Radia tapes: SC issues notice to magazines, Centre on Tata’s plea

Last Updated: Thursday, December 2, 2010 - 22:01

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday did not
give any immediate relief on Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata`s
plea to prevent online portals and electronic media from
publishing his private conversations with corporate lobbyist
Niira Radia tapped by the income tax department.

Issuing notices to the Centre and its various
departments besides news magazines, `Open` and `Outlook`,
which published some portions of the transcripts of Radia`s
conversations with several people including Tata, the apex
court sought their response within 10 days.
Tata`s petition filed on Monday had sought an interim
relief seeking to ensure that steps should be taken against
online portals and electronic media to prevent publication of
materials which has been "illegally" and "unlawfully" obtained
by them.

The Bench issued notices to Union Home Secretary
G K Pillai, CBI, Income Tax Department and Finance Ministry
asking them to file an affidavit on the issue and posted the
matter for further hearing on December 13.

The court also directed that two magazines - Open
and Outlook, which had published the conversations, be made
parties to the petition by Tata and issued notices to them.

Appearing for various government departments, Attorney
General G E Vahanvati accepted notices on their behalf. He
raised some reservations on the interim prayer sought by
Tata Group Chairman.

When Vahanvati referred to Tata`s interim prayer,
Salve said "I have not even argued on the interim prayer.
"We do not want any injunction against the media", he said.

However, the Bench said it would like to hear the two
magazines.

"We will hear them (two magazines). We will also hear
the Attorney General who is appearing in the matter. We are
not in a hurry," a bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K
Ganguly said.

"Since we are examining the issue, we want to hear
them (magazines) also," the Bench said.

It said issues in Ratan Tata`s plea "would not be left
to an academic exercise."

Tata in his petition raised issues relating to
right to privacy and right to freedom of speech and expression
as envisaged under the Constitution.

The petition filed by Tata has not made the two
magazines as the parties.

At the outset, Salve said the petition raises a
matter of immense importance-- the interpretation of Article
21 of the Constitution concerning right to life, which also
includes the right to privacy.

He said Tata has not challenged the rights of
recording by the statutory authority nor has he challenged
the use of transcript by the probe agencies.

"My concern is that the audio content of personal
conversation should not be put into public domain," Salve
submitted and claimed that the conversation between Radia and
Tata has nothing to do with the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

He said all the conversation which has no relevance
for the purpose for which it was recorded must be put out of
media`s reach.
At this point, the bench asked from him, "What are
these private conversations?"

Salve replied that there are various types of private
conversations that have no concern with government files and
cannot be made public.

He said private conversation ranging from invitation
for dinner to alleged payment of Rs nine crore to a judge has
found reference in the recorded tapes.

Salve said there is also a reference in the
conversation about former Chief Justice of India Y K
Sabharwal.

He said several of the conversations were purely
private in nature which were spoken casually and cannot be
taken seriously.

"This is what is going on," Salve said adding that
there was a need for apex court`s intervention as there are
recorded tapes of 5000 hours of the conversations between
Radia and others and there are apprehensions that something
more would come out.

However, the Bench allayed his apprehension by
informing that "now all those recorded tapes are in a sealed
cover before the apex court. It has been preserved in a sealed
cover as it was told that it can be destroyed".

At this, Salve said media says that it will come out
with more of such tapes. He contended that public disclosure
of the conversations would violate Tata`s right to privacy.

In his petition, Tata has sought action against those
involved in the leakage of the tapes, pointing out that such
an act amounts to the infringement of his Fundamental Right to
Life, which includes his right to privacy under Article 21 of
the Constitution.

He has contended that Radia`s phone was tapped for the
purposes of alleged tax evasion and it cannot be used for any
other purpose.

The petition has cited the apex court guidelines in
PUCL case in which it was held that the phone surveillance can
be done only for a specific purpose.

Tata has argued in the petition that making public
his conversation with Radia also violates his another
Fundamental Right involving his freedom of speech and
expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

In the wake of spectrum allocation scam which,
according to the CAG, resulted in a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore
to the exchequer, some journals published the taped
conversations that Radia had with various politicians,
bureaucrats, industrialists and journalists.

Transcripts of some of these tapes have also been
published by various websites, stirring a controversy over the
alleged nexus.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010 - 22:01

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