Phone tapping rings in a row in Odisha

Responding to an RTI query, the home department of the Odisha government has submitted that 4,620 land and mobile phones were tapped during the four year period between December 29, 2008, and September 15, 2012.

The application was filed by Biswapriya Kanungo, a Bhubaneswar-based lawyer and human rights activist.

However, the government has not divulged the identity of the individuals whose telephonic conversations had been recorded clandestinely.

The development has triggered a controversy with the opposition Congress demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who heads the home department for invading people’s privacy and thus violating their fundamental rights.

The state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the former ally of ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), has also joined  the chorus.

 The activists in the state are up in arms against the controversial decision.
 According to opposition parties and activists, telephones of individuals can be tapped by the government only for “public emergency” and when there is a perceived threat to public safety. Since there were no such situations, the government has violated the rights of the individuals.

Observers are of the view that there were two important political developments. The May 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state and hectic activities within the ruling BJD in May-June following an attempt by the party rebel Pyari Mohan Mohapatra to dislodge the Patnaik government.

Therefore, tapping of telephones of BJD rebels as well as leaders from the opposition parties and even journalists and activists cannot be ruled out.

“Chief Minister Patnaik, also the home minister, needs to explain to the people under what circumstances his government resorted to tapping of telephones. Besides, he should reveal their names,” said PCC general secretary and spokesperson Arya Kumar Gyanendra.

The issue is also expected to be raised by the opposition parties in the forthcoming winter session of the state assembly which is scheduled to begin in a few days.
Significantly, there was no tapping of phones in the state between 2000 and 2006.

However, 417 telephones were tapped between 2006 and December 28, 2008.
According to the latest official disclosure, the government has tapped an average of more than 1100 land and mobile phones annually in the four year period.

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