Del HC | Prosecution against officials of Reliance Industries under Official Secrets Act quashed in light of ‘secret’ documents already being in public domain

Delhi High Court: Sunil Gaur, J. allowed a batch of petitions filed against the trial court’s order whereby the petitioners including Group President of Reliance Industries Public Ltd. and the Vice-President of Reliance Industries Ltd. were put on trial for the offences punishable under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

On 28-10-1998, the Delhi Police raided the office of Group President of RIL and recovered copies of 4 ‘secret’ documents of the Government of India. The recovered copies related to policy documents related to economy and disinvestment.

It was submitted by the petitioners that the documents in the question were not prejudicial to the security of the State and by merely marking them to be secret, does not bring the documents in question within the ambit of the Official Secrets Act. They contended that the ‘secret’ information was already in public domain, which had been supplied through Government channels and that it was so apparent from the copies of newspaper reports on record.

Referring to Sama Alana Abdulla v. State of Gujarat, (1996) 1 SCC 427 and State (NCT of Delhi) v. Jaspal Singh, (2003) 10 SCC 586 the High Court noted: “A person cannot be put on trial merely because a document has been marked as secret, as it is necessary to see the nature of information contained in it, to find out if any offence under the Official Secrets Act is made out or not.” The Court was of the view that the trial court erred in ignoring the newspaper reports produced on a technical plea of want of proof. It was reiterated that substantial justice cannot be sacrificed on technicalities.

As per the Court, a bare perusal of the statement of the Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, revealed that he was not categoric about the documents in question being prejudicial to the security of the nation. It was further noted that since the documents in question had been already made public, therefore, they lost their confidentiality. The Court was of the opinion that the impugned order suffered from utter non-application of mind, and therefore, the same was set aside. The proceedings against the petitioners were quashed.[Shankar Adawal v. CBI, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 9434, decided on 01-08-2019]

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