Bench wants to know whether it followed the procedure under Telegraph Rules while recording the conversations
The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Union government to produce on Wednesday the files relating to the interception of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s conversations to ascertain whether it had followed the procedure prescribed under Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules. A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya told Additional Solicitor-General A.S. Chandihok: “Your [interdepartmental] probe reports are hardly satisfactory. The less said [about them] the better… When you say you are not responsible for the leakage, somebody must be made accountable for the leakage.”
Not satisfied with the government’s response to its question on a proper mechanism to prevent leakage of sensitive intercepted information, the Bench wanted the files produced.
‘Why no steps taken?’
When Mr. Chandihok was explaining the steps taken by the government, the Bench asked why steps were not taken to prevent the leakage. Justice Mukhopadhaya wondered why there was no mechanism to prevent the leakage. Quoting the Rules, he said: “You can keep the records only for six months. But in this case, you are keeping the records and tapes for more than one year… According to you, information relating to government formation [the subject of the conversation in some of the tapes] is sensitive information. Do you mean to say you complied with the procedure under the Rules?”
Justice Singhvi told Mr. Chandihok: “Some of the intercepted transcripts may contain sensitive information relating to national security. When you say you are not responsible for the leakage, persons other than those connected with it might be involved. These persons will possess this sensitive information. It is one thing to say that so far this information has not been published. What is the guarantee that it will not be published in future or it has not been passed on to a foreign country?”
‘Whence the leak’
Justice Singhvi said: “It is not necessary that the intercepted information may be kept in the same form. Somebody may hack it… The moment you say leakage is not from your side, where from the leak has taken place? When you authorise somebody to intercept, do you know whether somebody was intercepting your interception. If some information is on national security, when there is leakage, who is responsible for the leakage? Your report is hardly satisfactory. The world is facing threat from various quarters. Terrorism threatens [the] integrity and safety of the nation. They [terrorists] want the system to be changed. You have to keep all these factors in mind.”
Appearing for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, counsel Prashant Bhushan argued that if it were not for some 100-odd Radia tapes that were in the public domain, people would not have known that rather than the scripted government files, conversations in corporate boardrooms and on the phone — which the persons involved had no idea were being recorded — more closely reflected the true process of decision-making.
“These conversations are already in possession of public authority now [earlier the government and now this court], where the right to information law applies. Under the… law, all conversations, except those which are… personal and those which would impede the pending criminal investigations, ought to be divulged. As far as the claims of privacy [as raised by industrialist Ratan Tata]…, it is a settled law that right to privacy is not an absolute right and is overridden by people’s right to information that concerns public affairs.”
Arguments will continue on Wednesday.