The debate about Privacy vs. Right to knowledge (Information) is being fought in the Honorable Supreme Court of India. This entire debate is the result of the “leaks” of the Radia tapes. It is important to note that nobody has said or challenged the legality of the tapings of conversations between Ms Niira Radia and her various contacts (as it was properly authorized by competent authority). Nobody figuring in the conversation has denied that they have not talked to Ms Niira Radia. Therefore the authenticity of the Radia tapes is beyond doubt. The contents of the tapes are of utmost importance to the general public to know how the system is being run by various authorities who have taken oath to run the system: be it elected representatives in power or in the opposition, bureaucracy, judiciary or politicians running political parties. 140 conversations which are leaked give only a glimpse of what was going on during the period of the tapes between few individuals who were important actors at that time. The so called “fourth estate” which is supposed to be the custodian of free speech in a democracy is directly involved in these leaked conversations. They show how the industry lobby is manipulating public policy, going to the extent of deciding the cabinet portfolio of their ‘chosen one’. These conversations show how institutions are compromised, values eroded and how each of the news and views expressed by the self styled “icons” of journalism was tutored by the lobbyist. The conversations give tantalizing idea of how the hydra headed lobbyist worked by using the “contacts” in the media as multiple hands of an octopus. Now being reported that there are more than 5800 taped conversations are available in the hands of the Government Agencies and which are being deposited in the highest court of the land. Going by the contents of what is available in the public domain so far, what is unpublished will be having much more information and will, in all probability, have more numbers of actors taking part in the shady deals and machinations to hoodwink the general public.
The mega scam of Independent India is directly linked to the taped conversations. Apart from cheating the exchequer and betraying the trust of billion of people of this country, C&AG report on the spectrum scam documents how all rules, laws, well established principles of public administration and the Constitution of India are trampled upon and pushed aside for private gains of few corporations. This report is in the public domain.
As reported widely, Ms Niira Radia is working, among others, for Tata Group of companies as an agent and receives money for her “services”. The leaked conversations show how the head of the Tata Group Mr. Ratan Tata himself is in direct touch with the lobbyist and directs her activities. If Ms Niira Radia is culpable for her actions so is her Principal (or all the Principals in this case as she is lobbying for many). If Niira Radia and Mr. A Raja are found to be guilty of omissions and commissions, so are these “Respectable men” in the business who are using the lobbyist as a front to manipulate public policy for private gain. It is travesty of justice that those who have cynically defiled the constitutional norm are trying to use the highest judiciary to cover their tracks by invoking “Right to life and privacy” under the same constitution. Therefore the petition filed by Mr. Ratan Tata raises the important question of his individual right to privacy and the rights of the billion strong population to know how they are betrayed by the elected representatives and their minions in the bureaucracy for the gains of few corporate ‘honorable men’. We the people of India have the right to know how the policies are formed and how they are implemented. Ultimately it the People of this country should make an informed judgment about the system created for them. Therefore, the information contained in the un published- unedited tapes is most important for the general public to make such critical judgments.
It is understandable that certain purely personal talks in the taped conversations between Mr. Ratan Tata and Niira Radia may not be important or worth reporting because of the content and the context; however they will also show how close or otherwise they are. The issue of Principal and the Agent exists all along and they will show the culpability of the actors in the crime if it is committed by one.
The Radia tapes are reportedly for two spans of 60 days each in 2008-2009 when the Scam was being played out. The investigating agencies had sufficient time from the dates of taping and till the date of its leak to conduct whatever enquiries they wanted to conduct secretly and now they have to do an open enquiry only. If they have not done so, then it is more unlikely that they will conduct any more meaning full investigations at this stage. As it is, if the targets of enquiry know that they were taped or followed, they will certainly know what is being enquired in to and would make all the efforts to cover their tracks. Therefore the pending enquiry/investigation can not be a convincing reason to deny the information contained in the unpublished tapes to the general public.
If national secrets are hidden in the tapes then it is all the more reason to make the tapes public because the public has the right to know how such secrets are known to a lobbyist-we must trust the public more than we trust a lobbyist. Depositing such information in the public domain works like a disinfectant sun light on the decaying system.
There is an argument that people are already disenchanted with the system and making such murky deals public will erode the faith in the system further. This kind of argument emanates from those who have no faith in the people of this country and who underestimate their wisdom. As we are a democracy, let people decide. It is a view of the totalitarianism that the leader knows best what is good for the people; and he decides what they should do, what they should know and what they should view.
As revealed in the limited leaks of Radia tapes, in the sham perpetrated upon this country all major political parties are equally culpable. Print and Television media is co opted in the scam. Bureaucracy is an equal partner. Major corporations are the kingpins and beneficiaries of the scam. There is a danger that one day the tapes being destroyed by a simple “software malfunction” for which nobody will be responsible.
Let the people know who is who? Let people listen to the entire tapes- publish the entire Tapes.