Congress seeks time-bound probe into Himachal phone-tapping

Shimla, March 5 (IANS) The Congress in Himachal Pradesh Tuesday demanded a speedy probe into the mass phone-tapping of politicians and government officials during the previous BJP regime.

The BJP, in turn, asked the government to make public the orders, if any, issued on tapping phones.

"The BJP has just made an issue over accessing its leader Arun Jaitley's call detail records, whereas it is silent where there was mass tapping of phones. It is simply the criminalisation of administration," state Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu told reporters here.

He alleged that during the BJP tenure, more than 1,600 phones of politicians, mainly of Congress leaders, officials and journalists were put under surveillance at the behest of then chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

"The act of the BJP government is an offence against the innocent people of the state," Sukhu said.

The party, in a memorandum submitted to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, demanded a time-bound inquiry into the phone tapping.

Defending the previous government, BJP spokesperson Ganesh Dutt said the government was free to conduct any inquiry.

"We have already said the government should conduct the probe through the sitting judge of the high court. Why it is not ordering the probe," Dutt told reporters here.

He said the previous government never issued any order to put phones under surveillance illegally.

"If our government passed any order to tap phones, the present government is free to make it public. They are just trying to fool the public by raking up this issue and not fulfilling its election promises," he said.

The state government last week handed over the probe into the phone tapping issue to the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau.

Virbhadra Singh said the privacy of certain political leaders was infringed upon. The number of phones tapped clearly indicated the malafide intention of the then government, he said.

He claimed even his phones were tapped and rooms bugged when he was in the opposition.

The second and final report into the illegal phone tapping March 1 said 350 telephones were tapped in six months, ahead of the assembly elections November last year.

The total number of phones tapped in violation of the Indian Telegraph Act was over 1,100, said officials.

The reports, prepared by the state forensic science laboratory, were on the basis of data retrieved from seized computer hard disks of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and vigilance bureau.

Director General of Police I.D. Bhandari, who was heading the CID when the illegal phone tapping took place, was removed immediately after the first report came out.