The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the income tax (IT) department, which had intercepted 5,800 telephone conversations of corporate lobbyist Nira Radia, to get them transcribed within two months for a proper probe as some of them concern national security.
The court was annoyed that in such a “serious matter” the I-T department has not prepared the transcript of all the intercepted calls, some of which relate to “dubious” fiscal transactions having impact on national security.
A Bench of justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya expressed unhappiness over the fact the probe into the incident was moving on the basis of the “analysis” of the transcript provided by the income tax department to the CBI.
When Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval made it clear that the transcript of the entire 5,800 intercepted conversations of Radia was not done, the bench said “it will be appropriate that conversation should be transcribed. Otherwise everything will proceed on the basis of surmises and conjectures”.
The court directed the Directorate General of Income Tax (Investigation), who had ordered the tapping of phones of Radia and constituted a team of officers for the job, to get the conversation transcribed and submit complete compilation of conversation within two months in a sealed cover,” the bench said.
The bench passed the order after going through the summary of the probe provided by the government and the fresh status reports into the investigation filed in sealed covers by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
During the hearing, the bench termed as “vague” the reply of another Additional Solicitor General AS Chandhiok that the probe was on into the leakage of the recorded conversation of Radia with Tata Group Chief Ratan Tata and others.
It said three years have gone and the IT department has not prepared the transcripts of the tapped conversation.
“You (Income tax department) should not have taken three years,” the bench said adding that the authorities should understand that in law they have to prepare the transcripts as electronic evidence in its original form only was not permitted.
“There were 5,800 conversations recorded. Where is the transcript of the conversations,” the bench asked. It stressed the need for preparing the transcript as a safeguard against rumours about the leakage which will continue to circulate as people are interested in sensationalism.
“Since certain intercepted conversations concern national security and there are some about the fiscal transactions which are dubious, so much needs to be done,” the bench observed.
“It is a much more serious matter,” the bench emphasised and said “it will be appropriate that all recordings are transcribed”.
The conversations were recorded as part of surveillance of Radia’s phone on a complaint to Finance Minister on November 16, 2007 alleging that within a span of nine years she had built up a business empire worth Rs 300 crore.
The government had recorded 180 days of Radia’s conversations–first from August 20, 2008 onwards for 60 days and then from October 19 for another 60 days. Later on May 11, 2009. Her phone was again put on surveillance for another 60 days following a fresh order given on May 8.
Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata had moved the apex court on November 29, 2010 for action against those involved in the leakage of the tapes saying that the leakage amounted to infringement of his fundamental right to life, which includes right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), has also sought a direction that all conversation should be made public except those which are purely personal in nature. The NGO has said the conversation which show illegality or criminality should be thoroughly investigated.