Leaked conversation from a Times of India internal WhatsApp group raises many questions

A leaked screenshot of a conversation from a Times of India internal WhatsApp group has raised many eyebrows in the media fraternity. Alt News received the screenshot from a trusted source. Incidentally, the same screenshot has now been posted in a story on Pgurus.com. In this screenshot, one Mr Diwakar appears to have erroneously posted a message in a WhatsApp group which he immediately regrets stating “Wrong group”.

In the message, Mr Diwakar claims to have met the Finance Minister along with one Mr Ramesh regarding the posting of an IRS (Indian Revenue Service) officer in London with the Income Tax Overseas Unit (ITOU). Further, a person with the last name ‘Dash’ is called who states that the matter of posting is no longer with the Finance Ministry as Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has referred the issue to Ministry of External Affairs. To this, Mr Diwakar suggests that the decision of CBDT to refer the matter to MEA could be overturned by the FM as FM is the competent authority. In response, Mr Dash states that it would look suspicious if only the posting corresponding to London station is recalled and therefore the entire panel of selections for ITOU could be scrapped. The message seems to be originally intended for the IRS officer who’s addressed affectionately as “Babu” but was posted in the WhatsApp group by mistake.

Here’s a copy of the the said screenshot. We have blurred out the phone numbers to protect the privacy of other people in the WhatsApp group.

whatsapp-leak

The full text of Mr Diwakar’s message is as follows:

Babu, met FM along with Ramesh regarding ITOU. He called Dash and in the presence of FM, the latter agreed that CBDT has wrongly held that you are in deputation when you are actually on study leave. It was also clarified in the presence of FM, that your fellowship has not been funded by government. Dash told FM that Arun ji had spoken directly with CBDT chief and , therefore, he was not in the loop. He also told FM that the matter is no longer with finance ministry as the CBDT has referred it to the foreign service board under MEA. Upon this , I said that FM, being the competent authority, can overturn the decision of CBDT. Dash said that we can scrap the entire ITOU panel as recalling the name for just London station may not look good. Upon this FM said ok and told us ‘chalo’. What do you think of it.

We looked up the phone number corresponding to the aforesaid message in the WhatsApp conversation and it appears to be that of Diwakar Asthana who is a Executive Editor in Times of India.

Diwakar Asthana Phone number

When we called Mr Diwakar regarding this issue and asked him if the contents of the screenshot are genuine, he stated, “I don’t know anything about that, I don’t know about any screenshot. In fact, I’m on vacation”. After this, he abruptly disconnected the call. We tried calling him again and also tried reaching him over WhatsApp. However, he’s been unreachable since the time he disconnected the phone call abruptly.

We also looked up other visible phone numbers in the leaked screenshot and all of them turned out to be journalists who are presently working with the National Bureau of Times of India in TOI’s Delhi office. When we called the numbers belonging to Neeraj Chauhan and Dipak Dash whose messages appear above and below Mr Diwakar’s message, both of them refused to comment on this issue.

We looked up if anyone with the name “Dash” whose name appears in the WhatsApp message is associated with the FM. As it turns out, Mr Arun Jaitley’s private secretary is a person called Simanchala Dash. However, at this point of time, we are unable to confirm if the Mr Dash referred to in the WhatsApp conversation is same as Simanchala Dash.

The contents of this message available with Alt News raises very serious ethical questions as to how an important posting in ITOU which would deal with sensitive issues such as black money appears to being influenced by people who are external to the Government. Besides journalistic ethics, this also casts a shadow over the Finance Ministry.

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