Rafale 01
Dassault Rafale is a French twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. The Rafale is referred to as an "omnirole" aircraft by Dassault. Image Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi-led government on Wednesday told the apex Supreme Court (SC) that the documents recently cited by The Hindu daily on the controversial Rafale deal were stolen from the Defence Ministry and, hence, could not be presented in court as that would affect national security.

Attorney General K K Venugopal told a three-member bench including Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph that those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain were guilty under the Official Secrets Act.

“The documents on the Rafale deal relied on by the petitioners for review of the court’s judgement were marked secret and classified and are therefore in violation of the Official Secrets Act,” Venugopal said.

He stated that it was a criminal offence to annex secret documents with the petition.

"What action has the government taken?"

Coming down heavily on the government, Justice Kaul then said, “if the documents were stolen, the government should put its own house in order. It is one thing to say that we should look at these documents with suspicion. But to say we can’t even look at those documents may not be a correct submission in law.”

Chief Justice Gogoi questioned what action the government had taken if the documents were indeed stolen.

“We are investigating how these documents were stolen. An FIR [First Information Report] is yet to be registered,” the Attorney General replied.

Reacting to that, Justice Joseph said, “we are here to enunciate the law. Now where do we get an authority which says if a document comes from an unknown or unlawful source, documents cannot be looked into?”

The top court was hearing a petition seeking a review of its December 14 verdict dismissing all pleas against the Rafale deal with France.

In its verdict, the court had said that there was no reason to doubt the decision-making process involving the deal and dismissed allegations that the government had sealed an overpriced deal to help industrialist Anil Ambani’s company Reliance Defence to procure an offset contract with French jet-maker Dassault.

What are these reports

Last month, The Hindu had quoted a report of the official Indian Negotiating Team (INT) to Defence Ministry stating that a parallel negotiating track by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) weakened India’s position in negotiating a good deal.

On Wednesday, referring to recent aerial combat with Pakistan, Venugopal stated that the country needed Rafale jets to defend itself from F-16 fighter planes of Pakistan.

“Recent incidents have shown how vulnerable we are. When others have superior F16 aircrafts, should we also not buy better aircrafts? Without Rafale how can we resist them? There will be damage done to the country by seeking an inquiry by Central Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

At this point, Justice Joseph asked Venugopal if the government would take shelter under national security when allegations of corruption were being made.