Allowing illegally intercepted telephonic conversations as evidence violation of fundamental rights: Delhi High Court

By – Gautam Choudhary

Allowing illegally intercepted messages and audio conversations as evidence will lead to evident arbitrariness and foster violations of citizens’ basic rights, according to the Delhi High Court [Jatinder Pal Singh v CBI].

According to the rule established out by the Supreme Court in PUCL, an order for interception can only be given on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety, as per Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.

The observations came after the Supreme Court overturned a 10-year-old order by a special CBI judge to file charges against Jatinder Pal Singh under the Prevention of Corruption Act and section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for criminal conspiracy). Singh was suspected of acting as a middleman and paying a bribe of Rs 2 crore to Ketan Desai, the then-chairman of the Medical Council of India (MCI), in exchange for permitting admission to the 4th Batch of MBBS at a medical college in Patiala, despite claimed flaws in the admissions process.

The petitioner had gone to the Delhi High Court, claiming that the CBI’s case was premised on unlawfully intercepted and recorded telephonic conversations that were never forwarded for forensic investigation. In the chats, the CBI, according to the plea, relied on conjectures and guesses.

It was claimed that no MCI rules had been broken and that the alleged payment of Rs. 2 crores came from the sale of a property. The charge sheet was prepared by the CBI in breach of its manual, according to the suit, because it never acquired approval from the CBI Director, which is required when pursuing a government employee.

The court was told that the primary accused in the case, Ketan Desai, had previously been dismissed and that the prosecution under the PC Act was void because no public official was involved in the alleged conspiracy.

According to Rule 419A of the Rules enacted under the Telegraph Act, the Home Secretary’s order giving the authorization to intercept telephonic calls must be forwarded to the review committee within seven days of its issuance. However, There was no evidence on the record that any review of the Home Secretary’s order was carried out in this matter.

As a result, Justice Singh ruled that tape recordings of intercepted calls are inadmissible because the authorities failed to follow proper interception procedures and the Telegraph Act’s Rules.

The fundamental premise of the case, according to the single-judge, is that the bribe was paid to circumvent particular MCI rules, which do not hold water because there was no such condition in the rules at the time, as the CBI claims.

The Court ruled that the accused’s statement was likewise inadmissible since it was taken without the approval of the proper authorities, The petitioner cannot be prosecuted under the PC Act since the public servant accused of taking the bribe has already been discharged.

The petitioner was represented by senior counsel Sudhir Nandrajog, as well as advocates HS Bhullar and Shikar Sharma. Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Rajesh Kumar and attorney Mishika Pandita represented the CBI.