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Phone-bug ruckus at VK house

- Major who went to remove secure exchange detained by ex-chief’s family
Major R Vikram outside the residence of former army chief VK Singh, whose family detained the officer in the house for several hours. (PTI)

New Delhi, Jan. 5: An army officer was today confined in the house of General (retired) V.K. Singh for several hours by the former army chief’s family and associates who also called the media alleging he may have bugged the telephone switchboard.

The army said the officer, a major from the 1 Signal Corps attached to Army Headquarters, was sent to remove the secure telephone exchange but a misunderstanding resulted because neither Singh nor his family had been informed.

Within the army, there is a feeling that the major who was sent on official duty was unfairly confined and treated by Singh’s family.

“The staff in the annexe saw the major removing some parts from the telephone exchange and raised the alarm. The officer was asked what he was doing and he replied he had orders,” Vishwajit Singh, a member of Singh’s legal team, said.

Singh’s wife and a daughter were in the house at Delhi Cantonment when the officer had arrived with a soldier around 10.30am to remove the exchange, an army source said. He was in uniform.

The family later shut the doors and asked for the main gate to be bolted and instructed the staff that the major should not be allowed to step out. Singh was said to have been in Gujarat at the time.

The major left the house at 5.30pm only after the army’s Delhi Area Commander was sent to apologise to Singh’s family for the alleged “trespass”.

Members of Singh’s staff contacted the commanding officer of the 1 Signals Corps who said he had “orders from above”. The staff also contacted the Signals Officer in Charge at Army Headquarters who too said “there are orders from above”, an associate of the former chief said.

Singh’s wife is also understood to have contacted the defence minister’s wife.

An Army Headquarters source said the telephone exchange was being removed because the government had withdrawn the Z-category security cover that Singh had been given. The Z-category security cover includes a secure telephone system.

An official army news release said: “Consequent to the downgrading of his security status on 30 Nov 12, as part of pruning down the resources, a signals party under an officer went to give direct communication and remove the exchange.”

It further said: “Apparently due to a miscommunication, advance information did not reach the residence of Gen (Retd) V.K. Singh. The lack of advance information caused slight resentment. The matter was amicably resolved by the intervention of General Officer Commanding, Delhi Area, who placed the issue in its correct perspective.

“The army respects all its retired chiefs and senior officers & will continue to do so.”

The removal of the security cover last month was a sensitive issue. Singh said last week: “I do not know what prompted the government to withdraw the security cover but I am surprised that the withdrawal was being announced through the media.”

The incident comes about two months after Singh wrote to defence minister A.K. Antony that his privacy was being infringed, his guests were being harassed with frequent body searches, and that he suspected his telephone had been tapped at the official residence allotted to him.

In December, Singh had joined a demonstration against the Delhi bus rape and murder, after which the police alleged he had incited crowds and named him in an FIR.

The general retired on May 31 this year after a controversial tenure highlighted by his case against the government in the Supreme Court over his date of birth.

Singh himself is alleged to have set up a special unit with off-air interceptors during his tenure as army chief. An inquiry ordered by Army Headquarters is trying to establish whether the interceptors were used to tap communication of important government functionaries at the peak of the row over his date of birth.

Since retirement, the former chief has shared the dais with Anna Hazare, called for the dissolution of Parliament and its gherao, and is now an organiser of an anti-government rally to be held in Patna on January 30.