The Centre Thursday ordered the setting up of an inquiry commission to probe the alleged illegal snooping of a Bangalore-based woman architect by Gujarat officials,reportedly on the instructions of Chief Minister Narendra Modis close aide Amit Shah.
In an apparent attempt to appear non-partisan,the Cabinet said the commissions ambit would be expanded to also examine the alleged interception of phone calls of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and access of call detail records (CDRs) of Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley.
The Cabinet has approved a proposal to set up a commission of inquiry under Commission of Inquiry Act,1952,to look into the incidents of physical/ electronic surveillance in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi,allegedly without authorisation, the government said in a press statement.
The commission is likely to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a retired high court chief justice. It is required to submit its report within three months.
Nobody should suspect the timing of the announcement. There is no vendetta or revenge. There was a delegation of 47 women who submitted a resolution to the President demanding a probe. The Gujarat commission was only for one state,but this commission is for multiple states… The home ministry will also consult the law ministry to decide on the panel of judges, said Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. He said political parties were also demanding a probe into the Jaitley case.
The terms of reference of the commission include:
* To ascertain the circumstances leading to the surveillance by way of interception of telephones or otherwise of a young woman in Gujarat in August-September 2009 or any other relevant period. To investigate the instances of unlawful interception of telephone calls in Himachal Pradesh and unlawful access to the call data records in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
* To examine whether the incidence of surveillance by way of interception of telephones is borne out by the taped conversations and whether such surveillance and interception were carried out by adhering to the statutory requirements and due authorisation under law.
* To identify the apparatus or instrument used for such surveillance and interceptions,wherever they exist,including those used in the said instances,the period of placement and use of such apparatus or instruments and the due maintainance of records of such use.
* To investigate if the telecom service providers complied with the laws,rules and conditions of their licence in the said instances of surveillance and interceptions of telephones relevant to the inquiry.
* To determine if the rules of command and control,supervision and accountability in respect of the officers involved in the surveillance and interception of telephones were violated.
* To make recommendations to the Central government as to the changes and measures needed to ensure non-recurrence of such incidents and surveillance and any other recommendations as may be considered appropriate.
Two news portals,Cobrapost and Gulail,had claimed that Gujarat officials had snooped on the woman architect at the instance of Saheb,and the state machinery was misused for the purpose.
The web portals released the first set of tapes on November 15 which purportedly contained taped conversations that established that Gujarat officials snooped on the woman while she was visiting Ahmedabad and meeting her friends in malls. They claimed that the woman was also followed when she was visiting her ailing mother at a Gujarat hospital.
The first set of 267 tapes were reportedly provided by IPS officer G L Singhal,an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case,to the CBI. Singhal is currently out on bail.
But the womans father,Pranlal Soni,issued a statement claiming that Modi was a family friend,and he had asked him to ensure the safety of his daughter.
The second set of 39 tapes,released on December 24,purportedly established that the snooping conducted by the Gujarat Police went beyond the boundaries of the state. The tapes purportedly revealed that the Gujarat Police even tried to tap her phone in Bangalore,but was denied permission by the then BJP government in Karnataka.
The purported conversations,between August and September 2009,refer to a Saheb,which the portals identified as Modi,at whose behest the snooping was allegedly carried out.
Under the Commission of Inquiry Act,the Centre or state government cannot appoint an inquiry commission into a matter on which one of the two governments have already set up such a panel. However,Section 3 provides for the Centre to appoint a commission if it is of the opinion that the scope of the inquiry should be extended to two or more states.
It may be recalled that Jaitleys CDR was accessed by a Delhi Police constable,reportedly by misusing the email ID of an ACP. Virbhadra Singhs phone was reported to have been tapped by the then government in Himachal ahead of the elections. Both the cases are being investigated by the police.