The Essar leaks include
e-mails, office memos, telephone conversations and other records allegedly
leaked from the systems of the Indian business conglomerate Essar Group.

Events leading to the Leak
In 2015,
a whistleblower approached lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, and
leaked a set of internal e-mails and memos from Essar Group
alleging that the conglomerate had granted favours to several politicians,
bureaucrats and journalists. Bhushan’s Centre for Public
Interest Litigation (CPIL) filed a PIL before
the Supreme Court of India, requesting an investigation into these
allegations.[i] The
Essar Group filed an affidavit seeking dismissal of the PIL, calling the
favours as legally justifiable “common courtesies”.[ii]
May 2016, lawyer Suren Uppal reported the existence of a new set of secretly
recorded conversations to the Prime
Minister. The conversations involve influential politicians, bureaucrats,
businesspeople, bankers, and other VIPs.
Uppal claimed to have received these tapes from the former Essar employee
Albasit Khan, who later denied Essar’s role in tapping the conversations and
stated he had received these tapes from the now-deceased Mumbai Police officer Vijay Salaskar, a claim denied by
Mumbai police. In June 2016, after the Outlook magazine made Uppal’s claims public.
Khan and Essar completely denied the story, accusing Suren Uppal of being an
extortionist. Uppal denied the allegations, and promised to release the tapes
to the Supreme Court of India.

