Abdul Karim Telgi
Mastermind of the Muti-Crore Fake Stamp Paper Scam
THE Telgi stamp scandal is big. The Telgi stamp scandal is national. The Telgi stampscandal is all-encompassing. But, above all, the Telgi stamp scandal is Indian.Consider its many elements. First, the rags to riches story of Abdul Karim Telgi,born 47 years ago in Khananpur near Belgaum to a minor functionary in the railways. Hisfather died when Abdul Karim, the second of three sons, was still a child. He wasdetermined to study and supported his own education at a local English medium missionaryschool by selling vegetables and fruit on trains. One of his ambitions, apparently, was to goto the Gulf, which suggests an early desire to make money.Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except that our system, since the 1970s at least,encourages you to take short-cuts in the pursuit of money. And the late 1970s is when Telgicame to Mumbai from the Gulf, the legitimate ways of making money was too slow for hisliking, and he discovered the joys of forgery. From forging passport documents (which is acottage industry in India) to forging stamp paper and revenue stamps is a small leap inimagination but requires a large leap in entrepreneurship. Telgi was equal to that, and therest is (recent and dark) history, showing once again that entrepreneurship which flouts thelaw, thrives the most in our country
We are well aware how our system of checks and balances to prevent corruption, infact encourages it, and the larger the scope of a scam, the more likely it is to succeedspectacularly. Telgi's fake stamp scam is the biggest ever in the country, and it was possible
because of this simple, yet unshakeable Indian truth: everyone, or at least almost everyone iscorruptible. From the constable to the cabinet minister, everyone, or at least almost everyoneis on the take. Telgi's corruption network must be far, far larger than what it prima-facieappeared to be. The Telgi tapes, over 1,200 hours of his phone conversations secretly tapedby the Karnataka police while he was in jail, proved to be a key piece of evidence.In the meantime, let's just look at the policemen so far in the net. Telgi gave very,very large bribes, got very, very large favours. The biggest of course, was to carry onunhindered, the business of forging government Stamp Paper. The fact that this translatesinto defrauding the government of very large revenues, isn't something that bothered our keepers of the law, as long as their own demands were met. By the time Telgi came to needCompany and grow his network, he had already learnt that the right sum of money into theright pocket at the right time, ensures that an official head will look the wrong way whenwanted. That, in fact, was how his stamp paper career started: he was able to bribe insidersto give him the production programmes of the heavily guarded Government Security Pressin Nashik, so that he knew what denomination and category of papers were being printed atany given time, so his own press could do the same. Even more importantly, Telgi was ableto buy special printing machines from the Nashik press which had supposedly gone beyondtheir shelf life, and were meant to be destroyed and sold as scrap. Telgi did buy them asscrap (at an auction which was fixed in his favour), but he was able to ensure that the presseswere not destroyed as they were meant to be
Another reason why the Telgi scam is so very Indian is that it involves so much of official incompetence. Whether the incompetence was just that or was motivated, is for theSIT to find out
Two more elements make the Telgi scam thoroughly Indian. The first is the veryscope of the scam. Initial figures said that the fraud totalled Rs. 2,000 crores. That alreadymassive figure has steadily been increased so that in some circles the estimate goes up to Rs.26,000 crores and in some even to Rs. 32,000 crores. Where do these staggering figurescome from? And why are these being bandied about so loosely? This suggests the usual rumour mill in action, kept in check neither by the authorities nor the media. Surely it wouldbe possible to get a better approximation by looking at annual figures of stamp papersofficially sold over the last few years, looking at the annual rate of growth and checking if there was a large fall in the sales figures in the last few years. That reduction would give areasonably accurate estimate of the market cornered by Telgi......