The Centre on Thursday decided to appoint a commission of inquiry into the "snooping" on a woman in Gujarat allegedly at the behest of Bharatiya Janata Party's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
The decision was taken by the Union cabinet under Section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, which empowers the Centre to set up such a commission. It is likely to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and will submit its report within three months.
The cabinet has decided to constitute the inquiry into the incidents of physical/electronic surveillance in the states of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi allegedly without authorisation. The proposal for setting up the probe panel was mooted by the home ministry, which had suggested that it should be headed by a sitting or a retired Supreme Court Judge.
The Centre's decision over-rules the contention of the Gujarat government that it was a state matter and it had already appointed a commission for probe into the matter. The Union cabinet's decision came against the backdrop of fresh claims that the alleged snooping was conducted beyond the state of Gujarat.
Web portal gulail.com had claimed on Wednesday that the snooping of the woman allegedly at the behest of Modi was not only confined to Gujarat but extended to Karnataka as well.
The portal, which along with another portal cobrapost. com, had first exposed the matter, alleged that the Gujarat police had in 2009 contacted its Karnataka counterpart during the chief ministership of B S Yedyurrapa for intercepting the telephone of the woman when she was living in Bangalore.
Under Section 3 of the Act, the Centre cannot appoint another commission to inquire the same matter for as long as the commission appointed by the state government is functioning, "unless the central government is of the opinion that the scope of the inquiry should be extended to two or more states."
The illegal surveillance on the woman architect, allegedly by the Gujarat police was apparently in violation of phone-tapping rules as it was reportedly carried out without the mandatory permission from the Centre when she went out of the state.
The web portal had also claimed that the move was in violation of Indian Telegraph Rule 419 (A) and the Gujarat government’s own notification (dated 29th March 1997), which clearly states that a phone can be tapped only with the written authorisation of the Union home secretary or state home secretary.
The Gujarat police appeared to have tapped the telephone of the woman when she was also in Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, besides Gujarat, without taking any authorisation from the Union home secretary, the sources said.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has already said many women organisations and NGOs had given representations to President Pranab Mukherjee demanding a probe into alleged snooping on the woman and the President had referred the applications to the Home Ministry. However, the father of the woman had told the National Commission of Women that his daughter does not want any probe into the issue, as there was no encroachment into her privacy.
Inquiry commission a ‘witch-hunt to oppress Modi’
Slamming the government for setting up an inquiry commission, the BJP said it smacks of "political vindictiveness" and "witch-hunt" used to "oppress" Modi, which will have an affect on the Centre-state relations.
The opposition party also attacked the Congress of using "fascist" and "emergency-like" mindset in settling political scores with Modi by initiating such a probe which is already a matter under investigation of a state government-appointed inquiry.
"It is a clear case of political vindictiveness, it is a witch-hunt....Clearly it is the fascist Congress with its emergency mindset that has taken such a decision. The BJP shall meet all the challenges and fight at every platform," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters.
"It is also an attack on the Centre-state relations," she said, adding that "it is politically motivated and not for justice".
Questioning the rationale behind establishing the inquiry, she said the enthusiasm with which it has been set up clearly shows where the government's priorities lie. "The setting up of an inquiry into a matter which is entirely a state subject, when an inquiry has already been initiated, the Union government is showing extra-ordinary exuberance. It smacks of the Congress party's attitude to use any method to oppress its political opponent. It is a clear case of Congress getting back at Narendra Modi," she said.
The BJP leader said the party had hoped that after the defeat of the Congress in the recent assembly polls, it would have learnt its lessons but it is continuing with its "emergency" and "fascist" mindset.
She said the Congress was rattled after being repeatedly rejected by the public and is thus now using every method to settle political scores with Modi as it is unable to politically match him.
Image: Gujarat CM Narendra Modi with his aide Amit Shah