1. Gen reveals chink in India’s armour
General VK Singh was already embroiled in an age row with the government when the story about his letter to the prime minister came out in DNA. The furore in Parliament kept the story alive for weeks with some arguing that the leak of the letter to DNA had breached national security. Then there were those who said the leak had raised important issues that were usually brushed under the carpet.
All that Gen Singh had done was appraise the PM of the dire straits that the Indian Army was in. Their guns were obsolete, ammunition for the tanks was almost over, the air defence cover was inadequate and India’s position vis à vis China was precarious. The furore led to the parliamentary standing committee on defence seeking a detailed response from the chiefs of the army, navy and air force.
For years, the standing committee had rolled out report after report that stated the obvious without looking at the real issues. That changed as MPs quizzed officers and bureaucrats and sought to seek the truth. This led to defence minister AK Antony holding a special meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council to clear out long-pending purchases.
2. BEML takes army for a ride
For over a decade, Tatra trucks were sold to the army at an inflated price. In 2011, DNA revealed how Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), a defence public sector undertaking, routinely imported the trucks and sold them to the army, flouting defence procurement guidelines.
The trucks were bought from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) through a London-based agent, while the defence procurement guidelines say all purchases should be made from the OEM. BEML has been dealing with Tatra Sipox (UK) Ltd, which is neither the OEM nor a subsidiary of the OEM.
Almost eight months after DNA published the investigation reports, defence minister AK Antony was forced to order a CBI inquiry into the scam when General VK Singh in an interview said an equipment lobbyist had offered him Rs14 crore as a bribe to clear a tranche [purchase of 600 substandard Tatra-all-terrain vehicles].
Following the revelation of the then army chief, DNA reported how Antony’s statement in Parliament, that he had not received any written complaint on the issue, was false as he was well aware of the scam in 2009 itself. The issue rocked Parliament and the opposition raised questions over the role of the defence ministry in shielding the racketeers.
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3. Big Brother is watching you!
Why should an intelligence agency, created to gather intelligence abroad, be given the powers to tap the phones of Indian citizens? For years, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had sought the power to intercept communications of Indian citizens in the name of national security. This had also been consistently denied with eight agencies already empowered to do so.
Unlike in other democracies, where intelligence agencies are created and governed by an act of Parliament, Indian intelligence agencies have no such supervisory mechanisms.
When DNA broke the story, it sparked a debate on the rights of citizens and the unfettered power that the government had to invade their lives.
In the US, when it was discovered that their external intelligence agency, the CIA, was spying on ordinary citizens for the Richard Nixon administration, it led to outrage. The US Congress ordered two investigations that ensured that the CIA could never snoop on its citizens again. However, in India, the intelligence agencies continue to spy on citizens with impunity and don’t have any supervision. The DNA report renewed the debate and raised fresh concerns on the draconian powers that the government has accumulated over the years.
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4. PM caught in spectrum web
Most people believed that the 2G spectrum allocation scam was planned and executed by the then telecom minister, A Raja. But before Raja, his party colleague Dayanidhi Maran had already set the stage for the scam.
Maran had key help from the head of the Union cabinet of ministers, prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Documents accessed by DNA from an activist using the Right To Information Act nailed the PM’s role in the scam. It revealed that the spectrum pricing policy had been sent to a Group of Ministers to deliberate upon before a decision was taken to allocate additional spectrum to telecom companies.
Maran petitioned the PM to ensure that the issue of “spectrum pricing” was never included in the terms of reference of the GoM. Had this been retained, the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss, as reported by the CAG, would have probably never taken place. But the PM allowed the issue to be diluted and ignored the mandatory business rules of the government of India that state that any decision that has a financial implication must have the concurrence of the ministry of finance. This was also set aside and the stage was set for one of the biggest scams in India.
DNA ran a three-part series that documented the scam, which once again led to a major debate in Parliament and posed some tough questions for the CBI from opposition MPs who are part of the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating the 2G scam.
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5. ACP turns the builder’s agent
When one of our Mumbai reporters was tipped off about a senior police officer using his muscle and office to force slum dwellers in Vile Parle to sell their huts to a builder, we knew there was only one way to do the story.
The cop in question, assistant commissioner of police, Vakola division, Anil Karade, organised meetings between the slum dwellers and the builder’s representatives in his office. Pretending to be one of the residents, our reporter joined a group of 25 slum dwellers from Ambedkar Nagar at Vile Parle police station near Sahar airport. They were welcomed by a police officer wearing a light pink shirt. Also present in the room was a former Shiv Sena corporator. Mincing no words, the ex-corporator said the slum dwellers would get Rs 40 lakh for their 100 square foot huts and asked them to take a quick decision. Then, Karade said, “Don’t waste your time. If you take time in taking a decision, it will be problematic for you. My involvement in the matter is already known. If any political person comes to know about this, the project will be stalled.”
The former said that those who rebelled against the plan to sell the huts to the builder would be ‘taken care of’ by the police. The builder on whose behalf this negotiation was going on stayed anonymous.
Immediately after the article was published, city police commissioner Arup Patnaik instituted an inquiry and asked additional commissioner of police Vishwas Nangre-Patil to submit a report on the matter at the earliest. Two days later, Karade was transferred to police control room.
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6. Bonded labour in Mumbai backyard
In November 2011, DNA published a report on the death of a brick kiln worker in rural Thane. The shocking aspect of it, besides the unfortunate death, was the fact that the worker, a tribal, had been kept chained by the kiln-owner: he was a bonded labourer. Worse, even after his death, the local police colluded with the kiln-owner in denying the victim’s young widow his body. India is considered an “emerging economy” by many in the world, but the reality is that bonded labour such as this also occurs, and not just in some distant village far away from modern communications: Thane is by now virtually a part of Mumbai and rural Thane is thus a rural extension of Mumbai. Yet such crimes happen.
After the DNA report was published, the high court took up the matter, and another case that was strikingly similar came to light. DNA also followed up on how the children of these tribal labourers had their special school facilities withdrawn by a callous state government. The government, under the HC’s watchful eye, had no choice but to act on all of these reports: compensation for the families of the dead workers, concrete dwelling for their families, and school facilities.
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7. Why Dharavi still remains a slum
It’s been seven years since the government announced the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) for Asia’s largest slum. But it never took off. DNA published a series of stories to bring out the plight of Dharavi residents and the role of politicians, NGOs, bureaucrats and other stake holders in killing the DRP.
Dharavi redevelopment could never take off because everyone involved in the project was too busy looking after his/her own interests. Some, such as the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centre and the Dharavi Bachao Andolan, spread misinformation to scuttle the project. The government’s lack of preparedness in the beginning also created a mess. Its shoddy groundwork in the run-up to the plan created many problems and led to delays.
Also, while the Congress is largely responsible for the inordinate delay in implementing the project, the Sena has shifted its stand over the years, from supporting it to opposing it.
After years of no progress on the DRP, the CM playing safe appointed Mhada to develop one of the five sectors to develop. The series of reports rattled the housing department forcing the government to act.