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Indian SC seeks report on intelligence agency 'corruption'

18 August, 2011

NEW DELHI: In this season of scandal, the Indian Supreme Court today sought an explanation from the government on allegations of corruption and financial irregularities in yet another organisation this time, the government's highly secretive technical intelligence wing, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), reports the Indian Express.

Saying that a court-monitored investigation may be required into allegations of swindling, corruption and irregularities in the procurement of crucial equipment by NTRO, the Supreme Court today sought a report from the government on the action taken so far.

A bench led by Justice R V Raveendran issued notices to the Union of India through the Prime Minister's Office, the Central Vigilance Commission, the NTRO through its chairman, and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which had exposed the alleged irregularities involving top NTRO bosses in a "special audit report" tagged for the first time by the government as "top secret".

This is the first time that goings-on in an intelligence agency have come in for review by the judiciary. The NTRO, created in 2004 under the Prime Minister's Office, essentially deals with missile monitoring, satellite and airborne imagery, cyber patrolling and security, cyber offensive operations, communication support systems, as well as cryptology.

Today's order was passed on a petition filed by V K Mittal, a senior scientist who had pioneered the formation of the NTRO but later pulled out after being "disgusted" by the agency's functioning.

Mittal approached the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court on April 16, 2011 refused to take any action, leaving it to the CAG "to proceed in accordance with law".The Supreme Court today expressed dissatisfaction with the government's status report.

"Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against some of the officers of NTRO without appreciating the fact that the misdeeds of those officers clearly warrant initiation of criminal proceedings, also of which there is no mention in the status report," the petition said.

The high court, Mittal said, was merely dismissive about his petition. He argued that since the auditor's report has been marked "top secret" it will not be placed before Parliament as is the norm.

The scientist, through his advocate Prashant Bhushan, said that initially his complaints had "forced" the PMO and CVC to launch internal inquiries into NTRO, but their reports showed "total inaction" and "total secrecy". The SC took note of the contention that a thorough investigation calling for all the inquiry reports was necessary as the NTRO is provided with "secret service funds" with no audit control.

"The organisation so far, since the financial year 2005 till date, has been allotted approximately Rs 8000 crore and this is without any detailed CAG audit. Out of total funding, 25 per cent is considered secret service fund of which there is no accounting at all," his petition said.

The petition has sought the court to call for all reports relating to the NTRO, namely on the CVC inquiry, a single member inquiry at the behest of the PMO as well as the special audit report on the CAG.

The petitioner has alleged instances of "corruption and irregularities" in the procurement of equipment including for UAVs (unmanned air vehicles); Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) payload for Rs 20 crore from the Israelis without sanction by Cabinet Committee on Security; acquisition of a communication system which had an encryption system with Chinese processors and which was later shut down and single-tender purchase of a "gateway based packet switch monitoring sensor system" from ECIL, Hyderabad."

Mittal has called for the audit report to be placed in Parliament failing which its contents should be shared with the bench hearing the matter. In his petition, Mittal has alleged rampant "misuse of funds, nepotism, favouritism, misuse of official position and falsification of facts" in the manner NTRO was being run.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Mittal said that with the Supreme Court now hearing the NTRO case, he was confident that the details of the CAG audit would be shared, at least with the judges on the bench. "Beginning with the NTRO, the process of accountability in all intelligence agencies should start. The Government simply cannot bury inquiry reports of inquiries they have ordered and audit objections of the GAG and not take action on recommendations and findings."

He claimed that with the Supreme Court admitting his petition, the issue of SS (secret service) funds would also be discussed in open court. In his petition, Mittal has alleged that 25% of NTRO's budget was "considered" SS funds for which there was no accounting or clearances.


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