M A I N   N E W S

Phone tapping rocks Parliament; govt says it’s not eavesdropping
Both Houses adjourned after Oppn uproar
Aditi Tandon and Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 26
Amidst an almost routine spectre of disruptions in Parliament, the government today denied having authorised any telephone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders either by the previous UPA regime or this one. Due to the chaos, discussions on demands for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways were sacrificed.

Putting up a brave face in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led Opposition launched a scathing attack on the government seeking a prime ministerial clarification on phone-tapping charges, Home Minister P Chidambaram said the allegations couldn’t be substantiated by records of the agency concerned.

A news magazine had claimed that phones of leaders, including Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat were tapped by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) that was created for technical intelligence gathering in the aftermath of Kargil War.

Chidambaram, however, denied the charges after BJP veteran .LK Advani slammed the UPA in the Lower House saying the House would be satisfied only with an explanation from the PM. He equated the situation to Emergency days, seeking a law to stop such abuse of power by the government. Today was the fourth time (since the Parliament reassembled) that the Opposition sought the suspension of Question Hour. No one —- be it Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh or Raghuvansh Prasad —- was, however, interested in raising the issue in Zero Hour despite Speaker Meira Kumar repeatedly inviting them to speak. They were busy protesting in the Well.

The Home Minister, on his part, determinedly explained the government’s point after Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee told the Opposition that the PM would make a statement at 3.30 pm as he was meeting the Afghan President this morning. Grounded in the Well (Mayawati’s BSP was an exception in both Houses), the Opposition squandered the opportunity. Chidambaram was quick to fill in for the PM, and said the allegations had been thoroughly probed and nothing was found in the records of NTRO or elsewhere to substantiate them.

“Our intelligence agencies function under the law and are accountable to the government. Under the Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act, every case of monitoring of telephone or electronic communications has to be approved by the Union Home Secretary personally and subjected to review by a committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. Such monitoring may be necessary to fight crime, for national security, or for counter-terrorism effort, but is subject to multiple checks,” said Chidambaram.

The government promised to defend the right of privacy of every citizen and added that further inquiry was on into the said allegations. “If any evidence is found, the matter would be thoroughly investigated,” the Home Minister said. However, this didn’t amuse the Opposition that which stalled proceedings thrice in both Houses, finally shutting them down at 2 pm for the day.

In Rajya Sabha, BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu and SS Ahluwalia kept the steam going, with the latter saying the tapping of phones of politicians was a condemnable act. Here too, the PM’s explanation was sought but no order restored to let that happen.





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