The Supreme Court today said the tapped telephone conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with politicians, corporate honchos and others needs to be scrutinised by the CBI to find out any element of criminality.
A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya said that it had gone through transcripts of some of the conversations which were not personal and innocuous in nature.
"We have gone through some of the conversations. Some of them are innocuous but others are not. It needs to be
scrutinised. It cannot be done by us. Even if we shuffle through, it would take hours," the bench said, adding the voluminous transcripts "need to be scrutinised to find out any element of criminality in them".
It asked the CBI to name officers who will be available to scrutinise the documents. Additional Solicitor General Haren
Rawal, who appears for CBI, was not present in the court to respond to the query.
The bench, thereafter, adjourned the hearing for February 13 and expressed displeasure on non-appearance of Rawal in the case. Rawal's junior told the court that he has gone to Lucknow to appear in a case in the High Court there.
The bench, during the hearing, made it clear that scrutiny would be limited to those conversations which pertain to a criminal element and relating to interest of justice.
"It should be confined to issues relating to criminal element and interest of justice," the bench said when senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for former Tata chief Ratan Tata, said private conversations should be excluded from scrutiny.
"Utmost secrecy must be maintained while it is being scrutinised," Salve said.
He was referring to various conversations that took place between Tata and Radia which are allegedly personal in nature.
The bench also made it clear that any criminal elements in the conversations would be taken to the court of law.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, submitted that SIT should be formed to conduct scrutiny of the transcription.
"There are some conversations in public domain and those are hardly personal in nature. They relate to illegality and shed significant light on how government decisions are being influenced and how institutions run in the country," he said.
The bench, however, said that the plea for SIT is premature and it might be considered at a later stage.
Excerpts from the tapes earlier leaked in the media had sparked a political storm with the conversations bringing out the nature of corporate lobbying and also its purported impact on politics.
The income tax department placed transcripts of 5,800 tapped telephone conversations in 50 sealed envelopes.
The conversations were recorded as part of surveillance of Radia's phone on a complaint to Finance Minister on November 16, 2007 alleging that within a span of nine years she had built up a business empire worth Rs 300 crore.
The government had recorded 180 days of Radia's conversations--first from August 20, 2008 onwards for 60 days and then from October 19 for another 60 days. Later, on May 11, 2009, her phone was again put on surveillance for another 60 days following a fresh order given on May 8.