December 02, 2010
Abraham Thomas | New Delhi
The sensational details leaking out of the Nira Radia tapes touched a raw nerve with the Supreme Court on Tuesday after it discovered that one of the tapes contained exchanges about a Rs 9-crore bribe paid to a high court judge for a favourable judgement. The judge later retired as the Chief Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
With the tapes revealing a lot more than just the 2G spectrum scam, the apex Bench of Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly, after hearing portions of the transcripts read out by advocate Prashant Bhushan during the hearing on a PIL on the 2G scam, thought it wise to seek response from the Department of Income Tax and the Centre whether it was in favour of entrusting the tapes to the court’s custody.
The startling revelation of the bribe offered to the judge, who at the time was posted in the Delhi High Court, formed part of a conversation recorded between a former managing director of Indian Airlines with Radia. Scoffing at the demand raised by Ratan Tata demanding freeze over further publication of tapes, petitioner Prashant Bhushan said, "These tapes are revealing as to how this country is being run, how policies are subverted, decisions fixed, and parliamentarians acting as lobbyists for corporates."
He read out portions from the tape where attempts to fix the judiciary were openly discussed. If the Rs 9-crore bribe scandal was not enough, Bhushan read out another portion where a senior journalist is heard flaunting to Radia his ability to "fix" cases in the Supreme Court with the help of his lawyer son.
Taking lessons from the hawala case where the diary, which exposed payments made to bigwigs was kept in court custody, Bhushan said, "This is a treasure trove of information on how this country is being run today and every attempt is made to ensure that it does not see the light of day."
Responding to Bhushan’s concern, the Bench gave one day to the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, and senior advocate Mukul Gupta (appearing for Income Tax Department) to take instructions on whether "the tapes prepared by the Director General (Investigations),
IT, of conversations of Nira Radia and others should be preserved".
The Bench, which read through the compilation of news reports and taped transcripts prepared by Bhushan, was shocked to note, "We have been talking about the pollution in Ganga for 28 years, but this pollution is quite mind-boggling...we hope we don’t live in a world of illusions."
Bhushan cited the latest instance of crucial documents relating to the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai gone missing from the Urban Development Ministry’s files. "These tapes show how the Constitution is subverted by using such paid lobbyists."
Subramanium, however, objected to such conversations being read out in the court as it concerned the dignity of individuals who were not party before the court. The Bench, which was aware of the importance of the tapes, went on to settle the law on the disclosure of tapes by forming an opinion, "The claim for immunity in respect of any document or tape is that it must stand the scrutiny of the court where public interest should be the only touchstone."