A phone-tapping case in Himachal Pradesh has set alarms bells ringing for former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who is being seen as involved in the controversy.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh on Monday said the former chief minister could not absolve himself of blame. Mincing no words, he said that more than 1,000 telephones were tapped during the tenure of the previous BJP government.
"The privacy of certain political leaders was infringed upon. The number of phones tapped clearly indicated malafide intention of the then government," Virbhadra Singh told reporters here.
Clarifying his position, Dhumal told IANS that permission for tapping the phones was given by the home department, and the chief minister's office had nothing to do with it.
"Dhumal was also the home minister, so how can he deny responsibility or knowledge of the phone tapping? How can he say he had no knowledge (of the recording of calls)? It was his moral responsibility. The brain behind it all was the (former) chief minister's," Virbhadra Singh said.
A just-concluded inquiry of the state forensic science laboratory found that the previous government, in violation of the Indian Telegraph Act, recorded telephonic conversations of politicians, bureaucrats and other high-ranking people.
"Today I got the (forensic lab) report. I have told my officials to look into how many of them (phone conversations) were recorded without following due norms," Virbhadra Singh, who began his record sixth stint as chief minister on Dec 25, said.
The chief minister was categorical that approval to tap phones on such a large scale could not have been done by following due procedure.
"Nobody will be spared, no matter how high he may be. This is infringement of democratic rights, especially the right to privacy, which can't be tolerated," Virbhadra Singh said.
Official sources said the laboratory analysed data retrieved from the hard discs of computers seized from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters Dec 25, the day the incumbent chief minister assumed charge.
They said most of the conversations were of Congress leaders, who were then in the opposition.
The conversations of some top government functionaries, BJP dissidents and journalists also figured in the long list.
"What is clear is from this report is that the BJP government was indulging in a conspiracy of surveillance on senior opposition leaders. I was on the top of the list. There were even instances of bugging in my offices (in Himachal Bhawan) during my Chandigarh visits," he said.
Denying his involvement in phone-tapping case, Dhumal said: "The home secretary takes a call on whose phones should be put under observation, not the chief minister."