The ministry leaks case is increasingly becoming like an Agatha Christie whodunnit novel. For the uninitiated , the ministry leaks case which has been dubbed ‘Leakgate’ by the media ,involved the leak and sale of confidential government documents;from the ministries of finance and commerce and industry to select corporate houses. With Central Bureau of Investigation officers probing the leaks announcing today that they have detected the involvement of a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employee in sourcing information from the department of economic affairs, the plot has officially thickened. Previously CBI had arrested five people including an Under Secretary rank government official and a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant or CA. “Investigation has revealed the alleged role of a representative of top accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in obtaining information from the department of economic affairs, this alleged role is being further probed,” a CBI spokesperson said. This news comes hot on the heels of a recent revelation that Lalaram Sharma,a section officer in the department of economic affairs had been arrested for allegedly leaking highly confidential information. The involvement of the PwC employee was revealed upon Sharma’s interrogation.
If the involvement of the PwC employee-whether overt or covert-is found to be true then this arouses disturbing thoughts about how far and how deep the corporate-government official nexus goes. If reports related to corporate espionage are accurate then the nexus goes far and wide. According to an Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India survey,dating back to 2012, more than 35% of companies across various sectors are involved in some form of espionage to gain an advantage over their competitors. If Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s book, Gas Wars is to be believed then there is substantial proof that the Mukesh Ambani-owned RIL was favoured by past governments to earn whopping profits, either through high natural gas price or partial sale of gas assets. Were these profits a direct result of corporate espionage?
The case also casts significant aspersions on the decisions taken by the department of economic affairs in recent times. Were all the decisions taken under duress or influence; did they involve a significant conflict of interest? In hindsight does the present government deem it fit in the interest of transparency to institute a high-level committee to review the decisions taken by the concerned ministries in the past one year?The present government must address these questions if it is to mollify the outcry surrounding the oil leaks case.