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Cabinet secy: No tapping to only detect tax evasion
April, 28th 2011

Reacting to the controversy on whether the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) should have powers to intercept telephone calls, the cabinet secretary today answered in the negative. K M Chandrasekhar clarified that the law does not permit telephone tapping and monitoring of conversations to merely detect tax evasion.

He recommended that either CBDT should be removed from the list of authorised agencies or be allowed to tap phones only under specific conditions. The cabinet secretariat said the recommendations were in line with the observations of the Supreme Court.

There are specific laws and rules that contain provisions for detection of unaccounted wealth and evasion of taxes and interception of telephones without public emergency or public safety being at stake is not in accordance with the law, as exhaustively interpreted by the Honble Supreme Court, the secretariat said in a release today.

It has added that the recommendations made by the cabinet secretary reiterate the established legal position, which should not be seen in terms of conflicts between individuals or interest groups.

In the light of controversies on account of interception of certain telephone numbers by CBDT associated with the 2G spectrum scam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had directed Chandrasekhar to look into the rules, procedures and mechanism to avoid the misuse.

The secretariat says after examining all relevant issues, the cabinet secretary has recommended further comprehensive refinement of rules and procedures, in addition to providing for stronger penal provisions for violations by amending the law.

It was also recommended to either remove the CBDT from the list of authorised agencies in respect of telephone interception as the income tax laws fall within civil jurisdiction and do not always impinge on public safety or to specify stipulations regarding the extent of surveillance allowed to the agency, including the level at which requests are to be made for authorisation by the Home Secretary.

Explaining the factual position associated with the issue, the secretariat has also pointed out that the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutional validity of interceptions and monitoring under Section 5(2) of the Act through its order dated 18.12.1996 in a Writ Petition (C) No.256/1991 by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Vs the Union of India.

It has also observed that the right to hold a telephone conversation in the privacy of ones home or office without interference can certainly be claimed as Right to Privacy, and accordingly, held that telephone tapping would infringe the Right to Life and Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression enshrined in Articles 21 and 19(1)(a) respectively of the Constitution of India, unless it is permitted under the procedure established by law.

The cabinet secretariat has also mentioned that the Supreme Court had recalled its observations in the case of Hukum Chand Shyamlal Vs Union of India and others, 1976 stating that economic emergency was not one of those matters expressly mentioned in the statute, and further that mere economic emergency may not necessarily amount to a public emergency and justify action under Section 5(2) of the Act, unless it raised problems relating to the matters indicated in the section.

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