National

Budget inputs were also stolen

Conspiracy gets murkier as number of people held goes up to 12

The smuggling of policy documents from the Oil Ministry unearthed by the Delhi Police threatened to blow up into a major scandal on Friday, after the seizure of secret government documents, even details that were likely to be part of the Union Budget, from the accused.

The recovered documents belong to the highest level of government — the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Petroleum, Coal and Power.

Among the crucial papers recovered are a letter of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Nripendra Misra and copies of files from the Oil Ministry’s exploration wing, said the first information report filed by the Delhi Police. Though the FIR does not mention the names of any corporates, the police said late on Friday evening that representatives of five corporate houses were among the 12 arrested so far.

A highly placed source in the Narendra Modi government said that it was not going to sit back and watch malpractices of law-breaking corporates. “Let the message go out,” the leader said.

Confidential papers recovered from ex-journalist’s house

The Delhi Police recovered two boxes full of confidential papers on petrol, coal and power from the South Delhi home of a former journalist, Santanu Saikia, on Thursday in connection with the Oil Ministry leaks.

“Photocopy of documents with heading input material on National Gas Grid for inclusion in Finance Minister’s budget speech 2015-16,” the FIR mentions on the list of recovered documents.

The documents include copies of minutes of a Cabinet meeting on disinvestment, and a document on customs and excise duties for the oil and oil products sector.

The investigation into the leaks was launched after the Home Ministry received a tip-off that details of confidential documents, even a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the Union Budget, were posted on the website indianpetro.com in December.

On orders of the Prime Minister’s Office, intelligence agencies tracked the leak to one of the accused who worked in the Oil Ministry.

His phone taps revealed an inordinate number of calls to Saikia.

Saikia’s phone taps led the investigators to the rest of the accused.

The employee of Reliance Industries who was detained on Thursday in connection with the case was among those questioned on Friday. The police said the five accused from corporate firms had hired the services of the spy syndicate.

Saikia was charged under the Official Secrets Act in 1999 for publishing a secret Cabinet note on divestment. In 2009, a special court discharged him from the case on the grounds that the publication of a document merely labelled “secret” should not render the journalist liable for prosecution under the Act.

During the interrogation, the accused revealed that the leaks had been on for over a decade, a source said adding that more arrests were expected.

The Modi government is working on making Cabinet meeting minutes paperless by shifting to Kindle devices.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 4:20:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/budget-inputs-were-also-stolen/article6917474.ece

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