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Sunday, 3 July 2016

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The Leak we haven't fixed: The Essar Scandal


The Essar leaks include e-mails, office memos, telephone conversations and other records allegedly leaked from the systems of the Indian business conglomerate Essar Group.

Events leading to the Leak
In 2015, a whistleblower approached lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, and leaked a set of internal e-mails and memos from Essar Group alleging that the conglomerate had granted favours to several politicians, bureaucrats and journalists. Bhushan's Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) filed a PIL before the Supreme Court of India, requesting an investigation into these allegations.[i] The Essar Group filed an affidavit seeking dismissal of the PIL, calling the favours as legally justifiable "common courtesies".[ii]
In May 2016, lawyer Suren Uppal reported the existence of a new set of secretly recorded conversations to the Prime Minister. The conversations involve influential politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople, bankers, and other VIPs. Uppal claimed to have received these tapes from the former Essar employee Albasit Khan, who later denied Essar's role in tapping the conversations and stated he had received these tapes from the now-deceased Mumbai Police officer Vijay Salaskar, a claim denied by Mumbai police. In June 2016, after the Outlook magazine made Uppal's claims public. Khan and Essar completely denied the story, accusing Suren Uppal of being an extortionist. Uppal denied the allegations, and promised to release the tapes to the Supreme Court of India.

According to Uppal,until 2005, the surveillance was carried out over the BPL Mobile network, which had been under Essar's control. The network was also used by Essar's rival Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which allowed Essar to tap their conversations. However, RIL moved out of this network after 2005. After that, Essar allegedly used Hutchison network for the tapping.[iii]
Contents of the leak
The Essar leaks allegedly show that the businesses unfairly influenced the Indian government and judiciary during both UPA and NDA tenures.[iv] The leaks include the following:
·         A November 2002 conversation between politicians Amar Singh and Kunwar Akhilesh Singh reveals how Amar Singh lobbied in favour of Reliance Petroleum as a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee.[v]
·         A December 2002 converstaion between RIL executives Mukesh Ambani and Satish Seth discusses how the Supreme Court was "managed" through minister Pramod Mahajan.[vi]
·         In another conversation, Mukesh Ambani and Satish Seth discuss how to break the Cellular Operators Association of India by paying millions to MP Rajeev Chandrasekharand the BPL Mobile founder.[vii]
·         In a June 2009 memo, senior executive Sunil Bajaj suggested giving 200 high-end cell phones to senior politicians and bureaucrats of the new UPA government, in order to "invest on right people at the right places for reaping long-term benefits". He stated that Airtel and Reliance were already "experiencing the benefits" of this strategy.[viii]
·         In another 2009 e-mail, Sunil Bajaj suggested earmarking at least 200 recruitment slots for job referrals from powerful politicians and bureaucrats. He argued that the recommended candidates were often "highly qualified", so the company would not have a problem hiring them.[ix]
·         A set of e-mails reveal that the Steel ministry's joint secretary Syedain Abbasi was granted accommodation at Essar's guest house in Delhi, although he was eligible for government-granted accommodation. In a 2013 email, the Essar executive Rajamani Krishnamurti describes Abbasi as "a very important person" who was handling the "majority of Essar’s issues". The e-mail reveals that Abbasi had advised Essar to oppose a particular government proposal through industry bodies such as ASSOCHAMCII, and FICCI.[x]
·         An e-mail sent by Sunil Bajaj before the Diwali festival of 2013 suggested distributing gifts "to person in the middle and the lower ranks in various ministries, who are very vital in sustenance and procurement of important information and documents." The e-mail indicate that the Essar officials had access to confidential government communication from multiple ministries, including Coal, Environment, Finance, Petroleum, Railways, Shipping and Steel. The Essar officials were in close contact with the Petroleum MinisterVeerappa Moily, and had access to the 2012-13 budget proposals for his Ministry.[xi]
·         E-mail correspondence between Essar executives shows that BJP leader Nitin Gadkari and his family enjoyed a 2-night stay on an Essar luxury yacht in French Riviera during 7–9 July 2013. Essar also arranged their stay on the Sunrays yacht for a day, including a helicopter trip to and from the Nice airport.[xii]
·         Essar's internal records show that the company executives regularly arranged cabs for some Delhi-based journalists.[xiii]These journalists included Anupama Airy (Hindustan Times), Meetu Jain (CNN-IBN), and Sandeep Bamzai (Mail Today). [xiv]
Reactions
·         Essar filed a police complaint for data theft, and threatened legal action against media outlets that publish "any allegations based on any email stolen from the system":[xv]
“In the last few weeks we have received anonymous phone calls from people purported to have mail stolen from our systems and on which basis there have been some demands for money at the threat of publishing prejudicial material. It is curious that some of the queries reflect the kind of material on which we were sought to be blackmailed.
It is apparent that some of the material is fabricated and some of the allegations are conclusions and inferences being drawn from email stolen from our computers.”
·         When The Caravan published a cover story critical of the company, the Essar group filed a ₹ 2500 million defamation suit against the magazine.[xvi]
·         Essar also claimed that some of the leaked material was fabricated, and was being used to blackmail them. The leaked records allegedly contain evidence of politician-corporate nexus in India, and show how business interests unfairly manipulate Indian government and judiciary.
·         In the 2015 affidavit seeking dismissal of CPIL's request for investigation, the Essar Group stated that they had not derived any benefits from the alleged favours. The affidavit stated that there was no evidence of any criminal offence by Essar Group, and the alleged favours "common courtesies extended by corporate houses".[xvii]
·         Essar also questioned the authenticity of the leaked e-mails, calling them "unverified" and "pure hearsay". It stated that the company had not recruited people based solely on VIP recommendations, calling such recommendations legal and proper in Indian context.[xviii]
·          Essar accused CPIL of launching a smear campaign against them to seek publicity.[2]
·         The Aam Aadmi Party and the Indian National Congress demanded that the alleged tapes be made public.[xix]
·         The Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the Home Ministry to conduct an inquiry, and submit a detailed report.[xx]
Conclusion
Uppal claims are only the “tip of the iceberg” and that there were “far more incriminating conversations that expose invariably all aspects of corruption in the business milieu, Governance, policy making and judicial pronouncements that have marred our national pride and progress.”
The politician on the Yacht defends himself by saying that the Essar group owners have been his personal friends for several years and hence he doesn’t see any conflict of interest. Other politicians dismiss the story suggesting, public representatives must be seeking jobs for those from their constituencies. The only sphere, in which the “morality stick" has been cracked, is journalism and that’s where my basic objection lies.[xxi]
In conclusion, if we are genuinely concerned about media ethics, the first step is to acknowledge the real issues and by not avoiding to look at the genuine issues.



