Business Today

Time to stop the age-old practice of leaking ministry papers to benefit companies

Officials leaking papers is no new practice in Delhi circles, where papers are stolen from economically important ministries and sold to corporate houses.

Anilesh S. Mahajan        Last Updated: February 20, 2015  | 10:00 IST
Petroleum minister Dharamendra Pradhan.

Assistant editor Anilesh S. Mahajan
The buzz around Delhi Police's crime branch detaining five people apparently on charges of leaking official policy papers from the oil ministry , even as the Union Budget papers are being prepared, might shock you. But as a beat reporter, what interests me more is what action will be taken by petroleum minister Dharamendra Pradhan.

Can this practice be checked? I don't know if the answer is yes, but it should be. Officials leaking papers is no new practice in Delhi circles, where papers are stolen from economically important ministries and sold to corporate houses. In the past decade, this has almost become a parallel business. Over the years, the conduits have also changed. It started subtly with a few journalists doing it for some extra 'pocket money', to keep their sources in 'good humour'. Later it became a parallel job for some of these journalists. These days, many business houses deal directly with these officials.

Interestingly, various business houses today have an army of executives in their 'corporate affairs' teams, whose only job is to get these documents. There are some public relations agencies, too, who offer similar 'services'.

Leaking of papers has been an age-old practice, though it has become more rampant and sophisticated in recent years. Policy papers are leaked and corporate houses the put them to their best use during 'lobbying'. These papers (either in full or in part) also travel to newsrooms as 'exclusive' stories against their rivals, or to seek 'native' publicity.

In the past decade, India has seen a series of corporate wars, scams, allegations of crony capitalism and nepotism, and this disease is a symptom of a bigger epidemic.

Today, cops raided Shastri Bhawan and detained three people. Petroleum minister Pradhan is pressing for the Official Secrets Act to be slapped on them, and this could be the biggest case of corporate espionage in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Known to be a no-nonsense man, Pradhan, in his early days, indicated that he would not take these practices lightly and might use a strict hand. He got CCTV cameras installed in every room of the ministry, and was taking inputs on the working of these officials.

The leakage of papers is not limited to the oil ministry - it is chronic equally in power, commerce, corporate affairs, finance, telecom, civil aviation and coal ministries. During UPA 2, then oil minister S. Jaipal Reddy was so fed up with the regular complaints that he transferred his entire office staff, from his personal assistant to the army of peons there.

PM Modi has talked about putting ministries' decision papers online, and is also pushing to make tracking files online. Technology and transparency could easily end this unseemly practice of stealing official documents.

Pradhan is using an iron fist. I sincerely hope it bears fruit. We must weed out this rotten practice from Indian offices.

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