Government on Friday turned down in the Supreme Court the plea of Tata Group Chief Ratan Tata's for steps to stop the publication in the media of the leaked transcripts of tapped conversations between him, his corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and others.
It also made clear that the income tax department cannot take action against any cell phone service provider who may have been responsible for "unauthorised supply of information".
It is for telecom or any other competent ministry to look into it, the government said in an eight-page affidavit filed in the court. "It is not possible or practical for the government to take steps to retrieve the various copies of some of the transcripts which have appeared in the print media or in the electronic media and which are being circulated on the internet," the affidavit said.
The affidavit was filed in response to the notice issued by the court on December 2 on a petition filed by Ratan Tata seeking a ban on further publication of the tapes in the media and action against those responsible for leaking them.
The government maintained that conversations were recorded as part of the surveillance ordered by the Directorate General of Income Tax (Investigation) following a complaint received by the finance minister on November 16, 2007 alleging that Radia had within a short span of nine years built up a business empire worth Rs 300 crore.
It was also alleged that she was an agent of foreign intelligence agencies and she was indulging in anti-national activities. "Secrecy and security have been maintained and the integrity and safety of the data in electronic form have been ensured through proper checks in the systems through which the recordings have taken place," the government said in the 8-page affidavit.
While maintaining that electronic intercepts made by the income tax department had never in the past appeared in the media, the affidavit said an inquiry was in progress into the leakage of the tapped conversations between Radia and others.
"Nevertheless, an inquiry into this matter is in progress and on the basis of the material available, there is no reason to believe that the telephone intercepts have been leaked from the income tax department," the affidavit said.
"It said the petition has been filed on the issue on the assumption that the authority would be within its power to wiretap and record such conversation. "These respondents (Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Directorate General of Income Tax) have taken every step to ensure that what was recorded by them stayed in their safe custody," the affidavit said.
Government had last week placed before the apex court in a sealed cover all the recorded tapes containing the conversation between Radia and others for its preservation.
In today's affidavit, government maintained that there was "no question of the destruction of the records since the investigation in respect of the action points emanating from the conversation have not yet been completed by the income tax department as well as other investigation agencies."
However on action against those who have leaked the tapes, government said the income tax department has no powers to act against the service providers for "unauthorised supply of the information".
"As regards the service providers, the income tax department has no powers with regard to the service provides and if it is established that any service provider was responsible for the unauthorised supply of the information, the ministry of telecommunications or any other competent will have to take further action," the affidavit said..
It gave the details as to how 180 days of Radia's conversations were recorded from August 20, 2008 onwards for 60 days and the same was further extended from October 19 for a period of 60 days. Later on May 8, 2009, a fresh proposal for putting on surveillance was ordered for 60 days from May 11.
The government further said in the affidavit that as per the laid down guidelines, all law enforcement agencies are required to share information and records relating to matters involving national security, terrorism, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion etc.
"Accordingly, the income tax department shares information in this case with relevant agencies, viz the Intelligence Bureau and CBI," the affidavit said.
Following it, the Director General of Income Tax ( Investivation) wrote to Intelligence Bureau on November 16, 2009 saying that some of the intercepted conversations of Radia were "quite sensitive".
The same day, CBI too wrote to the Director General of Income Tax (Investivation) saying "certain middle men, including one Niira Radia of Neosis Consultancy, were actively involved," and requested the IT department to share with it Radia's recorded conversations.
Detailing various communications between the DGIT (Investigations) and CBI over requests for mutual exchange of information relating to intercepted telephone conversations of Radia, the affidavit said CBI was handed over the 1450 call records containing about 100 hours of talks between May 12, 2009, to July 9, 2009.
Later in May, 2010, CBI was handed over "a copy of the entire recording consisting of about 5800 calls on the telephone of Radia for the period from August 20, 2008, to July 9, 2009."
At this juncture, the affidavit said the first report on Radia's tape appeared in the media in April 2010. "It may be mentioned that in April 2010, it was first reported in the media that the telephonic conversations of Radia and other persons had been intercepted by the Income tax Department and it had been shared with CBI," said the affidavit.