Supreme Court asks I-T dept. to bring original files on tapping authorisation
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Income Tax department to produce the original files on authorisation of tapping the phones of the former corporate lobbyist, Niira Radia. Hearing a writ petition filed by industrialist Ratan Tata, who alleged violation of his privacy, a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and V. Gopala Gowda directed the department to apprise it on August 6 whether the officers who had tapped the phones informed their seniors of the contents of the recordings. Did the department inform the Central Bureau of Investigation of the criminality of certain matters that surfaced from the conversations?
Justice Singhvi asked Additional Solicitor-General A.S. Chandiok, who appeared for the department, why no action had been taken in the last five years on information gathered from Ms. Radia’s conversations with corporates and politicians. The Radia tapes, Mr. Chandiok replied, could not be disclosed to anybody and they were meant only for income tax officers.
When Justice Singhvi said, “After this report, a lot of things have come to light. We thought the conversation was pure personal but the analysis says it is far beyond that,” the ASG replied: “If anyone wants the contents of the tapped conversations, then he may seek information under the RTI Act.”
Justice Singhvi said: “It is not a happy situation. The conversations were tapped five years ago but government authorities remained idle. Were they waiting for the court to act?”
Senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Mr. Tata, said a proper mechanism should be put in place to prevent misuse of phone-tapping. The Central Vigilance Commission should be involved in the process and it must have a separate cell.
Mr. Salve’s suggestion was endorsed by counsel Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the Centre for Public Interest Litigation.
Ms. Radia’s conversations were recorded as part of surveillance after the Finance Minister received a complaint on November 16, 2007 that within a span of nine years she had built up a business empire worth Rs. 300 crore. The government recorded her conversations for 180 days — in three spells of 60 days each, beginning August 20, 2008; October 19, 2008 and May 11, 2009.
On Wednesday, on a suggestion from the court, Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad, representing the CBI, indicated that the agency could make an enquiry into some of the matters mentioned in the report.
Further hearing is posted to August 6.