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The peeping Toms

The coverage of leaked conversations between lobbyist Niira Radia and powerful people and probes into scams and terror networks have thrown up names of agencies many are not familiar with. HT tells you which agency is empowered to do what.

delhi Updated: Dec 20, 2010 02:51 IST
Varghese K George

Intelligence Bureau (IB): The IB is the premier intelligence agency mandated to gather intelligence on every domestic issue of importance — be it internal security, political developments, left-wing extremism or even the arrival of monsoon! However, it's the political snooping that attracts more controversy, with opposition leaders complaining about it. The IB is headed an IPS officer, considered the senior-most police officer of the country.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI): The CBI was created by the British to keep an eye on corrupt officers of the war and the supply department during the Second World War. It got its present name in 1963. The CBI has a wing called special unit (SU), which does the snooping job. Special units work under the joint director (policy), who directly reports to the director. In most cases, the initial probe is done by special units through technical surveillance, and then the cases are handed over to other units for further action. The most recent example of the CBI's snooping job was the arrest of former Medical Council of India chief Ketan Desai.

Director general of Income Tax (Intelligence): This agency is the flavour of the season. The directorate of intelligence, under the director general of income tax (DGIT), had tapped phones of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia in 2008 and 2009. These tapped conservations form the basis of investigations into the 2G scam by the CBI, enforcement directorate and I-T. The DGIT (intelligence) reports to the member (investigation) of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. It works on select cases and keeps a tab on trends in tax evasion. Creating an economic offence data base is also its responsibility.

Directorate of Enforcement (ED): When the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) was in force, the ED was a much-feared agency. But allegations of its misuse and the liberalisation of the economy forced the government to repeal the law in 2000 and in came the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), a much milder version of FERA. FEMA provided for penalty after adjudication whereas violating FERA was a criminal offence. The powers to arrest were revoked under FEMA. The next few years were very frustrating for ED officials. But with the enactment of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in 2002, the ED got back some of its teeth. The ED is headed by a director. It has a finger in every pie now with investigations into the Madu Koda scam, 2G corruption, and CWG scam entrusted to it. ED collects intelligence about FEMA and PMLA violations.

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW): RAW was carved out of the IB's external intelligence wing in 1968 with a view to having an agency for external intelligence. It is part of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and its chief's designation is secretary (RAW). RAW still does not have a charter describing its responsibilities. It was created on the orders of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Aviation Research Centre (ARC) is an important component of RAW, which uses aircraft for the aerial surveillance of enemies of the country.

National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO): This was formed in 2004 to meet the needs of technical intelligence (Techint). The NTRO got the technical facilities of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the purpose. The NTRO chief reports to the national security advisor. Domestic snooping is not part of the NTRO's mandate. But still the NTRO acquired some over-the-air passive interception machines in 2006. These machines were allegedly used by the NTRO to listen to conversations of several politicians from 2007 onwards. After media reports, these machines were handed over to the IB.

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI): Once the DRI heard a Gutka baron asking a central agency officer for reprieve in a case. The matter was brought to the notice of higher-ups in the government and the officer was repatriated to his parent cadre quietly. The DRI has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1953 with one assistant commissioner and two superintendents. It was established for gathering information about economic offences. The department was renamed the DRI in 1957. The DRI functions under the Central Board of Excise and Customs. In recent times it is focusing on narco-terrorism.

Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB): The NCB had to face embarrassment when IPS officer Saji Mohan was arrested by Mumbai police on the charges of indulging in narcotics trade. Mohan was a director with the NCB, established on March 17, 1986. The NCB collects and analyses data about seizures of narcotic drugs. It studies trends and modus operandi by gathering intelligence about narcotics trade.

Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB): To coordinate between agencies checking violations of tax laws, the CEIB was established in 1985 on the argument that the evasion of one tax entails evasions of other taxes as well. It acts as the secretariat of the economic intelligence council, which is an apex body for coordination between agencies dealing with economic offences. It gathers intelligence and information about black money and trends in tax violations, and also develops measures to counter them. The CEIB is entrusted with enforcing COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act).

Police of various states: Police have the powers to snoop on phone and Internet communication under law to crack cases or prevent an offence. The police authorities have to take permission from their respective home secretaries to tap any phone or Internet connection. But most of the states have a very lax regime and there have been allegations of misuse of phone tapping powers by the state governments.