oppn parties Supreme Court Bats For Transparency In Governance And Free Speech

News Snippets

  • Police stop a 12-year old girl on her way to the Sabarimala shrine
  • In Karnataka, the JD(S) indicates that it might support the BJP government if it falls short of numbers after the bypolls
  • Congress pips the BJP in local body elections in Rajasthan, winning 961 wards to the BJPs 737
  • After Airtel and Vodafone-Idea, Jio also indicates that tariffs will be raised from December
  • Sources in Shiv Sena say that they might revive the alliance with the BJP if it offers the 50:50 deal
  • A miffed Sanjay Rout of the Shiv Sena says that it will take "100 births" to understand Sharad Pawar
  • Mobile operators Vodafone-Idea and Airtel decide to raise tariffs from next month
  • Sharad Pawar meets Sonia Gandhi and says more time needed for government formation in Maharashtra
  • Justice S A Bobde sworn in as the 47th Chief Justice of India
  • Supreme Court holds hotels liable for theft of vehicle from their parking area if parked by valet, says "owner's risk" clause is not a shield from such liability
  • Finance Minister says she is receiving feedback from many sectors that recovery is happening as there is lower stress
  • Sabarimala temple opens, but police bar the entry of women below 50 years
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman says Air India and BPCL to be sold off by March
  • Media person Rajat Sharma resigns as DDCA president
  • Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress postpone meeting the governor of Maharashtra
Two Muslim litigants in Ayodhya refuse to accept the Supreme Court order, say review petition might be filed
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Supreme Court Bats For Transparency In Governance And Free Speech

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
The Supreme Court has, by dismissing objections by the government against petitions for review of its 2018 order on the Rafale deal, batted strongly for free speech and transparency in governance. Its order has two distinct threads and both of them are of immense importance to democracy.

In the first thread, the court has clearly said that the government cannot invoke acts like the Official Secrets Act or Evidence Act to claim privilege over documents produced as evidence in any court of law. It forcefully said that the authenticity of the submitted documents was all that mattered; it was not for the court to see how they were sourced.

In the second thread, the court said that the media have unfettered right to publish such documents (stories based on the Rafale documents were first published by the newspaper The Hindu) and again the government cannot stop such publication as there was no law that empowered it to do so, even by pleading that the documents are “secret” or classified. The court observed that “the right of such publication would seem to be in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech”. The court also cited the US Supreme Court judgment in the Pentagon Papers case in this regard.

If a government is allowed to claim privilege over official documents, we can kiss transparency goodbye. In the instant case, documents sourced and published by The Hindu showed that there were dissenting notes from the India Negotiating Team and notes from the Defence Ministry about interference from the PMO during the negotiations for buying the Rafale jets. These are matters that the public must know. These are also matters which may make the Supreme Court change its mind and go in for examining the Rafale deal in detail.

In any case, if the government has nothing to hide it should not be worried about the documents. In such a huge deal there are several twists and turns and offers and counter-offers. The team dealing with Rafale must have been advised by the Defence Ministry, the Finance Ministry or even the PMO. There are many implications of such a deal and it is not improper for several government wings to be involved. What the court and the nation must know, however, is whether the interference by the PMO was to offer general advice or to influence the deal, either price-wise or in favour of any party. If it was the latter, then it would amount to corruption.

The legal battle may have just begun. First, based on this new evidence, the Supreme Court will now decide whether it needs to revisit its original order dismissing an inquiry in the deal. If it decides that it will review, then the whole deal will perhaps be examined threadbare and the nation will come to know whether the chowkidar is actually chor or whether it was just an election slogan coined by the spin doctors of a frustrated politician.