August 21, 2021 7:57:49 pm
Maintaining that “leakage of secret information with the police” was a “serious matter of concern”, the Maharashtra government Saturday opposed a petition filed in the Bombay High Court by senior IPS officer Rashmi Shukla seeking to quash the “illegal” phone-tapping case registered by Mumbai Police’s cybercrime department.
The state government’s counsel challenged the maintainability of the plea as Shukla’s name was not mentioned in the FIR that levelled charges of data theft and leakage of “top secret” information against “unknown persons”.
Appearing for Shukla, senior counsel Mahesh Jethmalani said the Maharashtra government was trying to hoodwink the court by making Shukla a scapegoat in the case while shielding state chief secretary Sitaram Kunte, who had sanctioned the phone tapping as the then state additional chief secretary.
“It (FIR) is to suppress the crime of corruption in police transfers and postings by protecting the criminals. There is a serious attempt to avoid judicial and CBI or ED scrutiny of these documents. State is complicit in subverting justice and Kunte is the alter ego of the government. We are not seeking any relief against him, but it shows the mala fide in the FIR,” he said.
A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and N J Jamadar was hearing Shukla’s plea against the FIR lodged in March at BKC Cyber Police Station under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, against unidentified persons for allegedly tapping phones and leaking certain confidential documents, on a complaint filed by the State Intelligence Department (SID).
Senior advocate Darius Khambata, representing the state government, strongly opposed Jethmalani’s submissions and said Shukla’s counsel was trying to subvert the law by making submissions “bordering on abuse against the state government”. He denied that the charges in the FIR were “reckless and frivolous”.
“The present petition seeks to quash the FIR which pertains to data theft and leak. It does not concern whether interceptions were unauthorised and does not talk about alleged corruption in postings of police officers. It does not even concern the CBI’s probe into transfers and postings,” Khambata said.
“Shukla’s report is admittedly top secret as she has also marked it the same. The FIR says the documents were leaked and found their way into public domain. It is as important as alleged corruption in transfers to find out how confidential police information is leaked,” he added.
The alleged tapping of phones had taken place when Shukla headed the SID. She is currently posted in Hyderabad as Additional Director General of the CRPF’s South Zone.
BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis had earlier cited a letter purportedly written by Shukla to the then DGP about alleged corruption in police transfers. The letter had details of intercepted calls, leading to an uproar with leaders of the Shiv Sena-led ruling coalition alleging that Shukla had tapped phones without permission.
“When someone knows there is nothing in the petition, he takes you on a ‘Bharat Yatra’, uses all these mantras and tries to suggest the case of the petitioner is on the bedrock of such allegations. Majority of the allegations are irrelevant to the FIR,” Khambata said.
The state’s counsel further raised an apprehension that as the state government has not filed an affidavit in reply to the plea, it cannot be assumed that the allegations by petitioner are deemed to be admitted.
The bench then issued notice to the respondents and granted two weeks to the state government to file its affidavit opposing the plea, and asked the petitioner to file a rejoinder thereafter.
The court deferred hearing on Shukla’s plea to September 13 after the state assured it that no coercive steps, including arrest, will be taken against her until September 14.
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