The 2009 surveillance by the Gujarat police of a woman on the alleged instructions of Amit Shah, the then minister of state for home, as reported by two news portals on November 15, appears to have been conducted without the knowledge of two key officials involved in the chain of legal authorisation. This may dent the BJP’s defence of the operation as a legitimate exercise to “protect” her, as.
well as the party’s attempts to shield its prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from damage related to the case.
In the states, all phone tapping requests must be cleared by the seniormost official in the home department as mandated by the Indian Telegraph Act and a 1996-Supreme Court judgment. During the period the young woman was put under surveillance, Balwant Singh, as the additional chief secretary (home), Gujarat, was the man in charge. “I was not aware of any such surveillance on anybody by the state police agencies,” Singh told HT when specifically asked about this woman. Without his authorisation, any phone tap would have been patently illegal.
The laws also added layers of safeguards to prevent misuse by setting up a monitoring committee headed by the chief secretary with the revenue and law secretaries as its members. HT repeatedly tried to reach D Rajgopalan, who was chief secretary in 2009, but he did not respond to numerous phone calls or to a fax sent to his office. He is the state’s chief information commissioner at present.
If Singh is not aware of any authorisation, how did the telephone companies allow the phone tapping by the state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS)?
When HT contacted the general managers of the three principal telephone companies in Ahmedabad, they declined to comment.
Another official who could have known about any authorisation, former Ahmedabad police commissioner SK Saikia, told news channel NDTV that he would have been aware of the surveillance if it was granted. “If the phone tap had followed the proper route I would have been aware. Everything has to be processed through the Commissioner of Police and state intelligence, and permission taken through the Home Department.”
AK Sharma, then Inspector General in the state Intelligence Bureau (IB), should have been in the loop too. But he ducked questions. “I am out of station and will be back next week so can’t talk right now.”
A top home department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the then minister of state for home “Amit bhai (Shah) never used the regular procedure in such sensitive assignments. He directly used to deal with SP-level police officers assigned the job to them without involving bureaucrats or even the DGP.”
HT also attempted to contact Shah for his comments, but his PA said that the BJP general secretary was busy in a meeting.
Police sources also told HT that nearly two dozen policemen in plain clothes were deployed to keep the young woman under watch during her visits to the state. Most of them were from the Gujarat police IB or the crime branch, supervised by GL Singhal, who was then the SP with ATS.
The surveillance was quite thorough and intrusive said officials familiar with it. “The policemen used to follow the young woman on motorbikes or private cars would also watch her in movie theatres while sitting a few rows away from her,” a source in the state IB told HT. “They would keep tabs on her hotel and also tracked details of her shopping when she was visiting shopping malls. Flight seats would be allotted to ensure that the policemen were on board when she flew out of the city,” the source added.