Tata’s privacy plea to be heard in February, claims rebutted

Monday, December 13, 2010

NEW DELHI - Slating for early February 2011 the hearing on Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata’s plea for a ban on publication of the Radia tapes’ transcripts, the Supreme Court Monday asked the central government to submit to it the complaints against corporate lobbyist Nira Radia.

The apex court bench of Justice G.S.Singhvi and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly asked the central government to give the copy of the complaint and other related documents in a sealed cover.

The next hearing on Tata’s petition will take place Feb 2, 2011.

The court also permitted the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), the Chennai Press Club and Dr. J.K Jain to intervene in the case. The CPIL has pleaded that all the conversations in the Radia tapes except for those which are strictly personal should be brought in public domain.

Both the Outlook and Open magazines, which had carried parts of the transcripts of Radia’s telephone intercepts, argued that Tata’s petition was not maintainable as a petitioner could not take the recourse of Article 32 of the Constitution for the enforcement of his fundamental right as a private individual.

Appearing for Ratan Tata, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that his client was not seeking any interim relief by way of injunction against the publication of the tapes by media, but he was on a larger issue of balancing the right to privacy with the freedom of media.

Salve submitted eight questions for the consideration of the court that should be addressed by the parties to the dispute.

The question boils down to whether right to privacy also protects from public gaze the conversation between two private people obtained by the lawful agencies by interception of telephonic conversation.

Other questions included whether the power of the statutory authorities to intercept telephonic conversation is coupled with constitutional duty to protect them from coming into the public domain.

Rebutting the eight questions framed by Salve to be addressed by the parties to the dispute as some kind of “presidential reference” to the court, senior counsel Rajiv Dhawan appearing for the Open magazine told the court that Tata’s petition was private interest litigation in the guise of public interest litigation.

Dhawan said that if Tata was aggrieved by the action of someone, then there were alternate remedies in law like filing defamation suit instead of taking recourse of Article 32 of the Constitution, which provided for the right of the citizen to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights.

Appearing for the Outlook magazine, senior counsel Anil Divan said that it was a well-settled law that the freedom of press and media is to be zealously guarded in a democracy because the objective is to inform the citizen and protect the citizen’s right to know. To guard the freedom of press was the function of the government, he said.

Divan said Tata has not questioned the authenticity of the tapes, neither disclosed which parts of the tapes infringed his right to privacy.

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