New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that documents concerning the Rafale fighter jet deal have been stolen from the defence ministry.
Attorney general K.K. Venugopal, appearing on behalf of the government, also threatened The Hindu newspaper with the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on the stolen documents.
Venugopal argued that the first article appeared on 8 February and Wednesday’s edition had another article aimed at influencing the court’s proceedings. This amounted to contempt of court, Venugopal said. The newspaper published the documents omitting the word “secret" on top, he said, seeking a dismissal of the review petitions and raising objections to the arguments made by advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the petitioners, on the basis of the articles in The Hindu.
Venugopal was presenting the government’s view before a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which included Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph.
The acquisition of 36 Rafale jets has come under a cloud with the opposition led by the Congress trying to corner the government ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on charges of supporting big business and helping them secure lucrative contracts as a spin-off in the deal. The opposition has said that the price per jet as negotiated by the National Democratic Alliance-government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is much higher than what was originally agreed to in 2012 by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The government has contended that all rules and procedures were followed in the acquisition process that aims to bolster the Indian Air Force’s depleted fighter jet fleet.
On Wednesday, the SC bench was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its 14 December verdict dismissing all the pleas against the deal for purchasing the Rafale jets from France’s Dassault Aviation SA.
Bhushan, and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, who jointly filed a petition, said the government suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of pleas against the Rafale deal in December.
The bench sought to know from the government what it has done as it stated that the newspaper articles were based on stolen material. Chief Justice Gogoi said hearing Bhushan, who was representing the three main petitioners, did not mean the top court was taking on record the documents on the Rafale deal mentioned in the articles. Bhushan later said the top court would not have dismissed the plea had critical facts not been suppressed. The SC will next hear the case on 14 March.