Govt mishandled Niira Radia tapes :Ratan Tata

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  1. ejazr

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    Oct 8, 2009
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    NEW DELHI: TATA Group chairman Ratan Tata has lashed out at the government for what he describes as its "lackadaisical" attitude in allowing the Niira Radia tapes to be distributed and published.

    In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday, Tata has said that his writ petition filed last month was not merely to block publication of his conversations with Radia, whose company handles the Tata Group's corporate communications, but to redress "wholesale violation of the constitutional rights of a large number of persons" by the "indiscriminate publication" of wiretap material.

    Tata has accused the government of "standing by and allowing purloined material of this kind to be freely distributed and published without taking any steps or actions to retrieve the stored material or to find out the source of the leakage."

    Ryan Karanjawala, the lawyer for the Tatas, was not reachable over the weekend.

    The government had earlier told the court, in response to Tata's petition, that it was not possible for it to retrieve leaked conversations that have already appeared in the press. It also said that it was taking steps to ensure no further leaks happened. The state said it was inquiring into the leaks.

    The Tata affidavit also states that big corporate houses own substantial stakes in media groups and therefore a "potential conflict" has arisen.

    "The assertion of the right of the media to broadcast these tapes has to be evaluated against the invasion of the right to privacy...for its is obvious that the right to freedom of expression cannot be a euphemism for waging surrogate corporate war." Submitting details of the shareholding structure of certain media groups to the court, Tata has stated that there are "problems arising out of ownership of media entities by large business houses" such as Reliance Capital , RPG and the Rahejas.

    Reliance Capital, a unit of the Anil Ambani Group , owns 10% of the TV Today Networks , which belong to the India Today Group . RPG and the Mumbai-based Rajan Raheja Group own the magazines Open and Outlook, which have published extensive excerpts from the Radia tapes. Both magazines are contesting Tata's writ petition before the Supreme Court. Coming out in support of Niira Radia, Tata has told the court that while the issue of allocation of 2G spectrum and licence are undoubtedly a matter of public interest, the tapping of Radia's phones happened after the allocations. The distribution of licences took place between October 2007 to January 10, 2008 whereas the tapping happened between August 20 to December 19, 2008. There was another round of tapping between May 11 and July 9, 2009.

    Radia has been accused of colluding with controversial telecom minister A Raja in obtaining 2G licences and influencing government policy to benefit some telecom companies. The CBI is investigating the circumstances in which a number of new telecom companies were awarded airwaves and spectrum in 2008. The investigation is being monitored by the Supreme Court. Radia has been quizzed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate over her alleged role in the award of licenses . Radia has denied all the allegations and no charges have been filed against her.

    In the affidavit, Tata says that in almost all the tapes that are in the public domain, the contents are in the nature of loose comments or gossip about third parties. There are also private conversations between persons airing opinions fully protected under right to privacy.

    The tapes, which are widely available, feature conversations between Radia and numerous people, notably journalists as well as politicians such as ousted telecom minister A Raja.

    The tapes are widely available on platforms such as YouTube and other websites and have been heard by a huge number of people.

    Tata had alleged in an interview to a news channel in November that the leaks to the media were a deliberate attempt to create a smokescreen and to divert attention from what he described as the real scam. This, according to him, included the hoarding of spectrum by a number of companies.

    The phone conversations of Radia were originally recorded by the government as part of an investigation into tax evasion. Some of the conversations are about Radia's efforts to ensure that Raja, the former telecom minister, retained his position after the UPA returned to power in the general elections of May 2009. There is one conversation between Tata and Radia in which the head of India's largest conglomerate appears to express his disquiet at the prospect of Dayanidhi Maran, a politician from Tamil Nadu's DMK Party, becoming minister.

    Many feel that these conversations indicate the role of lobbyists in the political process. Others say Radia played no role whatsoever in the selection of ministers.

    Raja did stay on as telecom minister despite the prime minister's well-publicised reluctance to retain him, because he was backed by the DMK and its leader, chief minister M Karunanidhi. He had to resign in November after a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General into the award of frequency spectrum said the methods used by him cost the exchequer 1.76 lakh crore ($39 billion). The government has disputed these numbers. On Friday, telecom minister Kapil Sibal strongly criticised the methodology used by the CAG and described its conclusions as totally erroneous.

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