A 29-page complaint submitted to the Prime Minister's Office on 1 June claims that the Essar Group spent five years between 2001 and 2006, tapping the phones of highly influential people including cabinet ministers, corporate heads, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, and several bureaucrats.
Conversations purportedly heard during these phone taps show the extent of the nexus between big business and government, says The Indian Express.
The complaint was submitted by Supreme Court lawyer Suren Uppal who had once represented the Essar employee allegedly in charge of the phone taps.
According to the complaint, the tapped phones belonged to present railway minister Suresh Prabhu, former ministers Praful Patel and Ram Naik, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, ADAG chairman Anil Ambani and his wife Tina, the late cabinet minister Pramod Mahajan, MP Amar Singh, current home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, former chairman of IDBI Bank PP Vora, former CEO and MD of ICICI Bank KV Kamath and former joint managing director of ICICI Bank Lalita Gupte.
The complaint also has a list of people who purportedly figured in the tapped conversations including then PMO officials Brajesh Mishra and N K Singh, politicians Ram Naik, Kirit Somayia, Jaswant Singh, Piyush Goel, Sudhanshu Mittal, Sahara chief Subroto Roy and actor Amitabh Bachchan.
Essar kept track of the alleged intercepts via handwritten diaries and detailed logs of time and targeted numbers, says the complaint.
Uppal's complaint was submitted while the Supreme Court hears a PIL asking for a court-monitored probe into an alleged nexus of the Essar Group with politicians, bureaucrats and journalists.
Two months ago, the lawyer had sent a "caution notice" to the heads of the Essar Group and other firms on behalf of his client, former Essar employee Albasit Khan, who claimed to have supervised the intercepts while he was head of security at Essar, based on instructions from the management.
According to Uppal, Prashant Ruia and Ravikant Ruia of Essar had told Khan in 2001 "that since their company was already a telecom licensee for cellular operations under M/s Hutchinson Essar, the company is required under its statutory obligations to support the government investigations by intercepting and tapping such phones which are under government surveillance and thus assigned the responsibility of recording and providing the recording conversations to the management of the company..."
However, Uppal no longer represents Khan, alleging that he had gone undercover, perhaps "influenced" by Essar.
Uppal said: "I want the Government to investigate these illegalities even if Albasit Khan is no longer with me. Eventually, I want the apex court to set up a probe team for the case."
The caution notice he sent to Essar chairman Shashikant Ruia, Prashant Ruia, Ravikant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia on 2 March, 2016, says: "The privacy of certain officials, confidentiality and secrecy of Government decisions and policies, sanctity of judicial decisions and pronouncements, national safety and security have been grossly abused and compromised with M/s Essar's intentionally intercepting, tapping and recording personal/public information, in blatant violation of the Licensing Policy in the Telecom Sector."
It added that Khan had handed over "hundreds of audio cassettes containing thousands of conversations" that came from these phone intercepts.
While Essar denied Khan's story, Uppal's notice named several Essar officials who "used to create special mobile SIM cards or the mobile interceptor mobile SIM cards, through which the targeted cell phones (allegedly instructed for Government surveillance) could be intercepted..."