In the Supreme Court last week, Attorney General K K Venugopal, making submissions against a plea seeking review of its December 14, 2018 order that dismissed PILs for a probe into alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal, threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and initiate “criminal action” against two publications and a lawyer. He initially did not name the publications but towards the end of the hearing said “documents in the possession of The Hindu and ANI are stolen documents”.
Four years ago, there was a similar threat to invoke the Official Secrets Act, in an altogether separate matter.
On February 27, 2015, then Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi said “confidential documents” from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG), had allegedly been photocopied and leaked in return for money. Since then, Delhi Police has sent eight letters and several reminders to the Ministry, seeking clarity on whether these documents come under the “classified” category — so they know whether or not the OSA can be invoked.
Till date, police say, there has been no “concrete response”. DCP (Crime) Rajesh Deo told The Indian Express: “We have written several letters to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Despite several reminders, we are still waiting for their concrete response.”
The Ministry, on the other hand, maintains they have responded. “We have sent our response to Delhi Police after receiving letters from them. They sent some queries after receiving our response, and we will give them our reply very soon,” Yogesh Kumar, spokesperson for Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said.
An FIR of theft, cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy was registered on February 18, 2015 after Sub-Inspector Neeraj Kumar received “secret information” that two persons along with their associates were involved in procuring, obtaining, stealing “official/ secret documents” by illegally trespassing into the office of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas at Shastri Bhawan.
In all, 13 persons were arrested and chargesheeted by the inter-state cell of the Crime Branch. Currently, all are on bail and trial is pending in the Patiala House Courts. Police said “the accused hatched a deep-rooted criminal conspiracy for obtaining documents including confidential/ secret” from officials of the Ministry.
At least two of the accused had duplicate keys of offices in the Ministry, police said, adding that documents were sold to prospective buyers.
The Investigating Officer, Inspector Sunil Kumar, filed the chargesheet in court on April 17, 2015 and since then, police have met senior officials of the Ministry, sent multiple letters with reminders, but they have not received any “concrete response”.