Phone tapping: Is Emergency back? asks Advani

Phone tapping: Is Emergency back? asks Advani

Phone tapping: Is Emergency back? asks Advani

It is a "shocking report describing how the Government of India has been making use of the latest phone tapping technology to prepare records of telephonic conversations of prominent political leaders including Chief Ministers like Nitish Kumar, Union Ministers like Sharad Pawar, communist leaders like Prakash Karat and the Congress party's own office bearers like its General Secretary, Digvijay Singh," he said.

Commenting on the report on phone tapping published in Outlook magazine, Advani, in his blog titled 'Is the Emergency back', said that the "outdated" Telephone Act should be scrapped and demanded that a new legislation be enacted to protect citizens' privacy.

"What is really required in this context is to set up a Parliamentary committee on the lines of the Birkett committee in Britain to examine all aspects of the problem, scrap the outdated Indian Telephone Act of 1885 and replace it by a new legislation which forbids invasion of an ordinary citizens' privacy...," Advani said.

He said a new law should formally recognise the right of the State to use the latest IT devices of interception to deal only with crime, subversion and espionage. The law must provide statutory safeguards which make it impossible for the Government to abuse its powers against political activists and journalists, he said.

Recalling an incident, he said, "This reminds me of an interesting encounter I had 25 years back. In 1985, one morning a stranger arrived at my house carrying a brief case full of papers."This brief case, he told me, contained 'dynamite' which could blow up this Government. He opened his brief case and out poured some 200 sheets of closely typed records of telephonic conversations of many VIPS," he said.

However, Advani did not find them as "explosive" as that gentleman seemed to presume. Some of those papers were telephonic conversations between him and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he said.

"What surprised me even more was that those transcripts included tape-recorded conversations not only of opposition leaders but also of eminent journalists and some extremely distinguished VVIPs like Gyani Zail Singh," he said.

Advani's blog mentioned many incidents of phone tapping in the past including a press conference of June 25, 1985, on the 10th anniversary of Emergency by Vajpayee. He said Vajpayee had then referred to large-scale phone tapping that was done during the 19 months of Emergency.

Advani said that Vajpayee had remarked, "I have known for long that my phone as well as that of my party colleague Advani has been under surveillance.

"But lately, I have gathered that the telephones of many other senior leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram and Chandra Shekhar and journalists like G K Reddy, Arun Shourie, Kuldip Nayar and G S Chawla also are being regularly tapped.

"But what has really left me flabbergasted is that the Intelligence Bureau has had the temerity to tap the telephones of the President and the Chief Justice also. All this is not only politically immoral but unconstitutional and illegal also," Vajpayee had stated.

Recalling another phone tapping incident, Advani said, "In 1996 when Shri Deve Gowda was the Prime Minister, a high level Congress delegation led by former Home Minister S B Chavan complained to him that the telephone of Shri P V Narasimha Rao and several other senior Congress leaders were being tapped by the U P Government.

"The Prime Minister told these Congressmen that their complaint was without substance. Notwithstanding this denial, Shri Deve Gowda himself later announced that the CBI have been asked to inquire into the matter."

Referring to a similar incident in Karnataka, Advani said, "In 1988, a major phone-tapping episode created a stir in Karnataka. The Times of India published the photo copy of an order issued by the DIG (Intelligence) mentioning the names of political persons and some institutions whose telephones were included in the tap-list.

"I was a member of the Rajya Sabha at that time and I remember how vehemently Union Home Minister Buta Singh had condemned the Karnataka Government and affirmed that unlike the Hegde Government, the Centre was not tapping the phones of any politician or journalist.

Advani said this statement provoked him to stand up and say: "I cannot say what is being done today. But I have personal knowledge that at least until 1985 your government had been tapping my telephone and the telephones of many other politicians and journalists.