Facing flak from courts on the issue of telephone-tapping, the Centre has told the State governments to adhere to the guidelines therein strictly.

The issue came up for discussion at a meeting with the State police chiefs and Chief Secretaries that was presided over by Union Home Secretary G. K. Pillai, here on Tuesday.

It was reiterated that law enforcement agencies can tap phone of any individual for security or operational reasons for 72 hours even without permission from Union Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary.

In such a case, if the agency concerned does not get permission, it will have to destroy the tapped telephone conversations within 48 hours, official sources said.

The meeting also discussed recommendations of Committee of Secretaries of on telephone-tapping. Phone-tapping whipped up a controversy, particularly in the wake of leaks of telephone tapes of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia.

Notwithstanding the Home Ministry's reiteration of phone-tapping guidelines, the Income Tax Department said it continued to enjoy the power to tap telephone conversations, as was given to it in 2006.

“Power of interception stays with the Central Board of Direct Taxes [CBDT] and there is no change in the factual background when the power was given in 2006, and at present circumstances are identical,” outgoing CBDT chairman Sudhir Chandra said on Tuesday.

Referring to the issue of standard procedures on phone tapping raised by the Home Ministry, he said that such procedures already existed.

Earlier a Committee of Secretaries, constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the wake of leakage of telephone tapes of Niira Radia, had suggested that CBDT be removed from the list of agencies that could intercept phone calls.

The Committee had argued that tax evasion cases neither have criminal liability nor do they involve national security as these are only civil matters.

The government had recently constituted a 15-member inter-Ministerial group, headed by the Home Secretary, to recommend effective monitoring of provisions of telephone-tapping and curtailing its leakage to the public at large.

Sources said the government was set to rework the rules of interception to mandate tighter oversight, a clear chain of custody for intercepted records and need-based information sharing within agencies.