Eight months after audio clips of alleged horse trading and accusations that the BJP was trying to topple chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s government, the Rajasthan government has confirmed that phone tapping did take place.
The government confirmation came in reply to a question asked during the assembly session in August last year. The government in its reply posted on the Rajasthan assembly website said that phones were tapped after taking permission from the appropriate authorities.
The government has not clarified whose phones were put under surveillance. It merely said that all cases of phone tapping till November 2020 have been reviewed at the chief secretary level.
The question about phone tapping had been asked by BJP MLA Kalicharan Saraf in August last year to which the home department gave a reply. The reply was posted in the assembly website but was not given in writing to the MLA.
Since the question was asked in August last year, it is being viewed in context of the rebellion led by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot in July last year.
After Pilot’s rebellion against the state leadership, the Congress alleged that the BJP was helping Pilot and his loyalist MLAs to unseat Gehlot.
While Pilot and his MLAs camped in a hotel near Manesar, the Congress MLAs were shifted to a hotel in Jaisalmer. The Gehlot camp MLAs had released audio clips of an alleged conversation between union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and MLAs Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh, both from the Pilot camp.
The conversation in the audio clips revolved around toppling the Congress government and exchange of money. However, no voice test of the leaders was done.
The Pilot camp had accused the Gehlot government of tapping phones of some MLAs staying in Jaisalmer but the government had at the time denied that it was intercepting calls of MLAs.
Saraf told media that he had asked the question in August last year but he has not received any written reply till date. "I can comment only when I get a written reply from the government," he said.
Saraf’s question was: “Is it correct that cases of phone tapping have come up in the past few days? If yes, under what law and on whose orders? Place the entire details on the table of the house.”
In its reply, the government said, “In the interest of public safety or public order, telephone calls are intercepted after approval by the competent officer under section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and section 419(A) of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007 and section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Rajasthan police have carried out phone tapping under these provisions after obtaining permission from the competent authority. Phones put under surveillance are reviewed by a committee headed by the chief secretary. Till now, review of the cases of phone surveillance and phone tapping till November has been done.