HC quashes CBI chargesheet in corruption case for ‘unlawful tapping’ of telephones of accused persons

Published - May 20, 2024 11:45 pm IST - Bengaluru

The High Court of Karnataka has quashed a corruption case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against a Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives while terming that the case was registered based on interception of conversations of accused persons by “illegally tapping” their telephones on alleged acceptance of ₹50,000 as bribe.

Though the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs had permitted the CBI to tap the telephones of the accused persons, the High Court said that issue of alleged demand and acceptance of bribe did not come under the category of “any public emergency or in the interest of public safety” of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Rules 1951 as interpreted by the apex court, for permitting interception of telephone conversations.

Justice M. Nagaprasanna passed the order while allowing a petition filed by S.M. Mannan, who was then working as Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives.

The petitioner had questioned the cognisance of offence taken by the special court for CBI cases in 2020 based on the chargesheet filed against him for accepting ₹50,000 as bribe from a quality assurance manager of an LPG cylinder manufacturing unit.

The order of September 2019 permitting telephone tapping states that “the Union Home Secretary is satisfied that it was necessary and expedient in public safety to order interception. What public safety was involved in the case at hand is not known, and is not discernible anywhere either in the order or in the [CBI’s] requisition. I fail to understand what public safety or public emergency was involved in the case at hand. The allegation is with regard to acceptance of illegal gratification. If that be so, a drastic measure of wiretapping could not have been permitted against the petitioner,” the High Court observed.

The finding that wiretapping was illegal would cut at the root of the matter and obliterate all the acts or steps taken by the prosecution in its aftermath, the High Court said while noticing that the CBI did not produce the proceedings of the Review Committee of the Home Ministry, which scrutinises the permissions granted for telephone-tapping requests.

On recovery of an envelop containing ₹50,000 from the petitioner’s house based on interception of telephonic conversations of the alleged bribe giver and the petitioner, the High Court said that CBI had not produced any other material for either demand or acceptance of the bribe amount as the case was initiated by the CBI solely on intercepted telephone conversation as there was no formal complaint against the petitioner.

Also, the court noted that the petitioner had started facing troubles and the case was registered against him after he failed to heed to the repeated instructions of one W. Gladys Jayanthi, who was then working as Deputy Superintendent of Police, CBI, Bengaluru, for cancelling licence of an LPG storage unit located in Ramanagara district.

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