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Apr 24, 2010 at 12:51am IST

Govt tapped phones of Pawar, 3 others

New Delhi: News magazine Outlook says its investigation has revealed the UPA has been listening in on the phones of at least four of the country's top leaders, a shocking list that includes the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh.

The politically cornered Union Minister and NCP leader Sharad Pawar's telephone conversations with IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi was tapped last fortnight, in the middle of the IPL controversy. The recorded conversations allegedly threw up inside details of the deals that were struck in the bidding process for the various IPL teams.

The UPA government used the the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) an intelligence agency created post Kargil war to gather political intelligence instead.

There's more, just before the crucial trust vote in the Indo-US nuke deal in June 2008, the government eavesdropped on the man who led the campaign to stop the deal and topple the government.

UPA ally Prakash Karat's phone was being tapped. An angry Karat wants intelligence gathering to come under Parliamentary oversight as the government is playing dirty.

Outlook editor Vinod Mehta says the government is becoming a dirty big brother. He said, "the public will have to be scared."

The more shocking of the revelations is that the government spied on its own. Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh's phone was tapped in 2007. While the conversation was innocuous, the concern is if the government machinery is being used to settle internal party scores.

The report says Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's phone was also tapped in October 2007. The Congress says the onus is on the government to respond. Congress spokesperson and MP Manish Tewari evaded a direct reply on the allegations made in the magazine's report.

"There is an absence of law governing the tapping of telephones. Even now tapping of phone is done in pursuance of the guidelines as laid down in a judgment of Supreme Court, so there is an eminent need to look at the whole thing afresh. There is a need to formulate a law so that the imperatives of national security and privacy both are addressed holistically," he said.

May be, an united Opposition may like to ask ask in Parlaiment when it reconvenes on Monday that if the absence of a law dealing with tapping make the government's actions ethical.

Senior BJP leader SS Alhuwalia says, "the government has access to such high end technology to fight external threats. Now it is being used to tap and trap political adversaries."

Next it could be you and me on the tapping tape. Did we hear someone say civil liberties?