Home Minister P Chidambaram told Lok Sabha on Monday there was nothing in the records of the security establishment to substantiate allegations that the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had tapped the phones of political leaders.
“I wish to state categorically that no phone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders was authorised by the previous UPA government.
Nor has the present UPA government authorised any such activity,” he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — the NTRO reports to his office — was slated to make a similar point later in the day. But the Opposition, which had been on its feet to demand a joint parliamentary probe, forced adjournment of Parliament till Tuesday.
Chidambaram’s statement came after allegations of phone tapping reported by a newsmagazine, Outlook, were “thoroughly enquired into”. The magazine had reported instances of the NTRO tapping phones of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat and Congress leader Digvijay Singh.
“Nothing has been found in the records of the NTRO or elsewhere to substantiate the allegations,” Chidambaram said.
He said the intelligence agencies were functioning within the law. “They are fully accountable to the government,” he said.
Government sources later said they had checked the positioning of the surveillance equipment that was alleged to have been used for tapping the phones. “At least in one case, the equipment was not in Delhi on the day it is alleged to have been used to tap the phones,” the source said.
Incidentally, the equipment — with the ability to tap mobile phones within a 2-km-radius — was used to track down elusive Maoist leader Kishenji in recent months. But it didn’t help.