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

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