Phonegate: India Inc tapped?
|By: J Dey|| ||Date:
2010-04-29|| ||Place: Mumbai|
|Copy of a purportedly leaked report says conversations of topmost industrialists, two senior journalists, were tapped with home secretary's permission|
Politicians may not be the only ones whose phones are being tapped. Government agencies seem to be eavesdropping on the biggest names of corporate India. A 2009 report drags a few senior journalists into the controversy as well.
After the sensational expos © by Outlook magazine which had Parliament in a twist, MiD DAY has got copies of confidential papers ostensibly leaked from the CBI and Income Tax files. These indicate that the government has been keeping a tab on conversations of India's foremost industrialists like Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal.
The contents of the conversations, according to these papers, touch upon some of the highest profile corporate cases -- from telecom licences to Nano shifting from Singur to Gujarat.
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|What is 'deniability'?|
|Outlook, in its report, quoted a senior intelligence official saying: "The whole system works on deniability. It can be deployed anywhere. We don't need to show any authorisation since we're not tapping a phone number at the exchange but intercepting signals between the phone and the cellphone tower and recording them on a hard disk. If too many questions are asked, we can remove the disk and erase the conversation. No one gets to know."|
The main target of tapping seems to be Nira Radia, head of Vaishnavi Communications and Neucomm Consulting, which handle media and other corporate affairs for powerful clients like Tata and Mukesh Ambani. The papers say phones of Radia and her associates were kept under observation.
And all of it was apparently done with permission from the home secretary.
According to the copy of a letter dated November 20, 2009 [file no: DGIT (Inv)DB/INT/09-10], Joint Director of Income Tax Ashish Abrol wrote to Deputy Inspector General of Police posted with the CBI Vineet Agarwal: "On the basis of specific information received from the CBDT [Central Board of Direct Taxes], the telephone lines of Ms Radia and some of her associates were put under observation after obtaining permission from the home secretary."
Union Home Secretary GK Pillai yesterday accepted that the taps could have happened.
"This could have happened. Requests for phone-tapping from agencies like CBDT, Intelligence Bureau and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence come to the union home secretary's office," he said. "There is nothing illegal about it because the cases are related to evasion of tax, falsification of documents etc. We go into the reasons why the phones are needed to be tapped before allowing it."
He said phone taps were sanctioned for 60 days. If the agency came back with a request for further tapping, another 60 days of surveillance was granted, he said.
|Tapes and the tales|
Sensational points touched in the copy of the phone intercept report include:
>>The bid to buy out Haldia Petrochemicals by one of India's topmost industrialists by 'managing' senior CPI(M) leaders
>>How the same industrialist controls a news channel through consultants as his front
>>How in Jharkhand, a leading industrialist got the lease of a mine extended by paying Rs 180 crore to a tainted minister
>>How two rival industrialists lobbied to prevent Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja from becoming telecom minister respectively
>>Senior mediapersons lobbied on behalf of industrialists to secure ministerial berths for friendly politicians
"I don't have the documents with me right now, but even if I have, I would not like to talk about it," said Vineet Agarwal, now DIG, Andamans.
CBDT, however, said phones of influential businessmen, professionals and advertising professionals were not tapped.
"The I-T department does not intercept telephonic conversations except as authorised under the law. The provision is used in rare and exceptional cases of suspected fraud/evasion involving security of the state," it said.
The documents talk about individuals influencing policy changes at the highest level. It also says that two senior journalists -- one a well-known anchor of a national channel and the other a former editor, columnist and TV personality -- lobbied on behalf of industrialists to secure ministerial berths for friendly politicians.
While touching a range of issues, the papers quote from conversations of Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal.
An RIL spokesperson said that the media should refer to the Press Information Bureau press note which said no phone had been tapped. We contacted Sunil Mittal's PR but could not get a reaction.
Radia did not respond to an e-mail from MiD DAY asking her response to her or her clients Tata and Ambani's phones supposedly being tapped.
(With inputs from Anshuman Dutta)