PC, Pranab to take final call on tapping

New Delhi: The government is planning to withdraw the telephone tapping powers of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and a decision in this regard is expected to be taken after Home Minister P Chidambaram has a word with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The move comes after a Committee of Secretaries, headed by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, had recommended that the CBDT be taken off the list of agencies which can file phone-tapping requests as tax evasion cases have no criminal liability, nor have any national security issue as these were only civil matters.

"The Home Minister will have a word with the Finance Minister before taking the final call as CBDT comes under the Finance Ministry," an official said.

The whole exercise is part of the the government`s effort to tighten the norms for authorised telephone interception after the leakage of transcripts and tapes of lobbyist Niira Radia, whose phones were put under surveillance between 2008-2009 by the CBDT.

The Committee of Secretaries unanimously feel that for income taxes evasion cases, there is no necessity for telephones tapping, which is authorised by the Union Home Secretary. If the Finance Ministry requires any phone to be tapped, the request could be filed through other wings like the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.

In many cases, the CBDT gave some reasons like the assesses having links with underworld for tapping the phone.

However, eventually such reasoning fall flat and nothing comes out after the tape, officials said.

Meanwhile, the government is also upgrading its telephone interception mechanism by installing superior technology to get a robust and leak-proof system.

Officials said private telecom operators have a cutting edge technology for interception and it could easily be traced who leaked the tapped conversation as it leaves behind the signature of the person.

The new telephone interception guidelines, which is being finalised have been circulated, among others, to all service providers. The guidelines include detailed instructions on the reasons that the departments/agencies have to cite while seeking the Home Ministry`s permission for telephone interception as well as precautions to be taken by the listed agencies on handling the tapes and transcripts of intercepted material to prevent leakage.

The fresh guidelines also mention a stricter scrutiny of applications filed by all agencies, first, by the Home Ministry and subsequently, by the review committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary.