On November 15, news portals cobrapost.com and Gulail revealed how the BJP-led Gujarat government carried out surveillance of a young girl, an architect, in Bangalore in 2009. Gujarat policemen followed the girl in public places, even when she went to see her mother at a hospital, took a flight or checked into a hotel. That’s not all: the surveillance even extended to times when the woman was at home. However, the reasons for constant surveillance, which was ordered by former state home minister Amit Shah for his “Saheb”, are unknown. But what is clear is that it was conducted without any clearance from two key officials involved in the chain of legal authorisation and the full operation was conducted on oral orders. While the Constitution does not grant a right to privacy, in several of its judgments the Supreme Court (SC) has said that privacy is inherent in a person’s right to personal liberty and in 1997, it established a set of guidelines to be followed in intercepting messages, in a public emergency or in the interests of public safety. None of these was followed in this case.
While the Gujarat government’s lack of any kind of reaction on the issue is disquieting, the BJP’s defence is weak. As the details of the case came out in the open, the saffron party defended the Gujarat government, saying that it is a state matter and the Congress/central government has no right to interfere. But then just because it is a “state matter”, it does not mean that the government can flout all norms. Moreover, how could the state misuse taxpayers’ money on policemen following the woman around on flights, hotels and malls, when her phone is illegally tapped? The BJP also said that the girl’s father had asked for surveillance and he is against any probe into the matter. If the girl’s father had indeed asked for security/surveillance for his daughter, then why can’t the Gujarat government make the request documents public?
Other than surveillance, the story also reveals the state of the rotten bureaucracy in the state: top police officers did not stand up to question the illegality of the operation or express displeasure for violating a person’s privacy. In fact, such was the importance of the operation that many senior state officers personally supervised the activities of the woman. The tapes, as the two portals correctly raise, also reveal how phone-tapping guidelines as laid down by the SC in several judgments were blatantly violated and also bring the telecom companies under a cloud. In the face of such revelations, the least the state can do is make its stand clear and order a probe.