High Court (India)

October 24, 2019

Bombay HC Quashes Home Ministry Orders To Tap Phone Calls In CBI Case, Saying That It Violates The Right To Privacy


[ By Bobby Anthony ]

Telephone-tapping

The Bombay High Court has quashed three orders passed by the Union Home Ministry to intercept phone calls of a businessman being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a bribery case, saying it violates the right to privacy as held by the Supreme Court.

The Bombay HC stated that if Supreme Court judgments and laws against such intercepts are permitted to be flouted, it may amount to “breeding contempt for law, that too, in matters involving infraction of the fundamental right of privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India”. The clause says no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law.

Quoting a Supreme Court order, the Bombay High Court stated that telephone tapping can be allowed only in a public emergency or in the interest of public safety.

The Bombay High Court order was passed in response to a petition by a South Mumbai businessman Vinit Kumar against three interception orders passed by the Union home ministry in October 2009, December and February 2010.

Incidentally, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered a case against him for allegedly giving a bribe of Rs 10 lakh to a bank official for a credit-related favor.

The accused businessman’s plea was that the Union Home Ministry’s orders to tap his phone calls contravened provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. He also relied upon a 2017 nine-judge Constitution Bench judgment in the K S Puttaswamy case which speaks about fundamental freedom.

He urged that his phone call recordings be destroyed as directed by the Supreme Court in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) versus Union of India judgment of 1997.

In the PUCL case, the Supreme Court had laid down that “the right to privacy would include telephonic conversation in the privacy of one’s house or office. Telephone tapping would, thus, infract Article 21 of the Constitution of India unless it is permitted under the procedure established by law”.

The Supreme Court had also directed that there shall be a review committee in order to safeguard the right to privacy.

The Bombay High Court found that the Union Home Ministry orders were passed “without making a reference to the review committee within seven working days” or any scrutiny by the review committee, due to which its orders are “in clear breach of the statute”.

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