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Phone tapping case: Rashmi Shukla not named accused but have enough material against her, Maharashtra govt tells HC

A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal was hearing Shukla’s plea challenging the FIR, lodged in March under the Official Secrets Act, 1923

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: October 26, 2021 9:24:13 am
IPS officer Rashmi Shukla (Express Photo by Pavan Khengre/File)

The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Monday that senior IPS officer Rashmi Shukla has not been named as accused in FIR in an “illegal” phone tapping case registered by Mumbai Police through its cyber crime department and that probe should continue as there is substantial material against her.

The state government said the investigation involves three pen drives requisitioned by Shukla, which contained information kept in servers of the State Intelligence Department (SID) and two of them, including the one sent to the then state DGP, are being tracked and are with the government. Therefore, her interrogation is vital to the investigation, the state government said.

The state government further said that it has been writing to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to hand over the pen drive in its possession, which the state believes was given to the ministry by the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state legislative assembly Devendra Fadnavis, to ascertain whether it is the same third pen drive sought by the state to verify the leakage.

A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sarang V Kotwal was hearing Shukla’s plea challenging the FIR, lodged in March under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, at BKC cyber police station against unidentified persons for allegedly tapping phones and leaking confidential documents following a complaint by SID.

On Monday, senior counsel Darius Khambata for the state government submitted a progress report in a sealed cover and the same was given back to the state. Responding to the court’s query of the previous hearing, he said that while the former commissioner of the SID Shukla is not named as an accused in the FIR, there is the material present with respect to her.

“One of the critical areas is that there is a delay, as some material is in possession of MHA. This investigation is only pertaining to the leak and the same is a serious matter and investigation should proceed,” the counsel said.

After the bench sought to know that if it disposes of the plea would the state issue an advance notice to Shukla in the event of her being named as an accused in FIR, Khambata responded in negative.

Khambata then referred to the March 23 TV interview of BJP leader Fadnavis, who had cited a letter purportedly written by Shukla to the then DGP about alleged corruption in transfers of police officers.

“Public interest will be harmed if this probe is interfered with. Shukla’s report contains records of surveillance of those who are involved in alleged activities and if it is kept in public before inquiry or investigation, the same would not be in public interest and would hamper investigation. Instead he (Fadnavis) made a political event out of it,” the state government lawyer said.

Khambata added, “We have evidence that Shukla had asked for three pen drives of the report/documents and two of them are tracked. The pen drive was with 6.3 GB of data. Even the LoP had said it has 6.3 GB of data. Third pen drive, we believe, was handed over to MHA by LoP. If the third copy matches, then it will become apparent where the leak has come from. Or else, other sources of leakage can be ascertained. Despite requests to MHA, we are not getting access to it. We have also filed a miscellaneous application in the Magistrate Court to direct MHA to hand over a pen drive to us under section 91 of the CrPC. We have also asked LoP, but we did not get any response.”

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), said its probe in transfers and postings of police officers should not get affected and the case against Shukla can be transferred to the agency, which is dealing with “larger issue” and is ready to probe the same.

However, Khambata argued that the state FIR “cannot be called ex facie thwarting CBI probe,” as they are two distinct investigations.

The state government also said that the probe in FIR cannot be transferred to CBI as it would “subvert the fair investigation,” as the CBI director Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, who was former DGP of Maharashtra, was himself overseeing transfers and posting of police officers in question.

HC will continue hearing Shukla’s rejoinder on October 28.

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