Under fire from the opposition on the alleged phone tapping of some politicians and high-profile lobbyist Niira Radia in two unrelated instances, the government on Thursday said it would consider changes in the existing rules to strengthen citizens’ right to privacy.
Home Minister P Chidambaram informed the Rajya Sabha the government will review the National Technical Research Organisation’s functioning, which is alleged to have tapped the phones of some senior leaders as reported by a newsmagazine. The minister, however, made it clear the Central Board of Direct Taxes and enforcement agencies are empowered to intercept phone calls.
He was replying to a three-hour stormy debate over a newspaper report on Wednesday that there was proof Radia had several conversations with telecom minister A. Raja over 2G spectrum allocation.
The CBI is investigating a case of collusion between telecom officials and operators in the grant of 2G spectrum licences in 2007-8, as first reported by Hindustan Times.
And in this connection, the CBI sought details of telephonic conversations of Radia tapped by income tax investigators.
Letters exchanged by the CBI and the I-T Department over these investigations were published by a newspaper on Wednesday, leading to a storm in Parliament.
Though Radia was not named in the House, as rules do not permit any allegation against an individual who is not present to defend himself or herself, the minister (Raja) was repeatedly referred to by MPs.
“It has become necessary to review whether the NTRO be shifted from National Security Adviser to a minister who will be accountable to Parliament,” Chidambaram said.
The government would certainly find out whether any unauthorised interception took place, he said. “The matter will be thoroughly investigated and action taken against those responsible,” he said.
On the opposition’s allegations over the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the Home Minister said the issue was already being investigated.
Reacting to the charge of involvement of businessmen, lobbyists and journalists in government decision making and even in the appointment of ministers, Chidambaram said: “We are frightened of middlemen, and had done away with them even in defence deals.”
Raja made an appearance in the House and even answered a question on the 3G spectrum allocation. “Procedure followed is fully transparent...everything is transparent,” the minister said in response to a question.
In a separate development, the Tata Group defended its association with the embattled Radia.
“All of Vaishnavi’s (Radia’s public relations firm) interactions with the Government on behalf of Tata group have been related to seeking a level playing field in areas where vested interests have caused distortions in policy… never involved payouts or seeking undue favors,” Tata Sons said in a statement.
The Tata group was named in some reports for services provided to it by Vaishnavi.