Phone tapping, IPL controversy rock Parliament

Phone tapping, IPL controversy rock Parliament

The opposition members were not satisfied with Home Minister P Chidambaram's statement rubbishing the charge that it had authorised any telephone tapping of politicians and alleged that the issue smacked of the 1975 Emergency days.

While the BJP in both the Houses went hammer and tongs against the government on the phone tapping issue, the SP and RJD focussed on the IPL issue with Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav personally leading their party members into the well of the Lok Sabha.

Members of the BSP, which is cosying up to the government ahead of the crucial cut motions, were conspicuously silent during these protests.

Making a statement on the tapping issue in both the Houses, Chidambaram said, "I wish to state categorically that no telephone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders was authorised by the previous UPA government. Nor has the present UPA government authorised any such activity."

He said the report in 'Outlook' magazine on phone tapping was thoroughly enquired into and "nothing has been found in the records of the NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation) to substantiate the allegations."

Demanding a statement from the Prime Minister, senior BJP leader L K Advani recalled a press conference held on June 25, 1985 to mark 10 years of Emergency in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke about phone tapping of leaders like Chandrashekhar, Jagjivan Ram, Charan Singh and journalists like Kuldeep Nayyar and Arun Shourie.
He also demanded passing of a law to prevent the government from tapping phones of political leaders.

In the Rajya Sabha too, BJP vociferously demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee enquiry, with senior leader M Venkaiah Naidu seeking a statement from the Prime Minister.

Both Houses, which had earlier adjourned twice on the issue with repeated protests by the opposition parties, were adjourned for the day as the protests continued.
SP and RJD members trooped into the well of Lok Sabha seeking a JPC probe into the IPL controversy. "This is the biggest scandal in the recent years," the RJD chief remarked.

The Home Minister, who read out the statement on phone tapping amid continued slogan-shouting, said, "Further enquiries are being made into the allegations in the magazine. If any evidence is forthcoming or discovered, the matter will be thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies". He read out a similar statement in Rajya Sabha.

The news weekly has alleged in an article that the phones of Union Minister Sharad Pawar, Congress leader Digvijay Singh, CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had been tapped.

Responding to Advani's demand, Leader of Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee said the Prime Minister could make a statement only at 1530 hours as he had a luncheon meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Otherwise, they should allow the Home Minister to make a statement to clarify the issue.

But the opposition members were not satisfied with Mukherjee's statement and continued their protests.

In the din, Chidambaram read out his statement that neither the previous UPA government, nor the present one had ordered tapping of phones of political leaders. Both governments upheld the law of the land.

"We are committed to defend the rights of every Indian citizen, including the right to privacy, and will uphold the rights of the individual citizens enshrined in the Constitution of India," he said.

Rejecting allegations against the NTRO, he said, "It is a technical organisation of the government....The organisation was notified on April 15, 2004" and asserted that intelligence agencies functioned within the law and were "fully accountable" to the government.

Under the Telegraph Act and the IT Act, each case of monitoring of telephones or electronic communications has to be approved by the Union Home Secretary personally and is subject to review by an oversight committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary.

"Such monitoring, as may be necessary to fight crime, for national security or for counter-terrorism effort, is subject to multiple checks and oversight," Chidambaram said. 

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