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Censor probe reels off films

Aug. 19: The Central Bureau of Investigation is probing allegations that arrested censor board CEO Rakesh Kumar arm-twisted top producers and actors into paying bribes for timely clearance of all recent “big-banner” releases.

“We have got reports that producers and makers of all the recent big-banner films allegedly paid bribe to the censor board chief,” a senior CBI official said today.

Kumar, under the scanner for allegedly demanding Rs 70,000 to clear a regional language film from Chhattisgarh, was arrested yesterday. Two others — an agent and an advisory member of the Central Board of Film Certification, or the censor board — are also in custody.

CBI sources said some top names in Bollywood apparently paid money to get movies cleared in time with the desired certification. “The common threat was to chop off item songs. Clearance was delayed till the last moment, which made producers frantic,” said a CBI source in Delhi.

Kumar, a 1997-batch Indian Railway Personnel Services officer, had joined the censor board on deputation in January and was its de facto chief after danseuse Leela Samson resigned last year. Produced before special CBI judge A.D. Karanjkar in Mumbai today, Kumar was remanded in the agency’s custody till Friday.

The CBI counsel, who spoke of a “deep conspiracy”, said searches at Kumar’s residence last week had thrown up 33 expensive watches of foreign make, including Rolex and Rado. Kumar, the counsel added, had failed to explain how he got them. The agency also claimed that Kumar used to demand up to Rs 1.5 lakh for screening a film at short notice and getting it cleared.

The CBI said that Shripati Mishra, the arrested agent, had revealed that he paid Kumar up to Rs 5 lakh. Mishra also claimed to have paid Rs 3.5 lakh to Sarvesh Jaiswal, the arrested advisory member. The money was apparently intended for Kumar, who had refused to clear films submitted through Mishra, the CBI told the court.

Another agent, Krishnapalli, had told the agency he had collected Rs 18-25 lakh on Kumar’s behalf over the past eight months.