The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to hold an in-camera hearing to know the Centre’s stand and peruse “top secret” documents which formed the basis for intercepting former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s phone calls containing elements of alleged criminality in the talks.
“It is becoming more and more intriguing,” said a bench comprising justices G S Singhvi and V Gopala Gowda while going through the entire records placed by the Union Home Ministry regarding the recording of the conversations of Radia with corporates,politicians,journalists and others.
“On Thursday morning,we will hear you alone and you also ensure that all these will not come out in open,” the bench said after agreeing with senior advocate Harish Salve that the hearing has to be in closed doors as the Centre’s counsel L Nageshwar Rao has certain constraints in making the submission because of the “extremely serious nature of the matter”.
“He (Rao) is having some constraints in making submission in the open court as there are issues of national security. It will go to the media. I request you for holding in camera hearing as it is an extremely serious matter,” Salve said.
Salve was appearing for former Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata whose petition against the leakage of the conversations was being heard by the court.
The bench said it will also hear the Additional Solicitor General who has been appearing for CBI in the matter as it would like to put some basic questions to the head of the probe team appointed by the apex court which submitted a report pointing out “criminality” in some conversations leaked to the media.
Salve said things have become “more mysterious” as when there were no transcription of the tapped conversations,how there were selective leakage in April and May 2010.
“Ask CBI to examine the first two leaks of April/May 2010. It was limited and there was a corporate interest. It was not done innocuously. First two leaks were focussed,he submitted.
Salve’s submission came after a statement was given by Rao that there were no transcripts of the conversations till 2013 and even when CBI sought materials,it was provided the CD containing the tapped conversations.
“The transcripts were not prepared before 2013 but a gist of two pages was prepared by the Income Tax department. Analysis was made orally. Intercepts were in encrypted form and transcripts can’t be prepared,” Rao said when he was repeatedly asked by the bench “was there no transcription till 2013 till we asked the team to prepare it”?
At the outset,the senior advocate said that after the complaint,a 360-degree inquiry was made by the Finance Ministry and after gathering material a decision was taken that interception was required.
He said interceptions were made in three spells,twice in 2008 and once in 2009.
He said it was wrong to suggest that the interception was for 5831 hours but it was 5831 calls for 160 hours and 1450 conversations in 100 hours.
The bench,which was perusing the confidential files some of which were marked as “top secret”,said “Review Committee was presided over every time by the Cabinet Secretary”.
Salve said the scope of interception has to see whether there has been specific reasons for interception or merely a formal order.
The bench said first of the monthly evaluation does not lead to indication about the cross-border transaction.
The Centre told the bench that the tapping was done in “strict” compliance with rules.
When Salve said some officer must have made the transcripts,the bench said “obviously,somebody must have heard it in the IT Department as it was recorded on the orders of the DG (investigation) Income Tax Department.
“From the documents,what we find there are more than those facts which are in our knowledge. Perhaps for the first time,those reports came to the court,” it further said.
“We are interested in knowing the follow-up also because Prashant Bhushan in his petition has sought a direction for reveleation of everything,” it said adding “there are issues of lot of public interest”.
“The complaint would not have seen the light of the day. It is the whistle blower. We would like to see the government save this man. Look what all has been said,” the bench said.