Phone tapping rings alarm bells for Dhumal
By Vishal Gulati, Shimla, March 9 : After an audio cassette was recovered that projected Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in bad light, the mass phone tapping in Himachal Pradesh has sent alarm bells ringing for his predecessor, Prem Kumar Dhumal.
For almost three years, Virbhadra Singh remained on tenterhooks. It was only a day before his swearing-in for the sixth time as chief minister last December that he was acquitted by a Shimla court.
Political observers now say the tapping of phones of politicians and government functionaries during the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has given a lever to the chief minister against his predecessor.
"A corruption case was registered against Virbhadra Singh and his wife on the basis of an audio cassette purportedly containing their telephonic conversations regarding monetary transactions. Ultimately he came out clean. Now he has got the chance to pay his adversaries back in their own coin," an observer said.
The chief minister has already said action will be initiated against all those, including mobile companies, who were involved in the surveillance of phones during the BJP regime.
"As many as 1,371 phones were tapped. Out of these, the home department gave permission to tap only 170 phones. If the director general of police and former chief minister (Dhumal) are found involved, the government would initiate action against them," Virbhadra Singh told reporters in Chandigarh earlier this week.
On being asked about the names of the people whose phones were tapped, he replied: "My phones had been tapped and rooms bugged."
The government last week handed over phone tapping investigation to the vigilance bureau.
Chief Secretary Sudripta Roy said here Thursday that the government would register a case after investigations are completed.
"As phone tapping is a sensitive issue, violating the right to privacy of an individual, the state government would lodge an FIR (first information report) after thorough investigations," Roy said.
He said the state Crime Investigation Department (CID) and the vigilance department had unauthorisedly and illegally tapped certain phones.
Conversations of some BJP dissidents and journalists were also recorded.
Director General of Police I.D. Bhandari, who was heading the CID when the illegal phone tapping took place, was removed last month.
An eerie silence prevails in the corridors of power here: From top functionary to peon, everybody is guessing whose phones were tapped.
"The talk in the secretariat these days is only on the phone tapping issue. Officials are guessing about the conversations, ranging from the official to the romantic," an official said.
Journalists too are baffled and curious, and many have been asking the chief minister who among them feature on the list of people whose phones were tapped.
The chief minister has already clarified that most of the conversations tapped were private ones.
Virbhadra Singh said the names of people under surveillance would be made public after the probe.
Dhumal has avoided talking to the media on this issue and has maintained that the government should conduct a probe through a sitting high court judge.
The computers in the CID and vigilance bureau offices were seized on the night of December 24-25 last year, hours before Virbhadra Singh assumed charge as chief minister.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)