Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday defended the government’s powers to tap phones but assured industry that utmost care would be taken so that this power was not misused. At the same time, he lamented the “ethical deficit” in some corporate houses.
Cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar will look at ways to strengthen the legal framework to prevent leaks (of transcripts of tapped conversations), he said. Inaugurating the India Corporate Week, attended by leading business figures, Singh said: “I’m aware of the nervousness in some sections of the corporate sector arising out of the powers conferred upon governmental authorities to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering.”
“While these powers are needed in the world we live in, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well-defined rules, procedures and mechanisms so that they are not misused,” he added.
The remarks follow complaints by Ratan Tata that publication of transcripts of his conversations with lobbyist Niira Radia, whose phones were tapped by official agencies, had breached his right to privacy.
Tata has moved the Supreme Court to protect his rights and the matter is sub-judice.
“I am sure our business leaders are aware that the business practices of some corporate houses have recently come under intense public scrutiny for their perceived ethical deficit,” Singh said, adding: “Ethical and responsible behaviour needs to become the cornerstone of corporate life, as indeed our national outlook.”
Industry reaction to the PM’s speech was muted and an outright rebuttal was missing. Many shied away from the topic and those who did not, accepted it was part of the system.
“Any unethical practice done industrialists or bureaucrats… it’s bad for all of them,” said Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj. “Something needs to be done about this.” HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, however, warned that phone taps ordered by middle-ranking officials, often on the basis of "flimsy" suspicions, amounted to a serious "invasion of privacy".