New Delhi: The Government on Friday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court making a startling claim that in 2007 the Finance Ministry received a complaint against corporate lobbyist Nira Radia with the complainant suspecting that she could have connections with foreign intelligence agencies. The complainant also raised questions over Radia building an empire worth Rs 300 crore over nine years and alleged that the corporate lobbyist was indulging in anti-national activities.
“Secrecy and security have been maintained and the integrity and safety of the data in electronic form have been ensured through proper checks in the systems through which the recordings have taken place,” the Government said in its eight-page affidavit.
The tapping of Radia’s phone was ordered after the complaint was received on November 16, 2007.
The Government stated that it was taking adequate measures to ensure that the transcripts of Radia tapes were not leaked further. The Government in its reply said that the tapping was done within legal ambit.
It further said that the phone recording spanned over 120 days in 2008 and over 60 days in 2009. Radia’s phone was tapped for 60 days from August 20, 2008 and then again for 60 days from October 19. Later on May 8, 2009, surveillance was ordered for 60 more days from May 11.
The Government also said that it was already inquiring into the leaks.
“Nevertheless, an inquiry into this matter is in progress and on the basis of the material available, there is no reason to believe that the telephone intercepts have been leaked from the income tax department,” the affidavit said.
“It said the petition has been filed on the issue on the assumption that the authority would be within its power to wiretap and record such conversation. These respondents (Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Directorate General of Income Tax) have taken every step to ensure that what was recorded by them stayed in their safe custody,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit was in response to a notice issued by the Supreme Court on Ratan Tata’s petition that sought to direct the Government to investigate leakage of tapes containing his private conversation with Radia, and stop their further publication.
Tata’s plea of stopping the publication in the media of the leaked transcripts of tapped conversations between him, Radia and others was also declined by the Government.
It also made clear that the income tax department cannot take action against any cell phone service provider who may have been responsible for “unauthorised supply of information”.
It is for Telecom or any other competent ministry to look into it, the Government said.
“It is not possible or practical for the government to take steps to retrieve the various copies of some of the transcripts which have appeared in the print media or in the electronic media and which are being circulated on the internet,” the affidavit said.
In his petition, Ratan Tata had sought action against those involved in the leakage of tapes alleging that such an act amounts to infringement of his fundamental Right to Life, which includes right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court had issued notices to the Department of Income Tax, Central Bureau of Investigation and Union of India on Tata’s petition regarding the leakage of Radia tapes on December 2.
The Court had also issued notices to Open Magazine and Outlook Magazine. Both magazines had published parts of transcripts of the taped conversation.
The apex court had given 10 days to all respondents to file their reply and had posted the case for hearing on December 13.
Tata has contended that since Radia’s phone was tapped for the purposes of alleged tax evasion, the tapes cannot be used for any other purpose.
The petition has cited the apex court guidelines in the PUCL case in which it was held that the phone surveillance can be done only for a specific purpose.
Tata has argued that making public his conversation with Radia also violates his Right to Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Tata’s petition filed on November 29 has sought an interim relief that steps should be taken to prevent online portals and electronic media from publishing material which had been “illegally” and “unlawfully” obtained by them.
The petition has also asked the apex court to give a direction to the government and its probe agencies to “retrieve” and “recover” the leaked tapes.
In the wake of 2G spectrum allocation scam allegedly involving Rs 1.76 lakh crore, some journals have published taped conversation Radia had with politicians, journalists and industrialists.
Transcripts of some of these tapes have also come up in various websites, stirring a controversy over the alleged nexus between lobbyists and journalists.