- Rafale documents can't be publicized without permission: Government
- Unauthorised photocopying of classified documents equals theft, it added
- The Hindu newspaper targeted again for investigative stories on Rafale
The action of petitioners, who wanted a review of the verdict in the Rafale case, brought classified documents into public domain, the government told the Supreme Court today. It put national security at risk and such unauthorised photocopying of secret documents amounts to theft, the government said, targeting The Hindu newspaper over its investigative stories on the purchase of 36 fighter jets from France.
The government has asked that the petitions in the case -- who want a review of the Court's December verdict that gave a clean to the Narendra Modi government over the deal for the fighter jets -- be dismissed. The government has also contended that those asking for a review relying on "secret documents" are violating the Official Secrets Act, for which the punishment is jail or fine.
"These documents are privileged ones under Officials Secret Act and without the Centre's permission, can't be put in public domain," the government told the court.
Those who have photocopied the documents have "offended India's agreement with foreign country" as the agreement has a secrecy clause, the government said. The documents, the court was further told, gives an incomplete picture.
During the last hearing of the Rafale case, the government had admitted that classified documents were stolen from the "Defence ministry". After the admission drew opposition attacks, the Attorney General clarified that the documents were not stolen but photocopied.
The Editors Guild has "unequivocally" condemned the government's stance and said any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media is as "reprehensible" as asking journalists to disclose their sources.
N Ram, chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group, has said the documents 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," Mr Ram had told NDTV.
Union minister Arun Jaitley has contended that that the freedom of press cannot be above national security.
In December, the top court had dismissed petitions that called for a probe into the Rafale deal. The petitions alleged that the government had gone for an overpriced deal to help industrialist Anil Ambani's rookie defence form bag an offset contract with jet-maker Dassault.
It was challenged by former NDA ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, advocate Prashant Bhushan and Aam Aadmi party MP Sanjay Singh, who contend that the court should to re-consider its judgment as it relies on a "non-existent" CAG report to uphold the Rafale deal.
In a series of reports on the deal, The Hindu said the defence ministry had objected to the "parallel negotiations" for Rafale jets by the Prime Minister's Office. It cited an internal note of the ministry, which said "parallel discussions by the PMO has weakened the negotiating positions by the MoD and the negotiating team". Another report said the deal became more expensive for India because of France's refusal to provide bank guarantees.