RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC

• An all-out effort by the government to claim privilege and push the Rafale jets’ pricing details back into the dark zone was met with a stoic counter from Justice K.M. Joseph in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

• The government’s reasons to hush the Rafale prices ranged from national security to not upsetting a “solemn undertaking” given to France to keep the price of the jets a secret.

Multiple Sections

• But Justice Joseph, one of the three judges on the Bench, asked the government to read out Sections of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The judge said the information law has revolutionised governance and overpowered notions of secrecy protected under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

• Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal was first made to read out Section 22 of the RTI Act, which declared the RTI to have an “overriding effect” over OSA. Then Section 24, which mandates even security and intelligence organisations to disclose information on corruption and human rights violations. Finally, Section 8(2), which compels the government to disclose information “if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests”.

• Mr. Venugopal defended that defence purchases dealt with the security of the state, which “supercedes everything else”. To this, Justice Joseph said, “The Parliament has passed the RTI Act in 2005 and brought about a complete revolution, a complete change. Let us not go back to what it was”.

• The government wants the court to refrain from examining the documents, which have already been published in the media, primarily The Hindu, on the purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft.

• It claimed the documents were unauthorisedly photocopied from the originals kept in the Ministry of Defence and sneaked into the public domain.

• Even the petition seeking a review of the December 14 judgment of the Supreme Court, upholding the Rafale deal, is based on these “stolen” documents”, the government claimed.

• In an affidavit filed on March 13, the government said the leak was a “conspiracy” to jeopardise national security and friendly relations with France, the home of Rafale’s manufacturer, Dassault Aviation.

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Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

Prelims level: OSA, RTI

Mains level: Importance of RTI in enhancing transparency and accountability

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