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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Indian system: Leakage of sensitive oil ministry documents!

By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

The recent leakage of sensitive oil ministry documents has taken the people of India by shock. Indian NSA orders action on leakage of classified oil ministry documents, accused produced before court, but there are unanswered questions.

While success by negotiations, including triclomacy, is the goal of diplomacy, India focuses on diplomatic success abroad, but it fails in domestic matters. Today, India controls cricket with help from England, South Africa, among other cricket countries as a profitable profession. Even as cricket diplomacy is going on between New Delhi and other cricket nations on the outcomes of cricket world cup, now underway in Australia and New Zeeland, a serious operation of espionage is also happening side by side causing embarrassment for the Modi government.

Frequent reporting of classified documents in the media is what actually triggered the massive crackdown on espionage in various India ministries and resulted in the Delhi police arresting 12 people on suspicion of running a scam to steal documents from the oil ministry to sell to energy consultants and private companies.

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had asked RAW to initiate action soon after a TV channel report said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shown images of INS Arihant, a nuclear submarine, at a DRDO function. In fact, the NSA is learnt to have written to the cabinet secretary, Ajit Kumar Seth, sometime in mid-October, saying such reports based on classified information undermined national security and were an offence under the Official Secrets Act. Doval also pointed out that most leaks came from government offices and there was a need to follow official protocol related to classified information.

Doval held a meeting with several cabinet ministers’ way back in December 2014 to caution them against the leakage of sensitive documents and had also warned them about the nexus between the journalists, corporate middlemen and government officials since even the letter written to Ajit Kumar Seth had been leaked to the media. A plan to stem the leaks was set in motion somewhere after that December meeting.

During the course of the four-month probe into various ministries not only was security beefed up but several fake documents were made to look like important papers to narrow down suspects. Once the agency had enough evidence, Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi was roped in to launch the crackdown, the report added.

The country’s teeming ministries - which typically conduct business from handheld files and binders tied with string instead of computers - have faced accusations that documents have been copied and leaked ahead of major sales or tenders, or policies affecting companies, which is why perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration installed closed-circuit cameras late last year to stop people sneaking out of the oil ministry with documents. The arrests were the first since the cameras were installed. However, in the latest case even the CCTV cameras were disabled to a good extent. Asharam, who is the peon in the office of Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, “switched off the CCTV cameras” in the ministry office while his son Ishwar Singh who was also employed in the multi-tasking staff in the ministry.

The Delhi police said that they received information that people were trespassing in ministry offices at night, using false identity cards, temporary passes and duplicate keys for offices and while producing the accused in a Delhi court, police said recoveries suggested that papers related to Coal and Power ministries too had been leaked. Police sources also said that corporate executives who have been arrested were recipients of official documents that were allegedly leaked from the Petroleum Ministry. "Investigations further revealed that the stolen documents were being sold to some individual of private energy consultancy companies," as well as in the petrochemical or energy industry, police said in a statement.

Sources in the police further said that the ministry was first alerted about the theft of official documents some months ago when some critical documents with the then Joint Secretary (Exploration) Giridhar Armane, were found in a photocopier machine when rooms were opened in the morning. The ministry internally probed the issue. The door of Director Prashant S Lokhande was found compromised about two months back following which the ministry ordered a thorough investigation and CCTV cameras were installed.

The Crime Branch of Delhi Police produced the five accused before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal and sought their custodial interrogation for five days. "National interest was taken for a ride in the case”. Documents recovered from the five corporate executives, arrested in connection with Petroleum Ministry leak case, are related to "national security aspect" and charges under the Official Secrets Act might also be invoked in the matter, the Delhi Police today claimed before a court here.

Documents related to national security have also been recovered. This may attract charges under the Official Secrets. The police also told the court that these five accused were procuring these sensitive documents at the behest of their senior officials, some of whom might be interrogated in the ongoing investigation. The police told the court that they have to consult the concerned ministries regarding the documents which have been recovered from the possession of the accused and their custodial interrogation was required to confront them with the same.

The advocates appearing for these five accused vehemently opposed the police's plea seeking five days police custody, contending that their clients have been illegally detained since February 18 and 19. The defence counsel also contended that there was nothing to be recovered from their clients and the police have not told the court regarding the specific allegations against these accused. With the arrest of these five accused, the total number of arrests in the case rose to 12. Seven others were produced in the court yesterday out of whom four were sent to police custody till February 23 and three were remanded to judicial custody for two weeks.

A recent report claimed that the incidences of espionage have actually come down due to transparency and electronic office system in place. "Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed to do away with paper, and instead use kindles for noting and documentation, so as not to leave paper trails and prevent information from leaking. Unlike in the past, now, there is more transparency in government dealings due to e-tendering, e-auctioning, and information is put on official websites. These kinds of espionage and stealing of documents was more prevalent some 10-15 years back due to control regime,

There is a tug of war between one of the accused Santanu Saikia, a former journalist, now running an energy consultant running a website, claimed to reporters outside an Crime Branch office that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam, which he was trying to uncover, as policemen took him in for interrogation. Reacting to his claim, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Saikia was saying such things for covering up his own defence.

Pradhan said police is doing an independent job and everything will be clear after investigation. Law will take its course, whoever they may be, he said when asked about the arrest of executives of private companies.

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said he wants the guilty to be brought to book and would comment only after the investigation is complete. Even Home Minister Ranath Singh (former BJP president) said that the government is not ruling out internal foul play and said that no person will be spared.

At times, governments themselves lead k certain classified documents or false documents for specific purposes but in fact promotes and complicates the problem.

It seems the systemic lacuna is root cause of espionage. In most cases the operation goes on unnoticed.

- Asian Tribune -

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval
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