to Uppal,until 2005, the surveillance was carried out over the BPL
Mobile network, which had been under Essar’s control. The network was also
used by Essar’s rival Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which
allowed Essar to tap their conversations. However, RIL moved out of this
network after 2005. After that, Essar allegedly
used Hutchison network for the tapping.[iii]
Contents of the leak
The Essar
leaks allegedly show that the businesses unfairly influenced the Indian
government and judiciary during both UPA and NDA tenures.[iv] The
leaks include the following:
A November 2002 conversation
between politicians Amar Singh and Kunwar Akhilesh Singh reveals how Amar Singh
lobbied in favour of Reliance Petroleum as a member of the Joint
Parliamentary Committee.[v]
A December 2002 converstaion
between RIL executives Mukesh Ambani and Satish Seth discusses how the Supreme
Court was “managed” through minister Pramod Mahajan.[vi]
In another conversation, Mukesh
Ambani and Satish Seth discuss how to break the Cellular Operators Association of India by
paying millions to MP Rajeev Chandrasekharand the BPL Mobile founder.[vii]
In a June 2009 memo, senior
executive Sunil Bajaj suggested giving 200 high-end cell phones to senior
politicians and bureaucrats of the new UPA government, in order to “invest
on right people at the right places for reaping long-term benefits”. He
stated that Airtel and Reliance were
already “experiencing the benefits” of this strategy.[viii]
In another 2009 e-mail, Sunil
Bajaj suggested earmarking at least 200 recruitment slots for job referrals
from powerful politicians and bureaucrats. He argued that the recommended
candidates were often “highly qualified”, so the company would not
have a problem hiring them.[ix]
A set of e-mails reveal that the
Steel ministry’s joint secretary Syedain Abbasi was granted accommodation at Essar’s
guest house in Delhi, although he was eligible for government-granted
accommodation. In a 2013 email, the Essar executive Rajamani Krishnamurti
describes Abbasi as “a very important person” who was handling the
“majority of Essar’s issues”. The e-mail reveals that Abbasi had
advised Essar to oppose a particular government proposal through industry
bodies such as ASSOCHAMCII,
and FICCI.[x]
An e-mail sent by Sunil Bajaj before
the Diwali festival
of 2013 suggested distributing gifts “to person in the middle and the
lower ranks in various ministries, who are very vital in sustenance and
procurement of important information and documents.” The e-mail indicate
that the Essar officials had access to confidential government communication
from multiple ministries, including Coal, Environment, Finance, Petroleum,
Railways, Shipping and Steel. The Essar officials were in close contact with
the Petroleum MinisterVeerappa Moily, and had
access to the 2012-13 budget proposals for his Ministry.[xi]
E-mail correspondence between
Essar executives shows that BJP leader Nitin Gadkari and
his family enjoyed a 2-night stay on an Essar luxury yacht in French Riviera during 7–9 July 2013. Essar
also arranged their stay on the Sunrays yacht
for a day, including a helicopter trip to and from the Nice airport.[xii]
Essar’s internal records show
that the company executives regularly arranged cabs for some Delhi-based
journalists included Anupama Airy (Hindustan Times), Meetu Jain (CNN-IBN), and
Sandeep Bamzai (Mail Today). [xiv]
Essar filed a police complaint
for data theft, and threatened legal action against media outlets that publish
“any allegations based on any email stolen from the system”:[xv]
the last few weeks we have received anonymous phone calls from people
purported to have mail stolen from our systems and on which basis there have
been some demands for money at the threat of publishing prejudicial material.
It is curious that some of the queries reflect the kind of material on which
we were sought to be blackmailed.
is apparent that some of the material is fabricated and some of the
allegations are conclusions and inferences being drawn from email stolen from
our computers.”
When The Caravan published a cover story
critical of the company, the Essar group filed a ₹ 2500 million defamation suit
against the magazine.[xvi]
Essar also claimed that some of
the leaked material was fabricated, and was being used to blackmail them. The leaked records allegedly
contain evidence of politician-corporate nexus in India, and show how business
interests unfairly manipulate Indian government and judiciary.
In the 2015 affidavit seeking dismissal
of CPIL’s request for investigation, the Essar Group stated that they had not
derived any benefits from the alleged favours. The affidavit stated that there
was no evidence of any criminal offence by Essar Group, and the alleged favours
“common courtesies extended by corporate houses”.[xvii]
Essar also questioned the
authenticity of the leaked e-mails, calling them “unverified” and
“pure hearsay”. It stated that the company had not recruited people
based solely on VIP recommendations, calling such recommendations legal and
proper in Indian context.[xviii]
Essar accused CPIL of launching a
smear campaign against them to seek publicity.[2]
The Aam Aadmi Party and
the Indian National Congress demanded
that the alleged tapes be made public.[xix]
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the Home Ministry
to conduct an inquiry, and submit a detailed report.[xx]
claims are only the “tip of the iceberg” and that there were “far more
incriminating conversations that expose invariably all aspects of corruption in
the business milieu, Governance, policy making and judicial pronouncements that
have marred our national pride and progress.”
The politician on the Yacht defends himself by saying that
the Essar group owners have been his personal friends for several years and
hence he doesn’t see any conflict of interest. Other politicians dismiss the
story suggesting, public representatives must be seeking jobs for those from
their constituencies. The only sphere, in which the “morality stick” has
been cracked, is journalism and that’s where my basic objection lies.[xxi]
conclusion, if we are genuinely concerned about media ethics, the first step is
to acknowledge the real issues and by not avoiding to look at the genuine

[i]Krishn Kaushik,Doing The Needful, Caravan (1 August 2015), available at ,last seen on 29/06/2016.
[iii]Meetu Jain,Mumbai Police Dismiss Essar
Whistle-Blower’s Claim That Crime Branch Was Tapes’ Source,
Outlook (18
June 2016), available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[viii]Appu Esthose Suresh and Ritu Sarin, Essar Leaks:
Wooing politicians with high-end phones, journalists with cabs,
Express(27 February 2015), available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xiv]Archna Shukla,Essar Leaks: 2 journalists resign,
third put on notice,
Indian Express (28 February 2015), available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
Supra xii.
[xvi]Shreeja Sen , SC declines to transfer Essar
defamation suit against ‘Caravan’ to Delhi,
Live Mint.(9 September 2015),
available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
Supra ii.
responds to Indian Express report on Essar tapes, demands the tapes be made
Indian Express( 17 June
2016), available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
Essar leaks: AAP joins chorus, demands the tapes be
made public, 
Express(18 June 2016), available at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xx]Rahul Kanwal,Modi orders probe into Essar leaks,
asks Home Ministry to submit report,
India Today(19 June 2016), available
at, last seen on 29/06/2016.
[xxi]The Essar leak case, journalism and selective
available at,
last seen on 29/06/2016

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