The Union government on Thursday cracked down on illegal information leaks from the petroleum and natural gas ministry. Delhi Police detained two employees of the ministry and three other persons for allegedly leaking confidential information. One of them is an employee of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the country’s largest private sector oil company.
A clerical staff and a peon in the ministry were apprehended by the police. “We have been looking into this case for a long time. One of the persons is a driver and the other is a former multi-tasking staff. They were leaking official documents to certain unofficial persons for money,” Delhi Police chief B S Bassi told journalists.
RIL said it had launched “an internal probe” into the detention of its employee. “The matter is under investigation according to law and we are determined to cooperate in every possible manner,” said an RIL official, adding no information from the ministry was of any commercial consequence to the company.
“We are in arbitration and our only expectation is an expeditious resolution in line with our legal rights and contentions.”
The Centre has already tightened screws on information flow from ministries. Officials have been barred from talking to the media. Petroleum and power ministries have decided to install CCTV cameras in their corridors. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked his ministers to maintain distance from the media, a senior minister in the government had earlier told Business Standard.
Delhi Police had set a trap in Shastri Bhawan, which houses the petroleum ministry. The accused used to enter the ministry using false papers and steal documents to sell them, Bassi said. Delhi Police is under the control of the Union home ministry.
The five persons were identified as Lalta Prasad, Rakesh Kumar, Raj Kumar Chaubey, Asharam and Ishwar Singh. A team of police officials apprehended the first three outside Shashtri Bhawan after they had allegedly stolen documents in the night of February 17. The other two were apprehended after interrogation. The police recovered duplicate keys of the ministry’s offices, and forged identity cards and passes.
Bassi said the police were yet to study the nature of the documents leaked and understand if the provisions of the Official Secrets Act could be used against the five persons.
RIL employees have had a brush with the government on information leaks in the past, too. V Balasubramaniam (Balu), an employee in the undivided Reliance was charged under the Official Secrets Act in 1998 for allegedly being in possession of confidential government documents. These documents included a Cabinet Secretariat paper on “Challenges of Economic Sanctions Against India” and minutes of a core group of secretaries on disvestment. The document was alleged to have been faxed to two Mumbai numbers from Balu’s office. Besides, there were documents relating to proposals for customs and excise duties on oil and oil products.
Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, “We had put surveillance on them, the police is also investigating. They [suspects] will be severely dealt with. This is unfortunate for free and fair governance.”
Jaipal Reddy, Union petroleum minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, had also clamped down on information leaks from the ministry. Many officials of the lower bureaucracy were transferred and asked to explain leaks. No police action was, however, taken.