Shinde outside Parliament on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi, March 1: Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today denied the government had tapped Arun Jaitley’s phone and told Parliament the issue was one of accessing the BJP leader’s call detail records, which police were investigating.
The controversy broke on February 14 when Delhi police lodged an FIR against one of its constables, Arvind Dabas, for allegedly misusing an assistant commissioner’s email ID to seek Jaitley’s call detail (or data) records from a mobile phone service provider. This had prompted the BJP allegations about Jaitley’s phone being tapped.
“The government is not tapping any MP’s phone,” Shinde told the Rajya Sabha. “What has been detected in the investigation by the Delhi police is not monitoring of telephone conversations, ordinarily called ‘tapping’, but the accessing of call data records... that is, details of the numbers called and received and the durations of the conversations.”
Opposition MPs, including the BJP and the Left members, however, attacked the government for allegedly allowing an intrusion into the privacy of the leader of the Rajya Sabha Opposition.
BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu compared Shinde’s statement to “a station house officer’s report”, noting he had referred only to the police investigation and not the conspiracy angle.
“Normally, the suspicion goes to the government. How can such activity take place without the knowledge of the government or its consent.... How can you be sure that phone-tapping did not take place?” Naidu asked.
The Samajwadi Party, which had moved the notice that prompted Shinde’s statement, was in a combative mood. “Where are the other names (of people whose call records were sought)?” Ramgopal Yadav asked.
He wondered why a constable would seek the call records of such a powerful politician, hinting that the government was trying to hide a larger conspiracy.
Dabas was arrested after the service provider got back to the assistant commissioner. He is said to have told interrogators that a freelance detective named Neeraj Nayar had put him up to the job.
Nayar and two others, Nitish Singh and alleged mastermind Anurag Singh, have been arrested. Anurag had been linked also to the alleged tapping of Amar Singh’s phone in 2005 — which may explain the Samajwadis’ interest in the case.
CPM member Sitaram Yechury told the House his call records, too, had been sought without authorisation.
Shinde welcomed a suggestion to bar service providers from giving out any Rajya Sabha member’s call records without permission from the House’s Chairperson. He said only the Union and state home secretaries were authorised to approve phone-tapping.
The government had been deeply embarrassed in June 2011 when the finance ministry under Pranab Mukherjee had alleged that “bugs” had been planted in a North Block conference room to eavesdrop on him. The ministry had hired private detectives to probe the discovery of the listening devices.