It was an issue which had the potential of opening the Pandora’s box, given the unabashed misuse security and intelligence agencies make of their phone tapping powers. But it was given a quiet burial.
A 2014 probe conducted during the Congress rule by two IPS officers into unauthorised tapping of phones by the Haryana crime branch had established that Supreme Court (SC) guidelines on phone interception and standard operating procedure (SOP) were violated and given a go by.
The revelations were significant since the issue at hand was invasion of privacy of individuals and misuse of interception mechanisms by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. However, since the assembly elections were round the corner, the matter was laid to rest.
In 2014, the then DGP, SN Vashisht, had ordered a probe into unauthorised interception of phones by the crime branch on the basis of a communication sent by the then ADGP, crime, SS Deswal. A preliminary inquiry by a DIG-rank officer and a subsequent probe by an IG-rank officer established that SC guidelines and standard operating procedure (SOP) for phone tapping were violated. “Majority of the 45 interceptions have been conducted under the emergent request order of the SOP (without taking orders of the competent authority). These interceptions were unauthorised, illegal and without any authority. Only head of the crime branch or ACS, Home were authorised to grant this permission. By not obtaining prior approval of the authorised officers, the then IG, Crime has indulged in illegal and unauthorised phone tapping,’’ reads a home department file noting.
ACS, home, Ram Niwas, when contacted, said the matter was handled at the DGP level and was not referred to the home department for action.
Despite several phone calls and text messages, director general of police (DGP) KP Singh did not respond.
‘INVASION OF PRIVACY’
At the centre of the probe was an IPS officer, Shrikant Jadhav, who was accused of making the phone interceptions in an unauthorised manner.
“Jadhav remained posted as IG, crime, in crime branch during 2013-14 and made a large number of interceptions without seeking permission of the ADGP, crime, or legal opinion. He directly made requests to the ACS, Home giving impression that such requests have the approval of the authorised officer. Even after obtaining interception orders by misleading the government, he didn’t show it to the ADGP, crime, at a later stage,’’ reads an August 2014 communication by ADGP, crime.
It further said that all these interceptions have been obtained by the officer at his personal level. “No investigating officer (IO) in any case made request seeking interception in connection with the investigation of their cases. The reasons for seeking interception were known to the officer personally and were not required for investigation purposes. Also government instructions required maintenance of records by the designated officer but he never submitted any record in the cyber crime cell of the crime branch. Such permission for interception obtained without any request from the IO, by misleading the government, for his personal use and not disclosing the relevant interception records to the authorised officer, is a violation of SC guidelines and state government’s instructions, amounting to violation of statutory provisions under Information Technology Act,’’ the communication said.
The then DGP, SN Vashisht, wrote back saying the matter was very serious in nature and required a thorough probe. “You are requested to conduct a thorough probe into the interception taken in each case and submit a report at the earliest,’’ he wrote.
The then joint commissioner of police, crime, Gurgaon, Vivek Sharma and later the then IG, Hisar, Haneef Qureshi, conducted separate probes into the matter. “From the preliminary perusal of the tabulated data it is evident that the interceptions under 12 heads of table A have been taken using the emergent request order of SOP on interception without taking orders of the Home Secretary who is the competent authority. Since the cases at hand were old cases, there does not appear a reasonable justification for invoking this clause. Instead the regular request route ought to have been adopted. Moreover, the officer authorized for Crime Branch for emergent request order is the ADGP, crime. The power assigned specifically to the office 0f ADGP, crime can neither be assumed by anyone else nor be delegated to any other officer without the express orders from the appropriate authority. Further, proper justification regarding the need for interception does not exist in the case diaries. Request letter justifying the need for interception from investigating officers to higher authorities could not be found on record,’’ the findings said.
Qureshi, who conducted a detailed probe, when contacted, said his report reflected the findings of Sharma’s report. However, he refused to divulge more saying it was a confidential matter.