Pressure on the government

Published : Jan 02, 2004 00:00 IST

THE Congress(I) government in Karnataka has taken the position that it will not abide by any reference made by the Union government forcing it to refer the probe into the stamp paper scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). With Maharashtra agreeing to a CBI probe after hedging initially, Karnataka remains the only State that is still against the CBI probing the scam, which is spread over at least six States. However, a direction from the Supreme Court might force Karnataka's hand. The apex court is to start hearing on December 16 a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking a CBI probe.

Karnataka Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister D.B. Chandre Gowda told Frontline that the State government was of the view that there was "no need for a CBI inquiry, since the specially constituted Stamp Investigation Team (Stampit) had almost finished its investigations and a special fast-track court had started hearing cases pertaining to the scam". Chandre Gowda also added that the direction of the Allahabad High Court to the Centre to refer the scam to the CBI did not apply to Karnataka since that court had no jurisdiction over Karnataka. "If the Supreme Court or the Karnataka High Court are not satisfied with the investigations, let them direct that the case be referred to the CBI," he said.

Expressing similar views, Chief Minister S.M. Krishna said the Centre and certain political parties were calling for a CBI inquiry with the sole intention of politicising the issue, given that 2004 is an election year. Citing examples where the CBI had been unable to sew up completely cases in Karnataka, Krishna said that he had "no faith in the CBI".

The Union government has also drawn flak from the Karnataka government for doing nothing to curb the spread of fake stamp paper despite a letter written in June 2002 by the head of the Stampit to the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, warning of the danger. The letter stated: "It is essential to monitor the sales, dispatch of the various categories of security papers by the different security presses to various States. Any marked decline in the sale of a particular category or security paper should be an eye-opener to detect the circulation of forged stamps immediately. It is urgently required to plug the loopholes in the system and take immediate remedial measures."

For Krishna and the Congress(I), the stamp paper scam issue might prove to be more than just a minor embarrassment if insinuations on the links of a few Congress politicians with Abdul Kareem Telgi turn out to be true. According to police sources, there is little doubt that Telgi had bankrolled many a politician and probably political parties. Ditto for a few police officers as well. They ask: Why else were Telgi and members of his gang handled with kid gloves even when the extent of the fraud and their involvement were well known?

A language newspaper has been asking Krishna five questions every day on the alleged acts of omission and commission of the police investigating the stamp scam and the government's inaction. Police sources said the police had deliberately ignored indications of Telgi's involvement. They alleged that this was because of a "police-Telgi-politician nexus in Karnataka".

Surprisingly, opposition politicians, barring the BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa and the floor leader of the All India Progressive Janata Dal in the Legislative Assembly B. Somashekar, have not made any concerted noise pressuring the government for a CBI probe. Said Somashekar, who was Revenue Minister in the Janata Dal government: "Stampit is a front to cover up the faults of the Congress government. Two years ago Stampit had seized a huge quantity of stamp paper worth crores, but the police picked up neither the accused nor their abettors apparently on the directions of certain vested interests, and they have gone scot-free."

He also alleged that ever since the scam came to light the Krishna government had done nothing to book the culprits: "If the government was serious about curbing the issue of fake stamp paper it could have banned it in 2000 itself. We (Janata Dal) had, in August 1999 (when there was a shortage of stamp paper), amended the Act, wherein people could register on white paper itself. And what was the hurry to set up a special court? Was it because they are afraid to allow Telgi to go out of their hands?"

Somashekar alleged that Telgi extended financial assistance to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) session held in Bangalore in 2001 and also footed the bill of over 60 Congress legislators of Maharashtra (during the chief ministership of Vilasrao Deshmukh), who were lodged under cover at a resort on the outskirts of Bangalore. Telgi was given a stamp paper vendor licence when Deshmukh was the Revenue Minister of Maharashtra.

In an interesting twist to l'affaire Telgi, Telgi's advocate accused Stampit and government hospitals of infecting his client with the HIV virus when he was taken to the hospitals for treatment of his heart condition and diabetes. The police have denied the charge saying that they have records to prove that Telgi was HIV-positive when he was arrested.

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