With the CBI having filed an FIR into the case of alleged illegal interception of phone calls of political leaders and their associates in Karnataka in 2018-19, the role of several senior police officers and bureaucrats who are authorised to sanction phone-tapping is set to come under scrutiny.
The CBI registered a case to begin investigations on August 30, days after the B S Yediyurappa government handed over the probe to the agency on August 19.
Since the process of call interception by police authorities did not involve written instructions from the Chief Minister, Home Minister or any other ministers, the CBI probe into the case is expected to focus on the police and bureaucratic set-up involved in giving clearance for interceptions before the agency looks at the role of politicians, sources said.
The primary complaint registered by Bengaluru police on August 19 refers to the alleged leak to the media of call intercepts of a suspect in a cheating case from the police department’s technical cell. The CBI is authorised to conduct a wider probe into all alleged illegal phone-tapping in the state from August 1, 2018 to August 19, 2019.
What law says on call interception
Provisions for legal call interception are laid out in Section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, read with Rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007. According to Rule 419A, interceptions cannot be done without an order from “Secretary to the Government of India in Ministry of Home Affairs in the case of Government of India, and by Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the Home Department in the case of a State government’’. In case of emergency, however, call can be intercepted at the level of the police, provided they are approved by the Home Secretary in due time.
The CBI has been asked to investigate all “illegal/unwanted/unauthorised interceptions of telephones of political leaders belonging to the ruling party and opposition parties, as well as their associates, relatives and government servants’’. The probe will thus look into whether the authorisation protocol prescribed by law was followed in call intercepts during this period.
In emergencies, where getting the Home Secretary’s permission is not feasible, calls can be intercepted at the state level for three days with approval of an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police. This is on condition that the Home Secretary is informed of the interceptions within three working days and it provides approval in seven days, as per law.
The probe is expected to look at whether clearances were provided by the police authorities to tap phones of elected representatives by using dubious means.
One of the persons who will be investigated is former Bengaluru Commissioner Alok Kumar since the agency’s FIR states that an intercepted conversation of a suspect in a cheating case was taken away illegally on August 2 and delivered to the then police chief.