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Govt needs tapping powers: PM
Directs Cabinet Secretary to look into leaks to media, allays India Inc’s concerns
Sanjeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi , December 14
Breaking his silence on the Radia tapes controversy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the Cabinet Secretary had been asked to look into all aspects of phone tapping by governmental agencies and report back to the Cabinet within the next one month.

Speaking at the inauguration of India Corporate Week 2010 here today, the Prime Minister also sought to calm frayed nerves in the corporate sector rattled by the tapping and subsequent leaks of phone conversations of leading industrialists, politicians, journalists and lobbyists coming into the public domain.

Tata group chairman Ratan Tata has moved the Supreme Court seeking to stop publication of his conversations in the tapes citing invasion of privacy.

Noting the concern among the business community, the Prime Minister said: “I am aware of the nervousness in some sections of the corporate sector arising out of the powers conferred upon governmental authorities to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering.”

Even as the Prime Minister defended the use of phone tapping, he cautioned on its misuse and the need for proper systems and rules. “While these powers are needed in the world that we live in, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well defined rules, procedures and mechanisms so that they are not misused”.

Addressing the need to strengthen systems, the Prime Minister said legal mechanisms already existed and they were in place but they needed to be strengthened for more effective enforcement. “I am asking the Cabinet Secretary to look into these issues and report back to the Cabinet within the next one month”. Given the recent concerns that phones may be tapped by non-government players, the PM also said there was a need to look for solutions through technology to prevent access of telephone conversation to systems outside the institutional framework of government.

Singh cited the issue of ethical deficit in business which has also been a matter of heated debates given the current atmosphere of scams in the country. “I am sure our business leaders are aware that business practices of some corporate houses have recently come under intense public scrutiny for their perceived ethical deficit,” he said.

Last week, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had stirred the debate of ethics and governance to a corporate audience. Pointing to the deficit on this front, the Prime Minister said ethical and responsible behaviour needed to become the cornerstone of corporate behaviour and large companies had to set the pace in this regard. The rest of the corporate sector would quickly follow as this would become a national norm, he added.

Business leaders welcomed Singh's assurance on the issue of phone tapping and his emphasis on tightening procedures to prevent leakage of such recorded conversations. “It is a welcome statement coming from the Prime Minister. It (phone tapping) was indeed a concern, but now the Prime Minister has come out with his support, we feel reassured,” ITC Chairman YC Deveshwar said. Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj said, “Public interest is important, but so is privacy, dignity and self respect of individuals.” Godrej Group chairman Adi Godrej said phone tapping should not be done indiscriminately. The CII also said there had to be transparency and an authority to decide under what circumstances phones could be tapped, and for how long and oversee the procedure.





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