- Rafale documents stolen from Defence Ministry: Centre to Supreme Court
- Targeted The Hindu newspaper over its stories on Rafale
- The documents were published in public interest, The Hindu's N Ram said
Documents related to the Rafale jet deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry, the government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, targeting The Hindu newspaper over its investigative stories on the purchase of 36 fighter jets from France amid opposition allegations of corruption. The government also warned that those relying on "secret documents" - a reference to The Hindu and petitioners seeking an inquiry into the Rafale decision-making process - were violating the Official Secrets Act, for which the punishment is jail or fine.
"We are investigating how these documents were stolen," the government's top lawyer, Attorney General KK Venugopal, told the Supreme Court, which was hearing petitions asking for a review of its clean chit in December to the 2016 deal signed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and France. Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan have jointly filed a petition alleging that the Centre suppressed crucial facts in their submissions to the court.
The government alleged the theft of classified documents after petitioners drew the court's attention to a report by The Hindu this morning highlighting that the deal signed by PM Modi was more expensive than the one negotiated by the previous Congress-led UPA government, because of France's refusal to provide bank guarantees.
In the article, N Ram, chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group, quoted a report of the Indian Negotiating Team (INT) to the defence ministry.
Reacting to the government's charge, N Ram said documents related to the Rafale deal were published in public interest and nobody would get any information on the sources who provided them.
"We have not stolen anything. We got it from confidential sources and we are committed to protecting these sources. Nobody is going to get any information from us on these sources. But the documents speak for themselves and the stories speak for themselves," Mr Ram told NDTV.
"Whatever we have published has been published. They are authentic documents. And they have been published in the public interest because these details have been withheld or covered up... It is the duty of the press - through investigative journalism - to bring out relevant information or issues of great importance for the public interest," said the top editor.
During the hearing, the attorney general had also told the Supreme Court that the Rafale case involves defence procurement, which cannot be reviewed judicially.
Referring to the aerial combat with Pakistan last week, he said the country needs the Rafale jet to defend itself "from F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us".
"Without Rafale how can we resist them," he said, adding that two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets were coming in flyaway condition. The first would be here in September, Mr Venugopal said.
The government also used the argument of "national security" in its defense of the Rafale deal, prompting one of the judges in the three-judge bench, Justice KM Joseph, to say, "Suppose great crime is committed, are you going to take shelter under national security?"
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