The Delhi High Court (HC) on Thursday quashed a lower court’s order charging some executives working at Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and the company under various sections of the Official Secrets Act. A single-judge Bench of Justice Sunil Gaur said since the said documents, against which the charges were framed, were already in public domain, the lower court’s decision to charge the officials with various sections of the Official Secrets Act was not right.
In 1998, the Delhi Police had conducted raids on various executives of RIL and seized photocopies of four documents of the Government of India, running into 37 pages, which were marked ‘Secret’. One of the said documents was on the subject 'Core Group on Economic Matters-Challenge of Economic Sanctions against India', for which the trial court held that RIL was guilty under the Official Secrets Act as it had a "vested interest in having the information contained in the three documents”.
RIL, and its executives, including the then group President V. Balasubramanian had, however, contended that these documents had already been in public domain for a long time and thus neither the company, nor its executives could be held guilty of violating the Official Secrets Act. The Central Bureau of Investigation had, however, contended that since these documents had been marked as ‘secret’, and the company executives were found in possession of the said documents, they must face trial.
The high court, while setting aside the trial court order on framing charges, said that "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, 1923 is made out or not".
"This Court is of the considered view that trial court has gravely erred in ignoring the newspaper reports on record on technical plea of want of proof, as it is a settled legal position that on technicalities, substantial justice cannot be sacrificed," Justice Gaur said in his judgment.