The Centre made a renewed pitch in the Supreme Court on Thursday to persuade the judges to remove the secret Rafale papers from the review petition, arguing that this could be done under the reasonable restriction law under the Constitution and the right to information law, or RTI. But the government’s top lawyer faced many questions from the court that pointed to a clause in the RTI Act that it could override the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
The top court later reserved its order on the government request claiming privilege on use of documents classified as secret.
Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that the Official Secrets Act disallows the defence ministry documents to be admitted in the Supreme Court. Petitioner Prashant Bhushan has presented photocopies of the ‘secret’ documents related to Rafale deal in the court to support his contention seeking a review of the court’s December judgment on Rafale deal.
The attorney general told the Supreme Court that the documents presented were covered under privileged information and could be prohibited from being brought in public domain under the reasonable restriction clause of the Constitution and the RTI Act.
Justice KM Joseph, however, said the passing of RTI Act by Parliament was a revolution. He said the file notings have lost the sanctity after the RTI Act got notified. The government’s argument amounts to looking back, the judge said adding, “We must move and look forward.”
Justice Joseph told Venugopal that the Right to Information Act has overriding effect on the Official Secrets Act. He pointed out that “public interest outweighs” in cases of corruption and human rights violation. The government is bound to furnish documents in such cases, the Supreme Court judge said.
Petitioner Bhushan said the Centre’s argument is untenable as the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report submitted by it also deals with a large number of defence purchases.
He argued that details of all purchases are mentioned in the CAG report which will also go public. “To say that documents given relate to defence purchases and should not be considered by court is totally unsustainable argument,” he said.