DAYS after Attorney General K K Venugopal contended in the Supreme Court that reports on the Rafale deal were based on documents stolen from the Ministry of Defence and threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act against two publications, Chairman of The Hindu publishing group N Ram said secret documents have been published by Indian newspapers in the past without threat of action under the 1923 law.
Calling the Official Secrets Act an “obnoxious piece of legislation” used by colonial rulers against the freedom struggle, Ram said it has rarely been used against publications. “Any number of secret documents have been published in the past. In 1981, I was the Washington correspondent of The Hindu and we published many secret papers where India was involved in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on what was then the largest multilateral line of credit in history, about $6.3 billion at that time. Nobody spoke about using the Official Secrets Act… On Bofors, we published 250 documents including many government documents. Nobody spoke about using the Official Secrets Act against the publications,” he said.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan has also submitted secret papers to the courts, for example on the coal block allocation scandal, he said. “The courts had no hesitation in looking at it. Nobody thought of using the Official Secrets Act against Prashant Bhushan. The first time it happened was in the Supreme Court,” Ram said.
Speaking about the contentions by the Attorney General about documents being stolen, Ram said what was laying out was a “tragicomedy” of sorts. “Because they say stolen papers, and people think it has been physically stolen. Now they say photocopies were made… I think it has become a bit of an embarrassment for the government.”
He was speaking to journalists after making a presentation titled ‘Rafale: Modi’s Nemesis?’ at the third edition of the Mumbai Collective, a platform for discussions on liberal, secular policy and Constitutional rights of freedom and inclusion.