Investigation into the corporate espionage case has now thrown up a startling fact that the two “energy consultant” firms under scanner earned a substantial part of their revenues from public sector undertakings (PSU) like ONGC, GAIL Indian Oil and others.
The PSUs, HT has learnt, has paid subscriptions to the “consulting firms” - Indianpetro and Metis Consultancy and few others - to access the information they used to generate, while frequently advertising with them.
Industry sources revealed that almost all top state-owned public sector companies including Coal India Ltd, Power Finance Corporation, ONGC, ONGC Videsh Ltd, GAIL India Ltd, NTPC, BHEL, BPCL, HPCL, Powergrid, NHPC, Indian Oil, Oil India and many others were on the client lists of such “consulting” firms.
Many private sector companies were also part of the client list. Besides them, many leading public and private sector banks, merchant and investment bankers, brokerage houses, industry associations along with leading global consultancy firms were also on the client list.
Both these “energy consulting firms” are under the police scanner for allegedly procuring sensitive documents from the union petroleum, coal and power ministries. Several people, including Santanu Saikia, owner of multiple energy websites like Indianpetro, indiaenergyline and others besides Prayas Jain of Metis Business Solutions Private Limited are being investigated by the Delhi Police for their alleged links to the corporate espionage case unearthed last week. Both Saikia and Jain are currently under arrest for their alleged involvement in the case.
Investigations have revealed that government documents were being routinely leaked and routed to the “energy consultants” who would forward them to their subscribers and clients, which included these PSUs, private firms and other clients.
These “energy consultancy firms” — who were procuring documents through unfair means from the ministries of petroleum and natural gas, power, coal, fertilisers for a cost — were passing on these papers to their clients, depending on the nature of the subscription they signed up for.
“Sometimes the subscription would be very basic and the clients could access only the documents uploaded on the web. A higher subscription ensured that the clients could access specific documents. We are examining the contracts that these consulting firms had to see which entity accessed the confidential documents” an official familiar with the investigation said.
When contacted by HT, the spokespersons of most of these PSUs refused to say anything on record. However, most admitted that their subscriptions were for "intelligence gathering and nothing more”.
Some spokespersons argued that the “intelligence gathering” was done to only check if what the competition had on them. "On the contrary, we have always been concerned about our plans and strategies reaching our private counterparts. (Our) access and subscription to these websites were only for intelligence gathering on what plans of ours are being put in the public domain. We did not have any interest beyond this," a senior PSU oil company official clarified on the strict condition of anonymity.
Interestingly, the private sector energy firms are also claiming the same rationale for subscribing to these websites.
The same PSU official added that the functioning of government companies was very different from the private sector and everything is deliberated and discussed at the government level. "Even for most of our global plans, the inputs come from Indian diplomats based in various countries and we are sounded of opportunities through the Ministry of External Affairs that is routed through our parent ministries.” However, the case has now established that besides subscribing to these “energy consultants” the PSUs also regularly advertised on their websites adding to their substantial revenues.