Phone-tap storm brews in Himachal

Shimla, Feb. 1: An interim probe report on alleged phone-tapping in Himachal Pradesh during P.K. Dhumal's earlier BJP regime suggests that conversations of some rival political leaders were recorded, sources said.

The findings of the probe, ordered by Virbhadra Singh's Congress government on January 1, have indicated that deleted audio files recovered from the computer hard disks of the technical wing of the state police were tapped conversations of some Congress leaders and bureaucrats, BJP dissidents and even journalists.

"The probe is in its final stage. Preliminary findings confirm recording of the conversations of some leaders and bureaucrats," a source said.

Congress leaders, including Virbhadra who was in the opposition for most of last year, had alleged that their phones were being tapped by the state police at the behest of the BJP government. A probe was ordered days after the Congress came to power last December.

On December 24 and 26, a dozen hard disks were seized from the offices of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau and the CID amid reports that tech-savvy police officers were deleting data from their computers.

Eight computers were seized on December 24 and four more two days later. A three-member probe team, headed by Visheshwar Sharma, the assistant director of the State Forensic Science Laboratory in Junga near Shimla, was formed on January1.

For a fortnight, the team worked on the computer hard disks to retrieve deleted data and recovered a sizeable chunk, sources said. The disks have now been sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Chandigarh to retrieve data that the Shimla team was not able to.

"Hard disks are being examined in the forensic laboratory. Action will be taken on the basis of the record and evidence," Virbhadra said.

Sources said the probe team was also inquiring whether the police officers involved had taken permission from required authorities under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. Some officers said to be close to the previous BJP government have already been shunted out.

Both the Centre and the state government are empowered to tap phones under Section 5 (2) of Indian Telegraphic Act, 1885.

In case of states:

Police can route a request to tap phones of an individual/individuals on allegations of wrong-doing that may amount to endangering national security or in case of existing evidence of serious crimes, including corruption or money laundering;

The request is routed through the additional director-general (intelligence) who is usually the nodal officer;

The request is made to the state home secretary who is the final authority on phone-tapping.

In case of the Centre:

Requests can be made by security/investigation agencies through respective nodal officers to the Union home secretary;

Request to be made in a sealed cover to the Union home secretary who is the final authority to grant permission;

Permission is initially granted for a maximum of 30 days. After that, a fresh request needs to be made.

Dhumal has refuted the phone-tap charges. "The BJP is ready to face a probe. No phone-tapping of any politician was done at the behest of the government."

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