As the BJP raises the issue of tapping of Arun Jaitleys phones in Parliament,there is another tapping row that is threatening to blow up in the partys face. The cases are estimated to be high as 1,139,with the former BJP regime in Himachal led by P K Dhumal in the dock.
In a midnight operation before he took over as chief minister,a police team acting on Virbhadra Singhs advice had raided the CID office in Shimla,and seized eight computers purportedly used for the phone tapping. Apparently Virbhadra wanted to ensure that the computers believed to contain data relating to phone tapping under his predecessor Dhumals rule were not destroyed.
What were allegations then have slowly taken concrete form since. A state Forensic Science Lab that examined hard dics of 12 seized computers eight of the state CIDs technical wing and four retrieved by the State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau has submitted a report listing 1,139 cases of phone tapping involving mainly opposition politicians,bureaucrats,contractors,journalists and others.
In 2010-11,when Virbhadra first accused then Dhumal government of phone tapping,the CM had shot off a letter to the Centre offering a CBI probe.
The episode is now threatening to snowball into a major political storm. Not just the credibility of Dhumal is at stake but that of several police officials. DGP I D Bhandari,who was the CID chief under the BJP regime,has been shifted out.
Under the Indian Telegraph Act,the CID enjoys powers to tap telephones of criminals,narcotics and drug-smugglers as well as anti-national elements. Government servants suspected of corruption can also be put under electronic surveillance. The permission has to be granted by the home secretary for a specific period,ranging from seven days to a month. The service provider companies are also kept in the loop.
If the period exceeds the sanctioned limit,a request is sent to a committee headed by the Chief Secretary.
In the present case,phones were tapped beyond the permitted period,others appear to have been intercepted without clearance. The law also provides for destroying records of such secret phone conversations and its related documents every six months to prevent their misuse or leak.
Some leaks have already happened in the present case and fear is that more beans will be spilled.
Ashwani is a special correspondent based in Shimla