This story dates back to 2001 when a special cell called Commemoration Bureau was set up by the Ministry of Culture, with a Rs200 crore fund to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Indian Republic, wherein a sum of Rs2.5 crore was allocated for making a movie on one of the leading freedom fighters, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Over a decade later, Right to Information (RTI) reply reveals that the entire sum was transferred to the account of the movie producer Vinay Dhumale in two instalments but the movie was never made; the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation prosecuted the producer but spared government babus as it failed to explore the angle of `missing files’ in this case.
The Central Information Commission, in its final order of 27 February 2018, stated vehemently that, although an FIR has been filed against the “unknown’’ officials in this ministry, “This action is not sufficient to punish the concerned and prevent this kind of corrupt practices.’’
Central Information Commissioner Prof Dr M Sridhar Acharyulu appreciated RTI applicant VR Kamalapurkar, who has been pursuing information on this issue since 2012, for bringing to light this scandal through RTI and “the pathetic state of not keeping the required records for which any public authority should be ashamed of. The CIC also mentioned the efforts of CBI and hoped prosecution would be expedited.”
Kamalapurkar, through numerous RTI applications filed since 13 December 2012, sought information on the status of the film. The Special Cell denied information as no records of the film were available with the Cell.
Subsequently, through another RTI application addressed to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, he procured copy of the sanction order, which established the fact that funds worth Rs2.5 crore were released in two instalments to Dhumale for making the film on Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Efforts were again made to trace the concerned file but it could not be located. Kamalapurkar then filed his second appeal with the CIC. The matter was also referred to the CBI for investigation.
The CIC directed enquiry into missing files, to furnish information about budget allocation and the list of programs conducted and asked the office of CBI, New Delhi to inform it about the time they need to finalise the investigation report. The CIC stated, “Though officers claimed to have made intensive search for missing files they could not show any document reflecting their efforts. They have not made up any case against any officer or found anybody responsible for the last custody or the loss, nor have they filed any FIR regarding the missing file.’’
CIC further noted, “It is surprising that the Ministry of Culture sanctioned Rs100 crore for the celebration of the golden jubilee of the Indian Republic and released Rs2.5 crore to a person for making a movie on Bal Gangadhar Tilak and simply ignores its responsibility of following up. It is to the credit of the RTI Act that this major lapse has been exposed; still it remains a tragedy that the Ministry has lost the entire record regarding this huge grant, that too without any consequence.’’
The CIC also noted, “The Ministry of Culture is in such a pathetic state that until the appellant Kamalapurkar complained, they did not know that entire money granted on the movie on Bal Gangadhar Tilak was swindled. It is surprising why the Ministry is not seriously probing or taking action on the loss of the file during the last 12 years.”
During the CIC hearing on 10 January 2018, Kamalapurkar and the officers from the Ministry complained that the CBI has completed the investigations but considers the report as a secret document, which cannot be shared with either of them. Nirmala Goyal, the deputy secretary of this Ministry admitted that the loss of such an important file will have a serious impact on establishing the charge of misappropriation of these funds.
She also revealed that in order to save his skin, Dhumale actually submitted to the Ministry, “a CD of the movie, which appears to be an abridged version of the 7-episode serial on Doordarshan on Bal Gangadhar Tilak, which means the producer has played a fraud on the Ministry by showing the old TV serial as a new movie.” The CIC directed the CBI to provide complete information as asked for by Kamalapurkar as it is of “huge public interest”.
Charge sheet is not a secret document
The Commission held that the claim of the CBI representative that charge-sheet is a secret document is quite illegal and against the tenets of open prosecution in criminal justice system. It says, “When a charge-sheet forms the basis and beginning of public prosecution of the 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 Rs2.5 crore scandal has come out?
The Commission directed the CPIO of CBI to provide a certified copy of the charge-sheet to the respondent authority and also the appellant. “The CBI representative KS Pathania, DSP, questioned the officers of the Ministry of Culture during the hearing to ask them what they had done for the last 12 years to trace the file. But the question is, why did the CBI not probe this angle also? This Commission advises the CBI and the Ministry of Culture to probe into the missing of the key file in the scandal and inform the Commission about the action,” the Commission said.
When the case came up for hearing on 18 February 2018 with the CIC before the final disposal on 27 February 2018, CBI officers said that the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Delhi’s Patiala House Court has initiated the prosecution of Vinay Dhumale, principal accused, based on the charge sheet filed by the CBI.
CIC though observed in its 27th February order that “However, it is not known till today as to whether any investigation was taken up against the public servants who handed over a huge amount running into crores and what happened to the records. The public authority is under the obligation to provide the copies of the records to the appellant, which cannot be wiped of simply because they have issued a search memorandum. It is atrocious that Vinay Dhumale has shown the old TV episode clips as his new movie and none checked it in the Ministry before parting away Rs2.5 crore.”