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Rafale papers being used to present incomplete picture on national security matter: Defence Ministry after SC verdict

The apex court allowed leaked documents to be relied upon by petitioners seeking review of its Rafale judgement and dismissed the government's preliminary objections claiming "privilege" over them.

Rafale papers being used to present incomplete picture on national security matter: Defence Ministry after SC verdict

Hours after the verdict of the Supreme Court on the Rafale deal, the Defence Ministry on Wednesday reiterated that petitioners are using documents with an intention to present a selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to National Security and Defence.

The apex court allowed leaked documents to be relied upon by petitioners seeking review of its Rafale judgement and dismissed the government's preliminary objections claiming "privilege" over them.

The Defence Ministry also highlighted that the documents presented by the petitioners are failing to bring out how the issues were addressed and resolved and necessary approvals of the competent authorities taken, as reported by news agency ANI. It added that these are the selective and incomplete presentation of the facts and records by the petitioners.

The ministry also added that the government had provided requisite information as desired by the top court and also provided all records and files as required by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). It added that the main concern of the government is related to the availability of sensitive and classified information concerning national security in the public domain.

"It's reiterated that petitioners are using documents with the intention to present a selective&incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to National Security &Defence. The documents presented by the petitioners are failing to bring out how the issues were addressed and resolved and necessary approvals of the competent authorities taken. These are the selective and incomplete presentation of the facts and records by the petitioners," said the ministry.

"Govt had provided requisite information as desired by SC & also provided all records & files as required by CAG. The main concern of the Government is relating to the availability of sensitive & classified information concerning National Security in the public domain," added the ministry.

Earlier in the day, the apex court's verdict came as a major setback to the Centre.

The Centre had submitted that the privileged documents were procured by petitioners in an illegal way and used to support their review petitions against the judgement of the apex court on December 14, 2018, dismissing all pleas challenging procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

A bench comprising of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said, "We dismiss the preliminary objection raised by Union of India questioning the maintainability of the review petition." The apex court said it will go ahead with the hearing on the review petition on the basis of new documents referred by petitioners. 

The judgment highlights that during the hearing of the review petition the bench will look into not only the question of pricing of the jet but also the selection of Indian offset partner of Dassault which manufactures Rafale. 

The top court said review petitions against its December 14 verdict dismissing all petitions against procurement of Rafale jets will be decided on merits. The apex court said it will fix a date for hearing review petitions. 

Former union minister Arun Shourie, who is one of the review petitioners, said he was delighted by the unanimous verdict. "We are delighted it is a unanimous verdict dismissing Central government's peculiar argument on the admissibility of documents. Centre's argument meant that no wrong can be done in the defence deal," Shourie said.

The other two petitioners are former union minister Yashwant Sinha and activist advocate Prashant Bhushan. 

On March 14, the apex court had reserved verdict on the preliminary objections raised by the Centre on the admissibility of privileged documents annexed by Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan in their review petition.

Classified documents were sourced by the media over the Rafale deal. Citing internal reports of the Defence Ministry, a media report said that the Defence Ministry had objected to parallel negotiations by the government.

The Centre had claimed privilege over documents pertaining to the Rafale fighter jet deal with France and said those documents cannot be considered in evidence as per Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act.

The Centre had contended that no one can produce them in the court without the permission of the department concerned as those documents are also protected under the Official Secrets Act and their disclosure is exempted under the Right to Information Act as per Section 8(1)(a).