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Tehelka hid greed behind public service

Tehelka hid greed behind public service

Author: Virendra Kapoor
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: December 15, 2002

Now it can be told.  Tehelka Commission was derailed by those who feared that it would soon unravel their own dirty doings.  Fearing exposure of their get-rich-quick scam in the name of public service journalism, a conspiracy was hatched to embarrass the Chairman of the Commission, Justice Venkataswami, with the sole objective of provoking him to quit in a huff.  An honourable man, Justice Venkataswami played straight in the hands of those who desperately wanted the Commission not to look into their financial skulduggery.  When they questioned the propriety of Justice Venkataswamy's appointment as Chairman of the Tribunal on Advance Rulings for Customs and Central Excise, he quit.  The only people relieved were the self-confessed conmen at the Tehelka portal, for the Commission was all set to probe their financial dealings, including the multi-crore operations of the share-broker couple who had bankrolled the website.

The Chief Justice of India, S. P. Bharucha, one of the most straightforward and no-nonsense judges to have become the CJI in recent years, had recommended Justice Venkataswamy's name for heading the Tribunal for Advance Rulings for Customs and Central Excise because (a) fit was a light charge which would in no case interfere with Justice Venkataswamy's work as the Tehelka Commissioner, and (b) no other retired SC judge was available to take up this part-time work.  Justice Venkataswamy was unlikely to gain from his additional assignment.

Most significantly, the second appointment of Justice Venkataswamy was made early in June this year while the campaign of slander against the judge was launched only in November.  Between June and November, the only thing that had happened was that the Commission was now ready to explore the financial aspect the Tehelka portal, including the crucial question whether its so-called expose was a cover to help its chief financier to make a huge killing on the stock exchanges by hear-hammering.  That is when they pointed a finger of blame at Justice Venkataswamy and, predictably, ensured his ouster.

A tight lid was thus put on the dirty doings of the clever operators behind the doctor company who now go around posing themselves as the victims of official vendetta even as they refuse to account for the crores of rupees that they had made in the name of so-called public service journalism.  For instance, the founding editor of the dotcom helped himself to a couple of lakhs in salary and perks every moth. Turning it into a veritable gravvy train, he extended the largesse to his brother and sister as well, gifting them Rs. One lakh and Rs. Half lakh every month for doing god knows what for the sleazy outfit which boasted of one of the wildest pornographic sites till the other day. Public service clearly began with the service of one's own family and friends.

In the words of C. R. Irani, the Editor of the venerable 'The Statesman' - "there were call girls, bribes, sale of tapes to Zee TV for Rs. 50 lakhs, and a search for a venture capitalist to finance operations. Hindujas were approached . the search of Tehelka dotcom, office showed as many as 437 sex items." and one of its little known editors in a mysterious transaction received advances of US dollars 2,50,000 and British pounds 75,000 for a work of fiction Bunker 13, which no one knows when, if at all, will see the light of day.

Worse,  the counsel of the commi9ssion was found to be mixed up with the counsels of the get-rich-quick dotcom company.  The telephone records bear out the fact that the counsel of the commission was in constant touch with his Tehelka counterparts.  Indeed, in a tit-for-tat operations, the Samata Party leader, Jaya Jaitley, exposed the unholy nexus between one of the counsel of the commission with the main counsel of the controversial portal.

The story of the Tehelka dotcom, then, is the story of extraordinary sleaze and dirty tricks.  Its promoters hit upon the idea of dotcom boom to become millionaires overnight.  The prevailing rot in the society served as an excuse for them to exploit it for personal enrichment. This it was that one of the main promoters floated a publishing company while still working as a full-time journalist (which was worse than a service policeman or a Chief Minister floating a charitable trust or an NGO).  Again, the antecedents of one of the reporters behind the so-called expose would not bear scrutiny.

Remember that one of the first exposes by Telehelka had sought to blacken the face of India's original sporting icon, Kapil dev.  The major domos at the dotcom had relied on the former Indian cricketer Manoj Prabhakar to sully Kapil's name.  But here again Tehelka was exposed when Prabhakar found himself in jail on charges of running a fraudulent chit fund company which had deprived the poor people of Uttaranchal of their meagre savings while Tehelka's victim of calumny had his name duly cleared by a thorough inquiry in the so-called Cricketgate. Had they allowed the Venkataswamy commission to complete its enquiry, there was every likelihood that Tehelka would have ended up with further egg on its face for its so-called Defencegate.  Hence the conspiracy to force Venkataswamy out an shut down the commission looking into one of the sleaziest stories in Indian journalism.

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