The Centre on Thursday gave clearance to an inquiry into whether Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his government had blessed the illegal spying on a young architect student in 2009.
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Ahmedabad. (AFP photo)
A retired Supreme Court judge is likely to steer the Commission of Inquiry to be set up under the Commission of Inquiry Act and submit its report within three months.
“It will look into the incidents of physical/electronic surveillance in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and Delhi allegedly without authorisation," an official release said.
The move overrules Gujarat government’s contention that the matter was a state subject and that it has already appointed a Commission to investigate it. Hindustan Times had on December 18 reported
that home and law ministries had been told to look at the possibility of ordering the probe.
Investigative news websites Gulail and Cobrapost in November played out to the media a series of phone conversations in Gujarati, which they claim were between Modi aide and then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and police officer GL Singhal.
Shah is purportedly heard directing Singhal to put the young woman and a senior IAS officer under surveillance.
Shah is allegedly heard telling Singhal to deploy adequate number of policemen to keep a strict vigil on the woman and intercept her phone calls.
The case took a fresh turn yesterday after the Gulail released 39 new tapes and claimed she was spied on in Bangalore too.
The new tapes revealed officials of private mobile service companies were involved with the Gujarat police in facilitating interception of the woman’s mobiles and also illegally taping conversation without authorisation from the Gujarat home secretary.
“Gulail is revealing… (the woman, an architect) was surveilled by the Gujarat police beyond the boundaries of the state.
“Gulail has obtained 39 new audio tapes of telephone conversations which reveal that the Gujarat Home Department had contacted the Karnataka government in 2009 and sought authorisation to intercept the cell phone of (the woman),” the website stated.
Gulail also raked up the “Saheb” reference made by it along with Cobrapost on November 15, when they first made their disclosure about the snooping. Congress believes the “Saheb” is Narendra Modi.
In the fresh post, Gulalil said “a Saheb was taking great personal interest” in the private life of the woman — her movements and relationships.
During the November disclosure, Cobrapost and Gulail had released taped conversations between Shah and Singhal to support their claim, but said its authenticity could not be confirmed.
The new tapes contain phone conversations between Singhal and another IPS officer, AK Sharma.
Singhal is an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter killing case. Sharma, a former IG of the state intelligence bureau, is now joint commissioner of Ahmedabad police crime branch.
With the snooping scandal casting a shadow on Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, the party has mounted a spirited defence and maintained the woman was “provided security” at her family’s request.
The BJP has said the woman’s father had demanded protection for her.
The woman’s father has also sought to put an end to the row. He wrote to the National Commission for Women and said his daughter wanted no further probe, as was being politically demanded.
The web portal had also claimed that the move was in violation of rules and the Gujarat government’s own notification (dated March 29, 1997), which clearly state that a phone can be tapped only with the written authorisation of the Union home secretary or state home secretary.
On November 25, the Modi government appointed a two-member commission comprising justice (retd) Sugnaben Bhatt of Gujarat high court and former additional chief secretary (home) KC Kapoor to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit a report within three months.
The Congress, however, has termed the inquiry “eyewash”. Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia has said state government contracts were awarded to the woman’s family members illegally.
The Modi government has denied having any role in awarding contracts to a company owned by the brothers of the woman.
Cong welcomes, BJP likens decision to witch-hunt
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday said the party will challenge the Centre’s approval for a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into snooping on a Gujarat woman and termed it an “affront” to the states.
"This action legally is a suspect and liable for challenge. I am sure it will be legally challenged in courts. The setting up of this Commission violates the federal structure of the Constitution," he said.
Jaitley said the Congress has not learnt from the drubbing it got in the recent elections and has continued with its strategy of fighting Narendra Modi "not politically but through investigative agencies and now through a Commission of Inquiry".
Jaitley said he hoped other chief ministers will join in the protest against this action.
BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman likened the Cabinet move to a witch-hunt and said the Congress has a “fascist, emergency-like mindset”.
“The matter is already being investigated by a committee set up under the Commission of Inquiries Act. The inquiry confirms Congress is using every available means to attack political opponents,” she said.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh welcomed the decision, saying it should have happened much earlier.
Under the Commission of Inquiry Act, the Centre or the state government cannot appoint an inquiry commission into a matter on which one of the two governments have already set up such a panel.
However, Section 3 provides for the Centre to appointing a Commission if it is of the opinion that the scope of the Inquiry should be extended to two or more states.
The controversy led to a raging political controversy, with Congress and other parties attacking the Modi government of intruding into the privacy of a woman by misusing the police machinery. Modi has maintained stoic silence on the issue.
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