Book Title: Telgi — A Reporter’s Diary
Author: Sanjay Singh
The Telgi scam had rocked the country. The printing and sale of counterfeit stamp papers was not only an example of how the system could be subverted, but also about connivance and collusion on part of those who were supposed to safeguard it.
The book is a gripping account of how an investigative journalist chased the Telgi story and proved what he thought was right
From a modest background in Khanapur on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border, Abdul Karim Telgi engineered his rise, first through his work as a travel agent and then by printing duplicate stamps that closely resembled the original ones. He reportedly purchased outdated printing machinery from the government press at Nashik. The racket flourished for more than a decade and had its network across the country. His talent had obviously gone astray. The suspicions of Mumbai Police arose when word spread that Telgi or Karim Lala had spent more than Rs 80 lakh at a dance bar. But his shenanigans rendered him vulnerable to the powers of the policemen, who thought they could turn it to their own advantage.
The book is a gripping account by Sanjay Singh, an investigative journalist, who chased the story, unravelling facts and going all out to prove what he thought was right. The reality of it makes it sound like a work of fiction, which it is not. The Jaiswal report, prepared by a then DIG-rank officer heading the SIT, forms the basis of the narrative. How a ‘source’ handed him an advance copy of it, how he initially doubted the veracity of it, before finally turning it into the perfect news story to mark the launch of NDTV, that was now on its own after severing of ties with Star TV.
Sanjay Singh’s account weaves varied strands in the narrative. He makes observations about the changes that have come about in the field of news gathering. He feels it has become more competitive. However, he notes that journalists still cooperate and collaborate in the larger interests of the fraternity. The book also warns of not losing sight of professional goals and the game of one-upmanship that goes on as the interaction of journalists with senior police officers like Mumbai Police Commissioner RS Sharma, Pradeep Sawant and Daya Nayak shows. It is also about signs of ‘embedded journalism’ when freelancers pretend to speak up for their ‘highly placed’ friends in the hierarchy. The author feels that a bilingual reporter is the distinct need for and a by-product of the dynamism of journalism, and that Hindi language can be seen struggling for survival in all fields of life, not only journalism.
The book makes observations on the working of the police department. There is no dearth of officers who do their work sincerely to stamp out crime, but turf war and professional rivalry are not exclusive to any single profession. The book gives an account of the author’s interaction with policemen at all levels — the encounter specialists who can fetch exclusive news stories, sources who leak reports, protecting their identity, senior police officials who first tend to think how news went out and finally put up a united stand by attributing motives. As Chhagan Bhujbal, the then Maharashtra Home Minister, told the author: “You needed a good story for the channel’s launch, now stay calm and rest for a while.” The policemen, too, are subject to discipline and the rules that their service is bound by.
When Telgi was arrested by the Mumbai Police in 2001, his stamp paper scam had arguably become the biggest in Indian history, at an estimated Rs 30,000 crore. It is surprising how the scandal worked undetected in an unobtrusive way. Finally, when he died afflicted by various illnesses, his wife surrendered all his properties to the court, praying that they be used for social causes.
A result of deep investigative work, the book is a gripping account by an intrepid crime reporter on which the web series, ‘Scam 2003: The Telgi Scam’, is based.