Phone tapping: Govt denies hand, Oppn cries foul
New Delhi: Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Friday stressed that the government was not involved in keeping tabs on phone conversations of MPs, even as the Opposition members alleged "official" involvement in the attempts to access call records of BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
Shinde, making a statement in the Rajya Sabha, offered details of the case and said there was no tapping of Jaitley's phone. Records of calls he made were never disclosed, he said.
"In the case being investigated by Delhi Police, it was a case of unauthorisedly trying to access call data records. This was not a case of telephone tapping," he said.
"The Delhi Police informed us that they came to know that some person had sought call data records of Arun Jaitley. Police came to know about it after the nodal officer of Airtel asked the ACP (operation) of Delhi Police to reconfirm the request, through email. Since no such request was made, the confirmation was not given, and the call data records were not disclosed," Shinde said.
Opposition members, however, slammed the government, saying his statement did not disclose anything.
"It is nothing but reporting of an SHO (station house office)," Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) M. Venkaiah Naidu said.
"On whose behest were the call details sought? Government should clarify that, because this government has a notorious record of misusing central investigating agencies..." he said.
"Arrest was made on Feb 14 and today is March 1. This kind of thing is not possible without the support of the government. Why is the investigation taking so long, does the government have something to hide?" said Naidu.
"I am sure there are some state actors, some non-state actors. Some large-scale operation could not have taken place without any official backing," alleged Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP.
Members across party lines expressed concern and also said that the information offered by the home minister was not even as exhaustive as reports of the matter that had already appeared in newspapers.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said that "even news papers have more details than what the home minister has said".
Responding to concerns of members, Shinde asserted that the government was not indulging in any phone tapping.
"We are not tapping the phone of any member. If there has to be any tapping, the permission for it has to be taken from the union home secretary," Shinde said.
"We want to say the phone of Arun Jaitely was never asked (by the government) to be intercepted. The constable was doing it for a private agency. It is very important for us as well, we are also worried. If the leader of the opposition's phone is tapped... He is not an ordinary person," he said.
The home minister added that since investigations were still at the preliminary stage, no more information could be provided.
As opposition members sought a time frame for receiving more information in the matter, Shinde said: "Such investigations are serious. Police have to go into details, please don't insist on a time limit. We will do it as soon as possible."
Ram Gopal Yadav also suggested that it should be mandatory to take the chair's permission before screening the calls of any parliament member. Shinde welcomed the suggestion, saying the government will consider it.
The home minister said that a constable and three private detectives have been arrested in connection with the attempt to get Jaitley's call records.
The arrested constable was identified as Arvind Kumar Dabas. He was earlier posted with the special staff in the New Delhi district and had special access to the email of the ACP (Operations).
The other three arrested people were identified as Neeraj Nayar, Nitish Singh and Anurag Singh.
Anurag Singh, one of the private detectives arrested in Delhi last week, was also accused of illegally tapping the phone of former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh in 2005.