[i]Krishn Kaushik,Doing The Needful, Caravan (1 August 2015), available athttp://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/doing-needful-essar-industry-influence ,last seen on 29/06/2016.
[iii]Meetu Jain,Mumbai Police Dismiss Essar Whistle-Blower's Claim That Crime Branch Was Tapes' Source, Outlook (18 June 2016), available at  http://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/mumbai-police-dismiss-essar-whistle-blowers-claim-that-crime-branch-was-tapes-so/296982, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[v]Id.
[vi]Id.
[vii]Id.
[viii]Appu Esthose Suresh and Ritu Sarin, Essar Leaks: Wooing politicians with high-end phones, journalists with cabs,Indian Express(27 February 2015), available athttp://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/wooing-politicians-with-high-end-phones-journalists-with-cabs/, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[ix]Supra i.
[x]Id.
[xi]Id.
[xiii]Id.
[xiv]Archna Shukla,Essar Leaks: 2 journalists resign, third put on notice,Indian Express (28 February 2015), available athttp://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/essar-leaks-2-journalists-resign-third-put-on-notice/, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xv] Supra xii.
[xvi]Shreeja Sen , SC declines to transfer Essar defamation suit against ‘Caravan’ to Delhi, Live Mint.(9 September 2015), available athttp://www.livemint.com/Companies/l7p8QtAzYYCRFzRHWVTZ0I/SC-declines-to-transfer-Essar-defamation-suit-against-Carav.html, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xvii] Supra ii.
[xix]Congress responds to Indian Express report on Essar tapes, demands the tapes be made public, Indian Express( 17 June 2016), available at http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/congress-responds-to-indian-express-report-on-essar-tapes-demands-the-tapes-be-made-public-2858448/, last seen on 29/06/2016.
Essar leaks: AAP joins chorus, demands the tapes be made public, Indian Express(18 June 2016), available at http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/essar-leaks-aap-joins-chorus-demands-the-tapes-be-made-public-2861057/, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xx]Rahul Kanwal,Modi orders probe into Essar leaks, asks Home Ministry to submit report, India Today(19 June 2016), available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/essar-leaks-narendra-modi-indian-express/1/695383.html, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xxi]The Essar leak case, journalism and selective outrage, available at http://www.bhupendrachaubey.com/news/The-Essar-leaks-case-and-journalism, last seen on 29/06/2016

1 comments:

samarth said...

it was a very good article based on how you have researched it.

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