NEW DELHI(WEB TEAM):The espionage unearthed on Wednesday to benefit a corporate group is not new to oil ministry. Soon after NDA government had assumed office in 1998, a similar racket was uncovered by Delhi Police, arresting V Balasubramaniam (Balu), then India’s foremost lobbyist group vice president of Reliance Industries and two others corporate honchos, under the Officials Secret Act. Balasubramaniam along with other were soon released on bail. But even as the court took cognisance of the Central Bureau of Investigation complaint in April 2002 and in 2011 Supreme Court giving go ahead for prosecution, the case is still hanging in the corridors of judiciary. Other two included A N Sethuraman and Shekhar Adawal.
Document which were found in their possession included a Cabinet Secretariat document on “Challenges of Economic Sanctions Against India” (5th meeting), Minutes of 37th meeting of Core Group of Secretaries on Disinvestment, Documents relating to proposals for customs and excise duties on oil and oil products. The trail to Bala was discovered, when Romesh Sharma, alleged front man of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, was held in connection with the theft of a helicopter. He told police that the papers of helicopter were with Balu, leading to a raid at his place.
In the current case, as many as nine corporate entities are said to be under the scanner as recipients of the sensitive documents, including Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Essar and Cairns India. The case is also being seen as prime minister Narendra Modi refurbishing his image as being too favourable to corporate. Though, allegations thick, that he got help from corporate in the Lok Sabha elections, he has kept them at arms length, but conveying that he will work to make their business easy, by addressing policy issues rather meeting them often individually.
The espionage looks like a petty theft from all angles as the ministry employee arrested turns out to be a clerk close to retirement, along with his two sons who were selling the documents to the oil and energy companies through two energy consultants based in Delhi – Shantanu Saikia, a former journalist and Prayas Jain, both of whom were arrested on Friday, raising the number of arrests in the case to eight.
Though the Opposition keeps accusing Modi of returning the favours to all those in the corporate world, insiders say he has not delivered on several key demands of Mukesh. Modi did reject the Rangrajan formula for fixing the price of natural gas beneficial to Mukesh, which UPA-II was pushing for, but was held back by the Election Commission as polls were due.
Apprehensive that Rangrajan formula would double the gas price and make fertilisers expensive, Modi sat on the proposal worrying about the repercussions in rural India of a steep price hike in a vital farming input. To make sure his squeaky clean image remained in tact, he signaled petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan to go by the rule book on Reliance.
That is how an additional penalty of $579 million was slapped on Reliance Industries for not producing the gas as per the given commitment to the Central government in KG-D6 block. It raised the total penalty on RIL for missing the targets in the four financial years beginning April 2010 to $2.376 billion. Not amused, Mukesh first expressed his displeasure by declining to accompany Modi during his trip to Japan.
Questions were however, raised at the kid-glove treatment to corporate honchos in past
In 1987, RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy was arrested in Chennai, detained for 12 days, brought to Delhi and made to be present during a raid on The Indian Express proprietor Ramnath Goenka’s guest house in Sundar Nagar. He was in possession of a government document on textile policy.
Coomar Narain was arrested under the Act in 1985 on charges of procuring secret documents from the Prime Minister’s Office, leading to the resignation of PC Alexander as Rajiv Gandhi’s principal secretary. In the wake of the Larkins espionage case in 1985, Lt-Colonel Jasbir Singh was sentenced to two-years imprisonment for possessing an internal directory of the Ministry of Defence.