The Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday told the Delhi High Court that telephonic interceptions by the Law Enforcement Agencies are carried out in the “interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
The submissions were made in the backdrop of a petition alleging illegal phone tapping of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, then Law Secretary Suresh Chandra, and some senior CBI officers.
The ministry further informed the bench headed by Chief Justice Rajendra Menon that Rule “419A of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules 2007 adequately provides for constitution of a Review Committee by the Central government and the State government, as the case may be, to review the directions for interceptions”.
The ministry said in its affidavit, “The Review Committee within a period of sixty days from the issue of directions shall suo motu make necessary enquiries and investigations and record its findings whether the directions issued… are in accordance with the provisions of Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act.
“When the Review Committee is of the opinion that the directions are not in accordance with the provisions referred to above, it may set aside the directions and order for destruction of the copies of the intercepted message or class of messages.”
The affidavit said that the records pertaining to such directions for interception and of intercepted messages shall be destroyed by the relevant competent authority and the authorised security and Law Enforcement Agencies every six months unless these are required for functional requirement.
It further said that the “requirement of giving justification with each proposal for interception has already been incorporated in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in May 2011 and concerned law enforcement/security agencies have been sensitised from time to time to follow these guidelines”.
The court is scheduled to hear the PIL on Tuesday, which has also sought a direction to the CBI for framing comprehensive guidelines regarding tracing, tapping and surveillance of phone calls along with preparation of stocks and accountability of officials.
The ministry said that the “contention with respect to exercise to the right to speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of India and protections guaranteed under the Constitution of India is not absolute”.
“Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India specifically provides for reasonable restrictions and all rights can be restricted in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence,” the affidavit said.
Citing the infighting within the CBI between its former director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana, against whom an FIR of extortion and bribery was lodged by the agency, the PIL said that “public servants working in said organization need to conduct themselves in a manner so that integrity of the institution is maintained”.
The ministry, however, stated that the Supreme Court in the matter of “Alok Kumar Verma vs Union of India has already appreciated all evidence and procedure adopted in the said case by the agencies”.