By Shantanu Guha Ray
IN A nation where lobbying is still not considered an official profession, the chances are that anyone venturing into the field would be considered undesirable. For years, lobbyists have worked silently in the corridors of power in New Delhi, shaping and reshaping policies to benefit their clients for deals running into hundreds of crores.
But last week, the CBI, troubled by increased influence of these influence peddlers — the mobile 2G spectrum scam, which allegedly cost the exchequer several thousand crores, being a case in point — issued a two-page note on people it called Undesirable Contact Men (UCM).
The list, for which the CBI sought inputs from the Intelligence Bureau, is a veritable who’s-who of power brokers who routinely frequent ministries to seek information for their clients. A copy of the list has been sent to Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar and to various ministries.
While all ministries are in Delhi, according to the list the UCM are not only located in the capital but across India. “And some of the names are indeed interesting,” a senior CBI official told TEHELKA.
The list, considered top secret, has always evoked both surprise and panic. Some years ago, when The Indian Express published one, Supreme Court lawyer PC Srivastava — his name was on the list from 1973 to 2002 — wanted to know through an RTI query what “undesirable activities” got him there. No one knows whether the CBI will be accosted by similar charges this time. But the list has names with some curious connections.
Consider the case of Ashutosh Verma, No. 23 on the list. CBI officers found he is related to a top official in the finance ministry. Verma, say CBI officials, closely networked with his relative and also with officials of the commerce ministry and a number of public sector undertakings. The list also mentions Jatinder Pal Singh, whose name figured in the health ministry scam in the wake of fake college registration by the Medical Council of India.
“This is not a legal document and does not have any legal sanctity. It’s just to alert government officials. But it shows the CBI is under pressure,” top lawyer Prashant Bhushan said. He recently backed a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, which sought serious monitoring of the CBI’s 2G spectrum investigation that seeks to uncover the possible losses the government made by selling radio waves for mobile telephony. The agency, widely criticised for bungling the probe, has told the Supreme Court that its probe into what it is a complex and vastly spread spectrum scam, was being carried out in right earnest and sought a dismissal of the petition.
The petitioners have alleged that Telecom Minister A Raja as well as officials of the Department of Telecommunications, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, corporate entities and middlemen were involved in the Rs. 70,000 crore scam. The petition said that the CBIwas more or less a department of the central government and had a “very bad record in (investigating) politically sensitive cases”.
The issuance of the UCM list makes the case interesting, especially in light of the 2G scam, where the country’s premier investigating agency is keen to portray the seriousness of its efforts. After all, it has the names and the addresses, right?