Once again a government official has blown the whistle to lock the stable after the horse has bolted. Former CBI Director Mr. US Mishra informed a TV channel that political pressure is indeed exerted to influence the agency’s investigation. This is old hat for critics of course.
Mr. Mishra in his long interview identified two cases where this was done – the Taj Corridor Case and the Telgi Stamp Paper Case. With regard to the Telgi case Mr. Mishra said that after a cabinet minister has spoken to him he even apprised the Prime Minister. The question naturally arises: did Mr. Mishra put his objections to ministerial interference, if made at all, in writing? If so, does he retain copies of his written submission?
It has become rather tiresome and irritating to see officials after retirement wake up to blow the whistle. Such belated revelations naturally lead to the suspicion that these might well be inspired by interested politicians to target one rival or another. Asked to name the errant politicians Mr. Mishra demurred and coyly advised the interviewer to await a book he would be writing about his memoirs. Ah, the interview will surely make for good advance publicity for the book.
Readers might recall that the Telgi case had been dealt at length several times in these columns but alas, to no avail. Abdul Karim Telgi procured the original government printing machines for stamp paper through an illegal auction to replicate fake stamp papers as good as official. He and his backers made a huge killing. What was more significant was that this stratagem was a repetition of an even more sinister and significant earlier scandal related to the printing of fake currency. Obviously the latter scam had international vested interests involved in it. The same technique for printing fake currency indistinguishable from official currency was used. In this case existing currency printing machines were not procured. Instead well tested and renowned printing machines used by ninety per cent of the world’s nations for printing currency that had well served this nation for many decades were replaced by inferior printing machines that had earlier failed to perform satisfactorily in Russia. The original machines were owned by Giori of Switzerland. The new machines were owned by Komori of Japan.
The currency printing machines were switched in 1995. The new Komori machines had a disastrous record in Russia. The earlier machines, Giori, were owned by Swiss, German and British interests. These served ninety per cent of the world's nations for printing currency. The government's decision to switch from Giori to Komori was criticized by several MPs including Mr. Somnath Chatterjee, Mr. Tarit Barun Topdar of the CPI (M), and Mr. Chetan Chauhan of the BJP who wrote against the change to then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Their protests were ignored. After Mr. US Mishra reportedly apprised the Prime Minister regarding ministerial interference in the Telgi probe one wonders if Dr. Manmohan Singh recalled the earlier cabinet decisions related to the currency printing machines!
This writer filed public interest litigation against the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in the High Court of Judicature in Mumbai to prevent use of Komori machines for printing currency notes. The petition alleged that hostile foreign powers could flood the nation with fake currency notes because the new inferior printing machines facilitated counterfeiting. The petitioner recalled that the sub-committee of the RBI Board headed by Mr. SS Marathe had stated:
“The Gioris have a proven technology. India has a long experience of using their machines and our experience has been satisfactory. On the other hand, Giori have monopoly power and there could be scope of their using such power for hiking prices.”
However RBI was worried about a future threat related to printing monopoly acquired by a foreign firm that sounded ridiculous. RBI was forced to admit to the court:
“The Committee recognized that there could be teething troubles in adopting such a course and it was not easy to quantify the extent of such teething troubles. The Board had all along been aware that some of Komori's equipment was not fully proven.”
Despite this admission the court astoundingly dismissed the petition.
The rest is history. Fake currency subsequently became a major security hazard. It offered huge support to terrorist funding.
Why, then, should Mr. US Mishra's belated revelations about political pressure on the CBI evoke sympathy? As President Kennedy had once stated, those who do not speak when they should lose the right to speak altogether.
Related to the Telgi case on August 23, 2006 it was pointed out in these columns:
“Investigators were amazed at the sophistication of Mr. Telgi's operation. He had employed MBA graduates to prepare his project report. Mr. Telgi's clientele included 52 builders, 48 banks, and 61 top companies. Did government audit the accounts of these companies to find out whether Mr. Telgi sold them stamp paper at a discount? Leading politicians whose names cropped up during the Telgi probe included MLAs Mr. Anil Gote, Mr. Roshan Baig and Mr. Krishna Yadav. They were all arrested. Other names that figured in police leaks to media included former Karnataka CM and current Maharashtra Governor, Mr. SM Krishna, former Maharashtra CM, Mr. Narayan Rane, former deputy CM, Mr. Chhagan Bhujbal, and the current CM, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh. From the BJP, apart from Mr. Jethmalani and Mr. Yashwant Sinha, the name of Mr. Gopinath Munde figured. Apparently Mr. Telgi's polygraph test revealed the biggest political names.”
When all this was written, no official spoke. Why speak now?
The Telgi Saga : Why Exposure Always Ends in Closure