Khurana: Tight spotSome scandals refuse to go away. Last year, when the murky goings in the post offices of the capital from where intelligence sleuths had been intercepting citizens’ mail, leaked out these were followed by a tempest in Parliament and a lot of hand-wringing by politicians. But in the,Khurana: Tight spotSome scandals refuse to go away. Last year, when the murky goings in the post offices of the capital from where intelligence sleuths had been intercepting citizens’ mail, leaked out these were followed by a tempest in Parliament and a lot of hand-wringing by politicians. But in the intervening months, the police have only expanded the scale of snooping and more and more people and organisations have been brought under its voyeurist gaze.Mail interception, when it began in November 1980 under the benign former Delhi Lt-Governor Jagmohan, covered 172 persons including 12 MPs. His successor, S.L. Khurana expanded the list to 312 – now including 26 MPs – in May 1981. Now it has been pruned to 300, but the bureaucrats are in a quandary over its legal implications and do not know how to cover their trails.In a spacious room at 5, Alipur Road, Delhi, a scholarly bureaucrat sits surrounded by files and letters. He is Surat Das Srivastava, chief secretary to the Delhi Administration, and the room is out of bounds to even his brother officials these days.The Delhi Police has been allowed to open the mail of over 300 organisations and individuals, including that of the Ananda Margis, and literature sent from two foreign countries. The reason: Srivastava is conducting a secret probe into the why and the wherefore of the mail censorship in the capital last August. To this effect he has worked his way through more than 100 files, as well as 150-odd between the Delhi Administration a Delhi Police. In addition, the bespectacled investigator has a dozen letters to officials seeking explanations. In an effort to prevent any leakage he has even delivered the letters personally.advertisementFollowing a report in India Today that the Delhi Police was intercepting and reading the mail of over 300 people many questions were asked. Moreover, when Atal Behari Vajpayee raised a point of privilege in the Lok Sabha, the Home Ministry asked the Delhi Administration for comments. In its detailed note the administration stated that Vajpayee’s mail was being opened since 1972, barring the period when he was foreign minister. It also quoted various orders passed in this connection.The notification issued by the police first week of May was hastily with the bureaucracy, however, was in considerable turmoil, and the Home Ministry decided to get to the bottom of the matter. Delhi Lt-Governor S.L. Khurana was directed in August last year to find out how and under what circumstances had MPs been included in the list without the prior approval of the Central Government and how the list was leaked to the press.Sordid Tangle: Although the Government is empowered to intercept mail under the law the tangle that Srivastava must resolve revolves around Khurana’s role in the sordid episode. He must find out if Khurana knew what he was doing, for in the intervening months the administration has found convenient scapegoats in two officials involved in the interception who were abruptly transferred. D.K. Das was shunted from the post of home secretary to his original charge as financial commissioner, and Kuldip Singh Wahi, deputy secretary (home) was demoted as under-secretary to the Development Department. Oddly enough, neither of the two police officials concerned – K.S. Bajwa, additional commissioner (Criminal Investigation Department), and Y.S. Jafa, deputy commissioner of police (Special Branch) – was touched, because former police commissioner P.S. Bhinder argued that they had not erred.Jagmohan: Explosive legacyNone of the officials concerned, including Khurana, is available for comment, but Home Department sources reveal that the brief given lo Srivastava includes two points: whether Khurana’s approval dated May 17, 1981 was merely an extension of Jagmohan’s earlier order or a new order encompassing 312 persons: and whether junior officials misled Khurana by not giving him full details of the mail to be censored.New Names: Khurana maintains that he did not agree to the addition of new names and that some junior officials committed an error in bringing new names within the scope of the order. The facts do not, however, support Khurana’s contention. The proposal sent to him for approval on May 17, 1981 did contain all the names.The note written by Wahi on file No F5/4/81-Home(G) says: “DCP(SB) has sent appendices A to F disclosing names of organisations and individuals whose activities are considered to be objectionable inasmuch as these institutions and individuals have anti-government or agitational approach in solving various problems.” The earlier order had only five annexures from A to E, while the new annexure F containing 140 names – including those of the MPs – was added on May 15 by Jafa.advertisementJafa pleaded for early