The Delhi Police arrested seven more people including former journalist
and energy consultant
on Friday as the row involving alleged stealing of confidential oil ministry documents snowballed into a major controversy engulfing energy majors.
The police arrested five officials of corporate houses including Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) and Essar amid evidence that stolen papers contained details of likely budget proposals involving billions of dollars slated for announcement next week.
Sources told HT that reams of documents that have been recovered included a classified status report on the national gas grid, a confidential letter from Prime Minister's principal secretary Nripendra Mishra to the oil ministry, and global energy cooperation draft pacts including one between India and Sri Lanka, reinforcing concerns about rising threat of espionage in India's corporate world as companies jostle against each other to get ahead in an emerging economy.
The Delhi Police have so far arrested 12 persons whom they believe were involved in the scam to steal and sell secret government documents to private energy companies and consultancies for a hefty premium.
They also sealed seven offices in Shastri Bhawan , which houses several important offices including the petroleum and natural gas ministry.
On Thursday, the police had arrested five persons , including two oil ministry employees, alleged to have used duplicate keys and forged identity cards to gain access to the ministry at night and photocopy documents related to high-value bids and pricing policies.
After the arrests made on Friday, a spokesperson of Reliance Power (of Reliance ADAG group) said: "We are not aware of the circumstances in which one of our junior employees has allegedly been arrested.
We will ensure full cooperation with the investigative agencies. The company adheres to the highest standards of corporate governance, and does not support any unlawful practices."
Other corporate firms — Reliance ADAG, Cairn India and Jubilant Energy — did not respond to HT's queries seeking a response on the arrests of their employees.
There were also television reports that the oil ministry was "bugged" , but petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan told HT that he wasn't aware of any such activity.
Reliance Industries shares fell 3% on Friday after the company's name surfaced in reports about alleged official document theft in the oil ministry.
Saikia runs a web portal IndiaPetro.com while Jain runs a similar energy site called Metis. Consultants can be good, bad, ugly and lightly taxed
The government has already initiated plans to arm ministers and top bureaucrats with tablets or e-readers powered with a highly secure and encrypted app to move into fully paper-less cabinet meetings.
Read: At ministries, secret docs are free for all
The ministry of communication and information technology has moved a note seeking views of the law ministry on moving to an intra-goverment portal called "eCabinet", which once implemented, will ensure inter-ministerial consultations on cabinet proposals without physical file movements and prevent "leaks."
Stung by the latest turn of events the oil ministry has changed locks at most of the sensitive offices.
As word spread of a well-oiled espionage racket, there was panic in the power corridors in Delhi with various senior bureaucrats of petroleum, power, coal and commerce ministries reported to have cancelled scheduled meetings with corporate officials and media persons.
While officials confirmed that meetings were cancelled, no reason could be officially ascertained with bureaucrats refusing to take calls.
Police said that some of the documents seized relate to the power ministry as the investigators took some of the accused to Shastri Bhawan to carry out a mock drill on how they carried out the racket. Delhi Police say they may widen probe, invoke OSA
A joint interrogation was held with at least 20 other peons working in the building, out of which around five are under the scanner, said the police.
Read: Corporate spying in India: How it works