OPINION

More like a flood than a leak

It is akin to an organised industry. The systematic “pilfering” from the Petroleum Ministry’s office in the heart of New Delhi of documents which were then handed over to “consultants” and interested corporate entities for a price, has revealed a frightening nexus. One account says that a night guard would “steal” the documents while a peon would switch off CCTV cameras to facilitate the alleged acts of corporate espionage, some details of which are now in the public domain. In addition to some low-ranking staff members of the Ministry, two “consultants” and representatives of five top business houses have been arrested by the Delhi Police in the case. Budget inputs, minutes of a Cabinet meeting on disinvestment and detailed documents on the petroleum sector, were among the documents that were allegedly stolen by the ring. The brazen manner in which these were pilfered from Shastri Bhavan in Lutyen’s’ Delhi goes to show that government departments can easily be subverted by vested interests for corporate gains.

This rot might well extend to other ministries and departments. While the facts of the present case will have to be established in a court of law, it is unlikely that company representatives were acting in their personal capacity. If it is proved, the top corporate groups who are alleged to have benefited from the documents that they procured through this organised system of espionage will have much to answer for. It is likely that the Delhi Police crackdown on the ring was triggered by the concern expressed by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in October 2014 at how “secret” information made its way to the media. Mr. Doval’s letter spoke of the need for firm action to prevent the media from publishing secret documents that impinged on the country’s national security. The NSA pointed out in his letter, which was published in the media, that leaks often emanated from government departments. While a distinction must be made between this kind of pilferage and documents being leaked to the media in the public interest by whistleblowers, corporate espionage must be dealt with in a strong manner. Public interest journalism and corporate theft of government information cannot be weighed on the same scale. In a statement, the Aam Aadmi Party pointed out that the actual beneficiaries were still to be identified by the police. The party hoped that the culprits “who subverted the system to get undue benefits will be booked and interrogated in custody”. The Modi government must be commended for the actions taken by the Delhi Police. But it will be closely watched, on whether or not this investigation is taken to its logical conclusion. For far too long, the big fish have escaped criminal justice.

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