New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted its gag order on the media for broadcasting and publishing contents of the taped conversations of former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh with top politicians, Bollywood stars and corporate tycoons.

A bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly pulled up the 54-year old parliamentarian for shifting his stand in the case in which he had earlier alleged that Congress Party and its President were behind the tapping of the conversations but later withdrew all charges.

The court dismissed Singh’s petition and vacated its interim order passed on February 27, 2006 restraining the media from making public contents of the controversial conversations, a portion of which pertaining to fixing of Allahabad High Court bench, was read out in the Apex Court when the case was being heard.

Holding Singh’s petition as “frivolous and speculative”, the bench also expressed surprises how a bench headed by the former Chief Justice K G Balakrishanan had granted him relief in 2006.

“It is very disturbing to find that on the basis of such improper and slipshod affidavit, a notice was issued on the petition and subsequently a detailed interim order was passed on February 27, 2006,” the bench said.
The bench also said there has been suppression of facts by the politician before the court as he did not disclose the fact that police investigation was going on in the case at the time of filing the petition.

The court, however, said the politician may file a case against Reliance Infocom for illegally tapping his phone.

“It is clear that the writ petition is frivolous and is speculative in character. This court is of the opinion that the so-called legal questions on tapping of telephone cannot be gone into on the basis of a petition which is so weak in its foundation,” the court said.

Justice A K Ganguly, who wrote the judgment, said it is strange that Singh, who had accused Congress Party at the time of filing the petition for getting his phone tapped in 2006, dropped all such allegations at the time of final hearing in 2011.

“It, therefore, appears that the petitioner has been shifting his stand to suit his convenience," the court remarked adding this court, therefore, dismisses the writ petition and vacates the interim order.”

“This court has no hesitation in holding that the instant writ petition is an attempt by the petitioner to mislead the court on the basis of frivolous allegations and by suppression of material facts as pointed out and discussed above,” the bench said.

The bench had reserved its verdict on Singh's petition on March 29 after hearing him and an NGO, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), which opposed his plea and sought a direction for making public all his taped conversations.

The Apex Court had on February 27, 2006, restrained the electronic and the print media from broadcasting and publishing the contents of the taped conversations of all, including those of Singh.

Singh, who was the Samajwadi Party general secretary at the time when his telephones were tapped, had earlier accused Congress through its President and private telecom operator Reliance Infocomm, of being behind the tapping but later withdrew his allegations against Congress.

Besides the two ministries - Telecom and Home, Singh had also included Delhi government and Delhi Police in his petition.

SC directs Centre to frame guidelines

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to frame guidelines for interception of telephone conversations in order to prevent illegal phone tapping by service providers.

"The Central government must frame certain statutory guidelines in this regard to prevent interception of telephone conversations on unauthorised communication," a bench of justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly said.

The bench also said the telecom companies should also take due care and pulled up Reliance Infocom for tapping the telephones of controversial leader Amar Singh on the basis of a forged letter.

"This court is of the opinion that the service provider has to act as a responsible agency and cannot act on any communication," the court said.

"In view of the public nature of the function of a service provider, it is inherent in its duty to act carefully and with a sense of responsibility. This court is thus constrained to observe that in discharging the said duty, Reliance Infocom has failed," the court said.

"Sanctity and regularity in official communication in such matters must be maintained, especially when the service provider is taking the serious step of intercepting the telephone conversations of a person and by doing so is invading the privacy right of the person concerned, which is a fundamental right protected under the Constitution, as has been held by this court," the bench said.