The amount was released by the Ministry of Culture to the producer Vinay Dhumale after he passed off footage from a television programme on Bal Gangadhar Tilak as a film.
New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has taken cognisance of how officials in the culture ministry allowed a fraud of Rs 2.5 crore to be played on the exchequer by first releasing the amount to a filmmaker despite him not having made the promised film, and then allowing the file of the project to go “missing”. Moreover, when the issue was brought into public domain by a Right to Information activist, the Central Bureau of Investigation – which had filed a chargesheet in the matter – did not even probe the role of the corrupt officials in the matter.
In a recent order, central information commission M. Sridhar Acharyulu issued a show cause notice to Suman Bara, the chief public information officer of the culture ministry, questioning why maximum penalty should not be imposed on him for not providing the information on the case with the excuse that the file pertaining to it was “missing”.
RTI revealed fraud after 12 years
The appellant V.R. Kamalapurkar exposed the fraud through an RTI application after nearly 12 years of its filing. He had sought to know the date of commencement of centenary/commemoration cell for celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Indian republic in or around 2001, budget allocated for the cell, classification and number of programmes undertaken, etc.
In his response, the CPIO had stated in November 2015 that efforts were being made to trace the information from the old records of the Ministry of Culture and the appellant would be informed accordingly and that the ministry had lent its support to a film on ‘Bal Gangadhar Tilak’ by producer Vinay Dhumale. However, as there was no response from the respondent authority – the ministry, in this case – Kamalapurkar had approached this Commission.
It was submitted before the CIC by Nirmala Goyal, deputy secretary in the ministry, that the Commemoration Bureau was set up as a special cell under the Ministry of Culture for organising the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Indian republic, and its tenure was co-terminus with that of the commemoration period. However, it continues to function till date for organising commemoration-related activities of all the major contributors and philosophers of the country.
‘Payment of Rs 2.5 crore made without movie being made’
In his order, Acharyulu noted that the official further stated that as part of the commemorations in 2005, “the Ministry of Culture gave a contract worth Rs 2.5 crores to Mr. Vinay Dhumale to make a movie on Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The money was transferred to Mr Vinay in two instalments. She said, however, the movie was never made and there was no enquiry into the utility of the funds. She further stated that the ministry was able to find out about this embezzlement of money only after the RTI application was filed by the appellant in 2011.”
It was further submitted by Arnab Aich, under secretary in the ministry, that the matter was being investigated by the CBI and the final report was awaited. The CIC recorded that Aich “further stated that the file containing the details of the film project, sanctioning of the project and the officers involved in the monetary transactions was not traceable in the record room of the erstwhile Commemoration Bureau.”
Ministry claims intensive search to recover file, CIC says no document to support claim
The Commission further noted that the official submitted that “intensive search operations were conducted in the ministry record rooms between 2013 and 2017 but to no avail. Hence, the file has been declared as missing.”
However, the CIC said “the officers could not show any document reflecting their efforts, if any. The representation of the officers led the Commission to understand that the public authority has not made up any case against any officer or found anybody responsible for last custody or the loss, not that they filed any FIR regarding the missing file.”
Even scale of fraud did not stir ministry into action
Considering how huge sums of money were siphoned off, Acharyulu observed in his order that “it is surprising that the ministry sanctioned Rs. 100 crores for celebration of Golden Jubilee of Indian Republic and releases Rs. 2.5 crores to a person for making a movie on Bal Gangadhar Tilak and simply ignores its responsibility of following up.”
Lauding the effort of the RTI applicant in exposing the fraud, he said, “it is to the credit of RTI Act that this major lapse has been exposed still it remains a tragedy that the ministry has lost entire record regarding this huge grant, that too without any consequence. Besides being a criminal case of corruption, this reflects a sad state of file keeping and inaction within the Ministry of Culture.”
The Commission further held that “key records of sanction and payment of Rs. 2.5 crores to Mr. Vinay Dhumale for production of movie on Bal Gangadhar Tilak is missing and except for some oral statements by the CPIO and Deputy Secretary, there is no record present of who held the files”.
In view of the impending situation, the Commission has also directed the ministry to initiate enquiry into the missing files and submit a report and information about action taken in this regard within 60 days. It has demanded that that information be provided to the appellant on the budget allocation for the centenary celebrations and the list of programmes conducted under the celebrations within 30 days.
CBI’s role in entire episode not above board
In his order, Acharyulu also directed the CBI, New Delhi to inform within 30 days the Commission and the appellant about the time it would need to finalise the investigation report and take necessary steps into the matter. It issued these directions since even though the CBI has filed a chargesheet, it had not provided Kamalapurkar a copy of the same.
A deputy superintendent of police of CBI, K.S. Pathania, submitted that the agency had “completed the investigation and found that Rs. 2.5 crore was misappropriated in the name of producing a feature film on Late Bal Gangadhar Tilak in his centenary celebrations and filed the chargesheet before the concerned Court in Patiala House, Delhi.”
However, he pleaded that the chargesheet is a secret document and cannot be shared either with the appellant or with the department. Incidentally, as per deputy secretary Nirmala Goyal’s submission, the agency had not shared a copy of the chargesheet even with the ministry, which had lodged the first information report.
Department of Culture filed FIR but took no action against officials
Goyal also submitted that the special cell for late Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s centenary celebrations was wound up in 2004, and a new cell to celebrate various centenaries was constituted in December 2006. She said the Department of Establishment failed to furnish the names and designations of the in-charge/custodians of the file along with the concerned authorities.
As for the Department of Culture, Acharyulu noted in his order that “though they have filed FIR against misappropriation, they have not initiated any legal action against persons who caused missing of that file. The loss of such an important file will have a serious impact on possibility of establishing the charge of misappropriation.”
He also observed that “the department of culture is in such a pathetic state that until the appellant Shri V.R. Kamalapurkar complained, they did not know that entire money granted on movie on Late Bal Gangadhar Tilak was swindled. It is surprising to know why the department is not seriously probing/taking action against the loss of the file since last 12 years.”
‘CD on seven Tilak serial episodes was submitted to commit fraud’
On how the fraud was committed, Goyal submitted that a compact disc of a “scratch movie”, which appears to be an abridged version of seven episodes of a Delhi Doordarshan serial on late Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was received by the department, “which means the producer has played a fraud on the department by showing the old TV serial as new movie”.
Holding that there was a “huge public interest in this application”, the Commission directed the ministry CPIO to also inform about the action taken on the missing file and to furnish the certified copy of the chargesheet to the appellant within 15 days.
CBI claim on chargesheet being a secret document is “illegal”
Finally, the Commission held that the CBI claim that the chargesheet is a secret document is “quite illegal and against tenets of open prosecution in criminal justice system”.
“When chargesheet forms the basis and beginning of public prosecution of accused, how can it be secured as secret and how can it be denied to the complainant i.e., the department and to the appellant because of whose RTI the Rs. 2.5 crore scandal has come out,” Acharyulu asked, while directing the CPIO of CBI to provide a certified copy of the chargeesheet to the respondent authority and also the appellant within 15 days.
During the hearing in the matter earlier this month, Acharyulu also expressed surprise that while the CBI DSP Pathania questioned the officers of the Ministry of Culture about what they had done for 12 years to trace the file, the investigating agency had itself also not probed the involvement of the officials.
“The Commission also recommends the CBI and the Ministry of Culture to probe into the missing of the key file in the scandal,” the CIC ruled.