New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to respond within 10 days to the petition filed by Tata chief Ratan Tata seeking a direction to the government to probe the leakage of audio tapes containing his private conversation with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and stop their further publication.
The apex court issued notices to union home secretary G K Pillai, CBI, income tax department and finance ministry asking them to file an affidavit on the issue and posted the matter for further hearing on 13 December.
The court also directed that two magazines - Open and Outlook, which had published the conversations, be made parties to the petition by Tata and issued notices to them.
Appearing for various government departments, attorney general G E Vahanvati accepted notices on their behalf.
During the hearing, the bench said the issues raised in the petition should not be left to academic exercise.
“We will hear them (two magazines). We will also hear the attorney general who is appearing in the matter. We are not in a hurry,” a bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly said.
The petition filed by Tata has not made the two magazines as the parties.
Appearing for Tata, senior advocate Harish Salve said, “We do not want any injunction against the media.”
However, the bench said, “Since we are examining the issue, we want to hear them also.”
At the outset, Salve said the petition raises a matter of immense importance - the interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution concerning right to life, which also includes the right to privacy.
He said Tata has not challenged the rights of recording by the statutory authority nor it he has challenged the use of transcript by the probe agencies.
“My concern is that the audio content of personal conversation should not be put into public domain,” Salve submitted.
He said all the conversation which has no relevance for the purpose for which it was recorded must be put out of media’s reach.
At this point, the bench asked from him, “What are these private conversations?”
Salve replied that there are various types of private conversations that have no concern with government files and cannot be made public.
He contended that the public disclosure of the conversations would violate Tata’s right to privacy.
In his petition, Tata has sought action against those involved in the leakage of the tapes, pointing out that such an act amounts to the infringement of his Fundamental Right to Life, which includes his right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.
He has contended that Radia’s phone was tapped for the purposes of alleged tax evasion and it cannot be used for any other purpose.
The petition has cited the apex court guidelines in PUCL case in which it was held that the phone surveillance can be done only for a specific purpose.
Tata has argued in the petition that making public his conversation with Radia also violates his another Fundamental Right involving his freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
In the wake of spectrum allocation scam which, according to the CAG, resulted in a loss of Rs1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer, some journals published the taped conversations that Radia had with various politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and journalists.
Transcripts of some of these tapes have also been published by various websites, stirring a controversy over the alleged nexus.