Senior IPS officer Rashmi Shukla on Friday alleged before the Bombay High Court that the Maharashtra government had made her a “scapegoat” and was harassing her by registering an FIR in the alleged illegal phone-tapping case.
Shukla said the government was instead shielding Sitaram Kunte, the then state additional chief secretary, who currently holds the position of Chief Secretary of Maharashtra. She said that Kunte, who had sanctioned phone-tapping, “cannot absolve himself” by putting the blame on the senior “upright officer”.
A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and N J Jamadar was hearing a plea by Shukla against the FIR lodged under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, at BKC cyber police station against unidentified persons for allegedly tapping phones and leaking certain confidential documents on a complaint filed by the State Intelligence Department.
The alleged tapping of phones had taken place when Shukla headed the State intelligence Department (SID). Shukla is currently serving as additional director general of the CRPF’s South Zone and is posted in Hyderabad.
BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis had cited a letter purportedly written by Shukla to the then DGP about alleged corruption in police transfers. The letter also had details of intercepted calls, leading to an uproar, with leaders of the Shiv Sena-led ruling coalition alleging that Shukla tapped phones without permission.
Before registration of the FIR in March this year, Chief Secretary Kunte had alleged in a report submitted to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray that it appeared that Shukla herself had leaked the confidential report.
Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, representing Shukla, said the then Maharashtra DGP had asked Shukla to carry out surveillance and she was merely following his directives and had taken requisite permission from then state additional chief secretary Kunte as per the Indian Telegraph Act.
Jethmalani reiterated that an “arbitrary” case has been lodged by the state to “suppress the crime and not to investigate and prosecute offenders” who were indulging in corrupt practices in postings of police officers and urged that the case be transferred to CBI.
Jethmalani argued, “My client is made a scapegoat for the alleged leakage (of confidential documents). The whole reason behind filing this FIR is to prevent documents from going to the CBI. You (state) repeatedly sanctioned interceptions and why are you making an issue about it now? After Shukla was stripped of her post, over 150 police officials were transferred and nine people got the posting they bargained for.”
He added, “There should be a limit to state arrogance. There is a departmental inquiry. My client is willing to take a lie detector test regarding what really happened, and with the hope that others who have made the accusations against me should also do the same.”
Shukla’s counsel went on to submit, “Kunte cannot disown his role/interest and make my client a scapegoat. However hard he may try, he cannot do it. Where was the application of mind while sanctioning the phone tapping?”
“What is hurting the state is that somebody in the opposition (Fadnavis) got hold of the transcripts and broadcasted them. You were the final deciding authority. If the transcripts intercepted are not worth it, then why the witch hunt against me?” Shukla questioned.
The court adjourned the hearing on Shukla’s plea to Saturday, August 21, after the state assured the HC that no coercive steps, including arrest, will be taken against her until August 23.
The HC also adjourned hearing on a plea filed by former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh seeking quashing of an FIR lodged against him by the Thane Police under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The Maharashtra government counsel said no coercive action, including arrest, will be taken against Singh until August 23.