Stamp paper, a crucial item in any legal transaction, no longer has the stamp of legality. A wide-ranging forgery of stamp papers has put many legal documents under the shadow of doubt and uncertainty. At the centre of the crime is a man called Mr Abdul Karim Telgi, but his network includes politicians, bureaucrats and policemen. Questions galore hover around Mr Telgiís activities. There is no explanation for his getting a vendorís license and for a second-hand printing machine from the Nasik press coming to Mr Telgiís hands. The story gets murkier because in 1995, the Mumbai high court rejected his application for anticipatory bail, but he was not arrested. Mumbai and Pune police did not pursue the probe. Some of the evidence coming to light following Mr Telgiís arrest under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act suggest possible answers to these questions. Politicians and police officers were aware of Mr Telgiís activities and remained silent because they had their palms greased by his ill-gotten lucre. Legislators had their expenses borne by Mr Telgiís brother, and a police officer has allegedly amassed a fortune of Rs 100 crore. Fake stamps worth Rs 3,000 crore have been recovered from Mumbai and Pune alone. The overall magnitude of the forgery is estimated to be ten times this amount. Given the annual size of property and capital transactions, the amount of money involved in the stamp-paper swindle might in the final count exceed the two stock-market scams.
It is important, however, to distinguish between the stock-market scams and the stamp paper forgery case. The former was a fallout of regulatory lapses. The present one is an enforcement failure. Moreover, the latter carries on it the stains of unmistakable corruption and venality. Corruption in India, more often than not, takes place with the complicity of politicians and officials. People with the right connections break the law with impunity. It is this aspect of corruption that is the most dangerous thing about the phenomenon. The stamp paper scam only underlines this. In an era when transparency is fast becoming the accepted practice, the prevalence of corruption with the full protection of politicians and bureaucrats has done immense damage to Indiaís image. There is also the perception that in corruption cases in India, the big fish go free and the small receive punishment. This feeds cynicism and fatalism. The investigation into the stamp paper scam should break this vicious cycle. The case should not be buried under political pressure or be allowed to drag on till all concerned have forgotten about it.