemned the Attorney General’s comments in a statement that it issued earlier today.
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement. pic.twitter.com/zuMotHnXm7
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) March 7, 2019
N Ram has said in a statement that, “We did not steal the documents from the Ministry of Defence, we got them from confidential sources and no force on earth can make me reveal the source of the documents because we have given our world.”
Some of the worlds most talked about corruption were disclosed by such secretive official documents.
Watergate which, eventually brought President Richard Nixon, forced him to resign, after it was revealed he had lied to the US public about his involvement in the burglary. The impact of the crisis was so powerful that scandals around the world are still dubbed “gates”. But what actually happened, was so important that parallels can really be drawn with the present day. The identity of the source was kept secret for a very long time.
The recent leak which occurred globally unveiled the scam and corrupted money of one of the strongest leaders in the world was because of the Panama Papers. All around the globe, leaks have always put a check on the government and makes journalism an important watchdog in a democratic setup.
The Centre’s attempt to target the messenger and criminalize the leaks which are often crucial documents highlighting corruption is condemnable. Under the cover of ‘national security’ and ‘official secrecy,’ the center cannot hamper the right to know and puts the public of a democratic structure away from the corruption of highest-level (if there is any).