But will the truth come out? Eighteen months after independent inquiries began into Abdul Karim Ladsaheb Telgi and his 10-year-long subversion of the country's stamp revenue system, all hopes are now pinned on the CBI. It has to submit its report to the apex court by July this year. It is another matter whether the entire matrix of links between politicians, police officials, revenue collectors, the underworld and Telgi's syndicate will ever be revealed. No one in the political establishment would want the truth out—each party appears to be as guilty as the other.
Till now, much of the embarrassment has been shouldered by former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal and a clutch of senior and junior police officials. The SIT has already nailed Bhujbal and his nephew Sameer. But Bhujbal is not the only one. According to the cbi, the Telgi trail also leads to, among others, former Shiv Sena chief minister Narayan Rane and former deputy CM Gopinath Munde of the BJP.
According to the investigators, the Ganga Prakash trail is of key political consequence. The CBI, through its special prosecutor A.K. Singh in a Nasik court, stated that Telgi was helped by Ganga Prakash, then deputy general manager and later general manager of the Indian Security Press (ISP), Nasik, to procure scrap machinery in as-is-where-is condition. Ganga Prakash had access to the top echelons of the Union finance ministry. Sources say there's more than what meets the eye in how Telgi's network extended to key ministries in Delhi. But this track of investigation had been virtually abandoned. In fact, the SIT has been selective in its pursuit of truth.
Here are certain puzzles that the CBI is expected to crack:
- The state-level probe did not examine the Ganga Prakash aspect, though the bureaucrat-politician-police nexus in the ISP, Nasik, lies at the heart of the scam.
- Telgi's key associate, Samajwadi Janata Party MLA Anil Ghote, who is now in jail, was the Shiv Sena-bjp nominee for the post of deputy speaker of the Maharashtra legislative assembly in '99. Ghote was deeply involved in the attempted toppling of the Congress-NCP government in June 2002 by creating a breakaway faction of MLAs to support Rane-Munde. Evidence shows that these six MLAs were promised and/or given Rs 3 crore each. Was Telgi money, conveniently routed through Ghote, used by Rane-Munde?
- In mid-'95, the stamps superintendent detected malpractices, registered the first seven cases against Telgi and cancelled his licence. Yet Telgi continued to flourish, obviously under police and political patronage. Rane was then the revenue minister and went on to become the chief minister. Rane appeared before the SIT but was let off lightly.
- Documents sourced by Outlook show that the state revenue from stamps and registration fees registered a sharp decline in 1996-97 and again in 1998-99. At one point, the drop was as much as Rs 300 crore in a single year. Either the revenue department did not notice, or chose to ignore it. Rane has not been made answerable for the sharp drop at a time when the economy was booming. (Rane preferred to say nothing when contacted by Outlook.)
- Police transfers, politician-police vested interests and home department irregularities were the key subject of the SIT investigation, to the exclusion of other issues set out in the probe's terms of reference.The starting point of the SIT investigation was in 1999 when Bhujbal took charge of the home portfolio and not from 1995 when Munde helmed the ministry. Records, however, reveal that Telgi's "success" in expanding his network was between 1994 and 1999.
In a subtle but systematic manner, the investigation so far has moved along political lines that revealed the truth but not the entire truth. This has worried social activist Anna Hazare, whose pil in Bombay High Court gave a renewed mandate to the SIT in September last year. Sources point out that Hazare was guided by former police officials who wanted to nail Bhujbal, which explains the single-track pursuit of the home department irregularities and the focus on police transfers/appointments.
The SIT chief S.S. Puri refused to comment on the selective pursuit of truth but said, "Now that the cases have been transferred to the CBI, we will put all our findings, support and assistance at their disposal." SIT sources say even their investigation would have eventually moved on to the Rane-Munde track, something the CBI will be focusing on.
The SIT's focus on Mumbai police was a watershed for a force that was riddled with corruption. The clean-up within the force has been under way for a while and top officers say it might have been the best wake-up call for them. But there is much business that has been left unfinished by the SIT. The question now is: will the CBI finish the task or, in the best tradition of mega-scam probes, leave us with half-truths and suspicions?