His report stresses need for due diligence in granting nod

Chief Secretary E.K. Bharat Bhushan has stressed the need to grant authorisation for telephone tapping with due diligence as questions of individual rights are involved.

In his report on the controversy over an intelligence report on contacts between an alleged operative of Tamil Nadu Unnikrishnan and a few journalists as well as personal staff of Ministers; the Chief Secretary said he would personally look into the circumstances under which the Home Secretary gave permission to tap the telephone of conversations of Mr. Unnikrishnan.

“We are a free country and we should resist such Orwellian tendencies and avoid jumping to conclusions,” the Chief Secretary said in respect to an intelligence report of the Additional Director General of Police T. P. Senkumar which alleged that the press or at least a part of it was used by Mr. Unnikrishnan to get information and plant stories on the Mullaperiyar issue.

Mr. Bharat Bhushan said the contacts and conversations Mr. Unnikrishnan had with the personal staff of various members of the Cabinet, by no means, indicated any culpability on the part of the latter. However, some of them who were freely giving out details about movement of individual ministers ought to have been more circumspect.

The report of the Chief Secretary was released on a request from Advocate D.B. Binu, general secretary, Human Rights Defence Forum, Kochi, under the Right to Information Act.

The report noted that the intelligence had tapped the telephone of Mr. Unnikrishnan for three months this year. In the calls intercepted, there were “passing references” to three major Malayalam dailies which were not recorded initially. Then there were conversations with Chief Reporter of Mathrubhumi R.K. Kumar and two other journalists in the daily. Mr. Kumar had 301 telephone conversations with Mr. Unnikrishnan in three months.

The call records also had references regarding changes in the programme of Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Anoop Jacob, with request to Mr. Unnikrishnan to effect the changes, and reference to “arrangements” to be made in Chennai for visit of K.B. Ganesh Kumar, then a Minister. Besides, there were conversations regarding expediting of the entry pass of Mr. Unnikrishnan to the Secretariat and in that context certain members of the personal staff of Chief Minister were also referred to. In another conversation, there was mention of the “need to get into the good books of the new Chief Secretary.”

Chandy’s directive

Managing Editors of three major Malayalam dailies had met the Chief Minister and complained that Mr. Senkumar’s report had been leaked to the media and extremely unfavourable inferences were being made in various quarters about their respective media houses and reporters. The Chief Minister had then sought an urgent report from the Chief Secretary on the issue.

Referring to the allegations against the media, the Chief Secretary remarked in his report that the charge that the media has been used by Mr. Unnikrishnan for nefarious ends was quite off the mark.

“In a democracy, the press is free to cultivate any segment of society, sometimes even unsavoury ones, as sources. Even assuming that Mr. Unnikrishnan had used his contact for other purposes, there is no evidence of any reports against the State’s interests in any of the three dailies or others.”

As to the contact made by Mr. Unnikrishnan with various functionaries of Secretariat, Mr. Bharat Bhushan observed that the conversations which had been intercepted mostly revolved around obtaining visitor pass and certain courtesies to be arranged. There were no improper demands made or offered.

“I am sure that Mr. Senkumar acted with the best of intentions on the apprehension that the State’s interests were being compromised due to the activities of an individual. From this perspective, he can only be accused of being overzealous. However, certain other parts of his report such as the conclusion that Mr. Unnikrishnan is an employee of Tamil Nadu government (without enquiring into facts), alleged transfer of details affecting State’s interests (without ascertaining what these details are) and mentioning the names of individual Ministers and newspapers, resulting in avoidable insinuation that somehow there is a link between these individuals/ media houses with the target, reveal poor judgement on the part of a senior intelligence officer.”