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Spied-on woman defends Gujarat snoop

- Court plea blames controversy on ‘vested interests’, seeks stay on probes

New Delhi, May 6: The woman at the centre of “snoopgate” today defended the surveillance by the Narendra Modi government in the Supreme Court while seeking a stay on the Centre’s planned judicial probe and the one ordered in Gujarat.

A joint petition by the woman architect and her father accused “vested interests” of creating the controversy for “extraneous considerations” and reaffirmed that the father had himself requested the 2009 surveillance for “security reasons”.

If the petition introduces an irony into the controversy that has snowballed into the electoral arena, it also highlighted the irony of the woman’s situation.

She is now happily married and wishes to be left alone, she said. Yet she and her family’s “right to privacy” is being assailed “daily” by people running a “sinister and defamatory campaign in the electronic and print media” — all in the name of “protecting the petitioners’ right to privacy”.

The two-judge bench of Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and N.V. Ramana sought responses from the Union and Gujarat governments by Friday but declined to stay the probes immediately.

“Just now we can’t do anything,” it said. “We’ll see on Friday.”

The petition said the woman’s family had had to shift house four times in the past one year because of the media scrutiny and the public campaign.

She and her father had had their email accounts hacked and received scores of indecent calls from across the country, it added.

To the petitioners’ request for a gag on the media from reporting on the controversy, the court said it could only “request” the media not to publish the woman’s name or identify her family but could not muzzle it.

“Why did you come out with her name in the petition?” the bench told the petitioners’ lawyer Ranjit Kumar.

A sting operation last year had accused Gujarat police of snooping on the woman at the behest of a Modi aide, directed by his “saheb”.

Fearful of the possible political fallout, the state government announced a probe by a two-member judicial commission whose report is still awaited.

Last December, the Union government announced it would form its own probe and, after a delay of months, recently said it would appoint a judge to head it before the May 16 election results.

As the BJP howled in protest at the alleged attempt to target Modi and even two ruling allies advised against such a move in the last days of the government, the Centre backtracked yesterday.

‘Crossfire victims’

“In this crossfire,” the petitioners have become “collateral damage” and “are subjected to a violation of their fundamental rights on a daily basis,” said the petition, moved through lawyer Bina Madhavan.

It said the family had never felt the surveillance had breached any of their rights and were thankful to the state government for its “timely, appropriate and adequate safety measures”.

But a campaign by vested interests has ended up “tarnishing the reputation” of the petitioners and infringed on their “right to privacy, causing them immense anguish (and) suffering”.

“The petitioners respectfully submit that under the guise of protecting the petitioners’ privacy, every action undertaken by the so-called custodians for and on behalf of the petitioners has resulted in a breach of privacy, making life impossible on a day-to-day basis,” the petition said.

“Not only the petitioners but other family members are also facing immense mental and psychological trauma for no fault of action attributable to the petitioners.”

The petition said the family had made things clear to the state commission for women when it conducted a probe. It said the family had written to the National Commission for Women last December asking it to close its parallel inquiry, but in vain.

It said the petitioners “were shocked to learn from newspapers… that the central government is also contemplating to constitute a commission of inquiry” and sought a stay on any move by the Centre.