action on his request at a meeting in the home secretary’s office on May 16. Das sent the file to Khurana on May 17, 1981. with a note saying: “May be approved for an extension.” Khurana affixed his signature to the file. However, the relevant laws – Section 26(1) of the Indian Postal Act, 1893, and Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 – do not provide for a mail interception order to be extended to cover new names, as was pointed out by the Law Department. The Home Department was thus obliged to issue new orders on May 28, 1981.Srivastava: ProbingKhurana can thus scarcely disclaim responsibility. Not that the experience of shouldering unpalatable decisions can be new to the pince nez sporting bureaucrat. Khurana’s finest hour was his induction as home secretary two days before. Mrs Gandhi’s infamous Emergency during which he was party to a whole range of controversial decisions.Now, he has the use of a somewhat dubious crutch to hobble out of the firing line: the contention that his juniors misled him. After he was transferred, Das wrote a letter to Srivastava in which he said the list sent in by Wahi and Jafa was “almost the same” as the original list approved by Jagmohan, implying that he was responsible for not spotting any discrepancies.Wrote Das, “I ought to have myself compared the list name by name. I also realise it would have been better for me not to have been taken away by the assertions of the officers as warranting personal scrutiny. I therefore sincerely feel very unhappy and sorry for the muddle created in the matter and for the embarrassment caused to LG and the administration government.”Charges: As for the second part of the brief, charges and counter-charges were flying back and forth between the Home Department and the Delhi Police, with each pleading innocence as regards the leakage. Home Department officials allege that the list and the orders were leaked by the police, who had been given the stencil for duplicating the lists.Das: eased outThe police point the finger at the dozen officials in the Delhi Administration who handled the files. However, the police have not been able to account for all copies of the censorship order – 22 different authorities in Delhi receive 85 copies of any order. When the censorship issue hit the headlines, the Home Department demanded from the police the remaining copies of the order. The police asserted that all the copies had been burnt in the presence of a gazetted officer.Despite all this bureaucratic hubbub, the interception continues. Khurana has allowed the Delhi Police to open the mail of over 300 organisations and individuals, including that of the Ananda Margis and literature sent from two foreign countries. The list includes over 50 people on the national suspects list who are now living in Delhi. The order regarding the publicity material also implies that the Delhi Police can intercept any communication addressed to even ministers and MPs.advertisementWhat is interesting is that Khurana has ignored the pleas of the Home Department in some cases, as in those of 12 Ananda Margis and some Akalis. The deputy secretary, in his note dated October 26, 1981, said: “Perusal of the request would reveal that no reasons in support of the request have been given. Perusal of the extract of the provisions of the law will indicate that before the administrator uses his discretionary power he ought to satisfy that a public emergency has arisen or public safety or tranquillity renecessitates the issuance of orders. From the request we are unable to see the occurrence of such a need. We shall have to ask the DCP(SB) to disclose the reasons for interception and have it examined through Law Department before a proposal is sent to the administration.”Pointed Note: The home secretary, instead of acceding to the deputy secretary’s request, sent the file to the Lt Governor with a pointed note: “After the recent alarm about ‘scrutiny’ of such requests (in the Home Department), the dealing officers have naturally become ‘twice shy’. Anyway, since the request has been made in the name of the CBI and since the persons concerned are alleged to be Ananda Margis, we may probably have to authorise the interception of mail/telegrams requested for.” Khurana concurred in the case of the Ananda Margis, but deferred the decision in the case of the Akalis, whose mail was to be intercepted in the wake of the murder of local pro-Congress(I) Akali leader Santokh Singh.The bureaucrats’ passion for private mail goes further than was first believed. According to sources, Jagmohan not only allowed the police to intercept mail but also to destroy any which might cause “public disorder”. It is reported that over 2,000 letters and telegrams addressed to the offices of the Rashtriya Swayam-sewak Sangh, the Ananda Marg, the Jamait-e-Islami, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh were never delivered. The police appear to have shelved such zeal at present, but that is small consolation for the people whose mail is being secretly steamed open in a dingy post Office.