New Delhi: The government is examining a proposal to bring under "a ministry" the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), in the eye of a storm for allegedly monitoring phone conversations between a high-profile lobbyist and Communications Minister A. Raja on the allocation of 2G spectrum, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said on Thursday.
Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed that the government should "get to the bottom" of the tapping controversy. He said that no permission had been given to tap the conversations of any politicians and that the matter was being probed.
A report in the Outlook magazine has revealed that the phones of union minister Sharad Pawar, Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar at various points in time from the year 2006 onwards. The issue has rocked the Parliament since Monday.
Assuring the Rajya Sabha that the government will get to the bottom of illegal interception, if any, Chidambaram said it "has become necessary to review" whether the NTRO, equipped with telephone interception technology, be shifted from National Security Adviser to a minister, who will be accountable to Parliament.
"A group of ministers had recommended the creation of the NTRO in 2001. It was the decision of the (previous) NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and not the UPA (United Progressive Alliance)," Chidambaram said.
"It had been decided to place the NTRO not under a ministry but under the NSA. We are examining whether the NTRO should be placed under a ministry so that the minister is accountable to Parliament," he added.
Disagreeing with the Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, Chidamabaram said the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and other enforcement agencies have powers to intercept messages if the nation`s financial security was threatened. This has also been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Jaitely, an eminently lawyer, had argued that mere suspicion of tax evasion cannot be equated with `public safety` and `public emergency` - the only two situations which allow the government to intercept messages.
Referring to media reports about telephone tapping and role of lobbyists in policy making, Chidamarabam said he could not comment on their authenticity. "(But) the Prime Minister has directed that we must get to the bottom" of the issue.
The government would certainly find out whether any unauthorised interception took place, he said. "Further enquiries are being made into the allegations. The matter will be thoroughly investigated and action taken against those responsible," he said.
The issue had rocked Parliament on Wednesday, leading to demands for Raja`s resignation and disrupting the proceedings in both houses.
It led to 75 minutes of the pre-lunch session being lost in the Rajya Sabha, which was adjourned twice, while the Lok Sabha lost an hour`s business due to one adjournment.
At present, NTRO is accountable to the NSA who reports directly to the Prime Minister. He has conveyed his proposal to the Prime Minister, he said winding up a discussion on the issue.
Both houses had been adjourned for the day Monday and Tuesday after angry opposition MPs demanded a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into a report that the phones of prominent politicians had been tapped. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had nixed the demand, angering the opposition further and leading it to give notice of a privilege motion in the Lok Sabha.