The investigation into the alleged illegal tapping of phones of politicians, their aides, bureaucrats and other officials during the tenure of former Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has revealed that police officers intercepted some numbers illegally by linking them to unrelated criminal investigations to escape detection during legal scrutiny.
Sources said one example that has come to the fore in the investigation handed over to the CBI by the BJP government in Karnataka is the alleged tapping of the phone of Nirmalananda Swami, an influential seer of the dominant Vokkaliga community.
Sources said the probe has found that the seer’s phone was intercepted by misrepresenting his identity. A police officer at the technical cell generated a report for the tapping of Nirmlananda Swami’s telephone by slipping in his name and number in a list of suspects in a red sanders smuggling ring.
Based on the report from this officer at the technical cell, senior officers of the Bengaluru police and officials in the home department are reported to have sanctioned tapping of the phone of the seer.
Sources said directions for incorporating the seer’s phone among those to be intercepted was received from higher officials although it has been shown on record as having been generated at the level of a police inspector.
On Thursday, the CBI searched the home and offices of former Bengaluru police commissioner Alok Kumar, an officer of the rank of additional director general of police, during whose tenure in Bengaluru much of the illegal tapping of phones is alleged to have occurred.
Kumar was brought in as the Bengaluru Police Commissioner in June 2019 when Janata Dal Secular leader H D Kumaraswamy was Chief Minister despite Kumar being the juniormost officer of the rank of ADGP. He was earlier the Additional Commissioner of police (crime) for Bengaluru.
Incidentally, the Bengaluru police commissionerate is one of five top police units in Karnataka authorised to conduct telephone tapping for seven days with reference to specific criminal cases. For carrying out interceptions for longer periods, police have to obtain clearances from the Home Secretary as per provisions for legal tapping of phone calls laid out in Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with Rule 419 A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules 2007.
“In the normal course, the investigating officer finds numbers that needs to be intercepted and obtains permission — it is a bottom-up process. But in this situation the process seems to have been reversed with numbers being provided by the higher ups — it was turned into a top-down process,’’ a police official familiar with the working of the Bengaluru technical cell said.
The alleged illegal tapping of Nirmalananda Swami’s telephone during the tenure of Kumaraswamy is a political hot button issue since Kumaraswamy is considered a prominent leader of the dominant Vokkaliga community which is the second largest in Karnataka.
The seer has been courted in recent times by leaders like BJP president Amit Shah — ahead of the state assembly polls in 2018 — since the BJP is trying to make inroads into the Vokkaliga community which has traditionally allied with the JDS of Kumaraswamy and his father, former prime minister H D Devegowda.
“The issue of phone tapping is a very interesting one. When it emerged it provided evidence of the depth that had been plumbed by former chief minister of Karnataka (Kumaraswamy). They have done phone-tapping on a large scale and in an illegal manner. It is a cognizable offence. They will have to give answers and must face justice for their actions. Let the whole community know about their actions,’’ BJP Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwathnarayan, a Vokkaliga, said Friday.
“It seems the phones of the seer and his aides were tapped. They have done it, it is the truth, there is no doubt but let it come through official channels. If they have listed the seer as a smuggler and tapped his phone then you can understand the extent to which they have gone. The Chief Minister’s position was misused,’’ he added.
Kumaraswamy has denied any role in illegal phone tapping. “Phone tapping has occurred during the tenure of every chief minister. Let them investigate me if they want. There are no worries,’’ Kumaraswamy said this week.