On 30 October, the focus of CNN News 18 prime time show ‘Viewpoint’ was a man named Deepak Talwar. CNN News 18 claimed to have accessed Income Tax Department chargesheet against Talwar, a self-proclaimed corporate consultant (a fancy name for lobbyist), accusing him of receiving massive kickbacks worth Rs. 1000 crore between 2008 and 2011 for influencing aviation policies of the UPA government to favour his ‘clients’. According to CNN News 18 report, the charges against Talwar are –
- Received kickback of $9.8 million from Air Arabia for helping the airline secure more destinations
- Received kickback of $9 million from Qatar Airways
- Helped Dubai based airline Emirates to get bilateral agreements amended to enable larger passenger access in Indian market
- Helped Air Asia in obtaining operating permits
However, Deepak Talwar’s lobbying exploits are not limited to aviation policy. In fact, he had his fingers in multiple UPA scam pies. Let’s look at Talwar’s career –
- According to Outlook report, Deepak Talwar is the son of a former bureaucrat. Termed as “the king of the tribe” among lobbyists, he gained prominence during 1990s, using his proximity to the then top bureaucrat A.N. Varma to facilitate FDI approvals for multinational companies during economic liberalisation.
- In 2009, Talwar formed a 26:74 joint venture with US based Telcordia Technologies (now part of Ericsson) to win Mobile Number Portability (MNP) license for southern and eastern zones. However, MHA had red flagged this deal because Telcordia had already signed a similar deal with Pakistan. MHA said, “Since Deepak Talwar Consultants didn’t have any expertise in telecom, this would give Telcordia full control over the firm both administratively and technically, even though day-to-day operations may be entrusted to Indian nationals. The foreign partner may be in a position to exploit for their country’s interest as well their commercial interest”. Despite MHA’s objections, the company received clearance from the UPA government to implement MNP.
- Delhi Police investigations in the MNP deal revealed that Talwar had roped in a senior IAS officer – Ravi Inder Singh, former director with MHA, through a businessman named Vineet Kumar for obtaining information on ministry’s file noting as well as guidance on obtaining security clearance for MNP implementation. Both Kumar and Singh were arrested.
- Talwar’s alleged proximity to the then Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel helped him become a major player in the aviation sector. Talwar won two major contracts from Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) during Patel’s tenure for which DIAL drew flak from the CAG. According to an internal investigation by Air India, Talwar’s company supplied DVDs for the airline’s in-flight entertainment system at ten times the market rate.
- Deepak Talwar’s name also figured in the infamous Radia tapes. Niira Radia in a telephone conversation with a Times of India reporter had claimed that Talwar and Praful Patel had made $300-400 million in selling bilaterals (air service agreements between Air India and foreign airlines) on the Gulf routes. CAG report said that Civil Aviation ministry under Patel approved additional rights to Emirates despite UAE’s failure to give reciprocal rights to Air India. According to Radia, Deepak Talwar was instrumental in the “Emirates deal”.
- Revelations in Radia Tapes resulted in Supreme Court directing CBI to start a preliminary enquiry (PE) against Deepak Talwar. The extent of Talwar’s influence can be gauged from the fact that during the period when CBI was conducting this enquiry, Deepak Talwar visited the then CBI Director Ranjit Sinha more than fifty times at his residence! The PE against Talwar was subsequently closed by the CBI.
- Talwar’s fortunes started turning for the worse after Modi government came to power. In June 2016, more than hundred Income Tax officials raided a dozen premises owned by Deepak Talwar. His name also came up in connection to another lobbyist named Sanjay Bhandari who was found to be in possession of sensitive documents of Defense Ministry
- Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s name emerged in the files recovered by IT department from the raids on Talwar’s premises. The recovered data allegedly show that Singh and his family members were frequently upgraded on international flights, mostly on Emirates
- In May 2017, MHA sent a notice to a NGO setup by Deepak Talwar for violating FCRA norms. The NGO received donations worth crores of rupees from aviation and defense companies like Airbus and MBDA – the European missile manufacturer which is a supplier to Rafale and Scorpene. According to MHA, Talwar’s NGO flouted several provisions of the FCRA, including “false statements, false accounts, claimed bogus expenses, furnished concocted vouchers, purchased three luxury cars over ₹84 lakh, payment made by NGO for foreign visits of Mr. Talwar, funds used for making payment related to business activities of the founder of the Trust.”
- According to CNN News 18, Deepak Talwar lobbied for a company called Dnata (part of Emirates group) to get ticketing contracts from Air India. Dnata was considered as a security risk by the Intelligence Bureaufor its apparent links to Pakistan and was denied security clearance by the Vajpayee government to provide services at four Indian airports. Interestingly, the name of Dnata also came up in the investigation of another lobbyist Moin Qureshi who helped the company win another service bid for IGI Airport during UPA tenure. The bid was cancelled in 2014 over concerns raised by IB.
Above information makes it clear that Deepak Talwar was as influential as Niira Radia, if not more, during the UPA government. Through his alleged proximity to UPA ministers and top ranking bureaucrats, Talwar not only unduly influenced policies to benefit himself and his corporate clients, but he also made sure that the law never caught up with him. Until Modi government came to power.