The fear of surveillance by the state authorities in Gujarat is widespread. So widespread that no minister, MP, MLA, bureaucrat or police official speaks freely on his or her official mobile phone. Most of them have two or three mobiles, it is reliably learnt.
File photo of BJP leader Amit Shah. (Ashok Dutta/ HT)
“The Gujarat Police, IB, Anti-Terrorist Squad and Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch are the main agencies involved in carrying out massive illegal surveillance on persons specified by the political bosses. They track movements, tap mobile phones, get locations and call detail records (CDRs) from the mobile phone service providers,” a top official said, adding that he himself prefers the BSNL landline phone at his residence when he wants to speak about confidential matters.
The extent of snooping is so pervasive that Gujarat’s director general of police Amitabh Pathak was shocked to learn in May that his own police officials had obtained call detail records of as many as 93,000 mobile phone numbers without his knowledge since December 2012.
As soon as he got to know of this, Pathak issued a circular authorising only officers of the level of superintendent of police and above to obtain CDRs from mobile service providers.
“The Gujarat government has an extensive illegal phone tapping and surveillance network in the country. Not only political opponents and rivals but even Modi administration bureaucrats, industrialists and senior police officials are not spared from illegal surveillance,” Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia said.
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Said Gordhan Zadaphia, who was the state’s minister of state for home during the 2002 communal riots and is currently leader of the Gujarat Parivartan Party, “It is well known how Modi rules the state. His iron grip on the government is largely based on the pervasive and rampant spying and illegal surveillance on people.”
Former IPS officer RB Sreekumar in his affidavit before the justice Nanavati commission probing the 2002 riots stated that when he was additional director general of the state IB immediately after the riots, chief minister Narendra Modi had asked him to have BJP leader Haren Pandya’s and Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela’s mobile phones tapped.
“He had given me oral instructions to tap the mobile of Haren Pandya and Shankersinh Vaghela but I had refused on the grounds that there is proper procedure to be followed before tapping mobile phones,” the former IPS officer stated in the affidavit.
Surveillance was particularly extensive during Amit Shah’s time as junior home minister from 2003 to 2010 and there were maximum complaints of illegal surveillance, phone tapping and tracking movements of Modi’s political rivals within the BJP and in the Congress.
“I had raised the issue in the assembly. The state government brought in a private company as the government’s main mobile service provider while kicking out BSNL, which was not cooperating on illegal tapping without following the laid-down procedures,” former leader of the opposition Shaktisinh Gohil said.
As a retired IAS officer put it: “Amitbhai used to directly instruct SP-level officers in either the ATS, crime branch or state IB regarding surveillance and phone tapping. He never allowed the laid-down procedures to be followed in such cases.”
Interestingly, during Amit Shah’s tenure, promotee Gujarat IPS officials like DG Vanzara, Abhay Chudasama – both in jail in connection with the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case – or GL Singhal, an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case but out on bail used to get surveillance and snooping assignments from Shah.
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