KK Venugopal said those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Act as also contempt of court. (File Photo: PTI)
New Delhi :
The government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that India needs Rafale jets to defend itself from Pakistan’s ‘F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us’. "We need Rafale jets to defend our country from F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us. Without Rafale how can we resist them," Attorney General KK Venugopal said in the Supreme Court while referring to the aerial combat with Pakistan last week.
He also said that two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets are coming to India in flyaway condition and the first one will be in by September.
"Because of the urgency (the need for fighter jets), negotiations started for Rafale. The first batch is to be supplied in September and 52 pilots are to be sent to France for two-three months training. It is to protect the security of the country. But we are attacked," the Attorney General said.
"Rafale fighter jets are needed, although MIG-21 of the 1960s performed beautifully against the F-16," he added.
Earlier, he told the top court that documents related to the Rafale fighter jet deal have been stolen from the Defence Ministry and threatened The Hindu newspaper with the Official Secrets Act for publishing articles based on them.
Those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Act as also contempt of court, he said before a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
While publishing articles based on stolen documents amounts to violation of the Official Secrets Act, entailing maximum punishment of up to 14 years, the contempt law attracts six months jail as also a fine of Rs 2,000.
Unruffled by the Centre's stand, Hindu publishing group Chairman N Ram said nobody would get any information from the newspaper on the confidential sources who provided the documents.
Ram said those documents were published in public interest as the details of the Rafale deal were withheld or covered up.
"You may call it stolen documents...we are not concerned. 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," Ram told PTI.
An investigation into the theft is on, the attorney general said on a day the newspaper published another article on the fighter jet deal.
The bench, also including Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict dismissing all the pleas against the deal procured by India from France.
Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had jointly filed the petition, alleged that the Centre suppressed crucial facts when the apex court decided to dismiss the batch of PILs.
When Bhushan referred to an articles written by Ram, Venugopal said the write-ups were based on stolen documents. An FIR has not been registered so far into the theft of documents, he said.
The first write-up appeared on February 8 and Wednesday's edition had another article aimed at influencing the court's proceedings which amounted to contempt of court, he said.
The newspaper published the documents by omitting the word 'secret' on top, he said, seeking a dismissal of the review petitions and raising objections to Bhushan's arguments based on the articles. The bench sought to know from the Centre as to what it has done when it alleges that the stories are based on stolen material.
On behalf of Sinha, Shourie and himself, Bhushan said the top court would not have dismissed the plea for an FIR and the probe, had critical facts not been suppressed.
Venugopal said the documents relied upon by Bhushan were stolen from the Defence Ministry and an investigation into the matter was underway. The CJI said hearing Bhushan did not mean the top court was taking on record the documents on the Rafale deal. Justice Gogoi also asked Venugopal to tell the court what action had been taken on theft of documents on the aircraft deal.
The AG submitted that the documents were marked secret and classified and are therefore in violation of the Official Secrets Act. He also told the Supreme Court that the Rafale case pertains to defence procurement which cannot be reviewed judicially.
With PTI Inputs