Provocative commentaries on international issues, social development, and people and places by a veteran journalist
How Oberoi relays private information to Intelligence officials
Published on October 18, 2008 By PranayGupte In Blog Communities

In early October, I decided to take a short break and flew to the country of my birth, India. Although I hold a United States passport, I visit India frequently; and over a career of more than four decades in international journalism, I have written about India often; these writings include columns and books.

In New Delhi, I went with my friends Sunita Kohli and her husband Romesh to the home of Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Isher Ahluwalia. Montek is deputy chairman of India's Planning Commission and, along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an architect of India's productive economic liberalization. The Ahluwalias -- both are acclaimed economists in their own right -- were celebrating their wedding anniversary, and the gathering was star studded. Sunita Kohli is India's most distinguished architectural restorer and historian, an internationally known authority on Sir Edwin Lutyens, the creator of New Delhi. Many of Delhi's top government officials and media personalities were there -- and, of course, I personally knew many of them. It felt good to be part of the Ahluwalias' celebration; it felt good to be in Delhi, one of my favorite cities; and it felt good to be in India again.

I drove to Agra the next day. I'd booked myself at the Amarvilas resort, a fantastic facility built by the Oberoi Group. The Oberois are the world's premier hoteliers. Some years ago, I'd stayed at the Rajvilas in Jaipur, and had an extraordinary experience. The Oberoi staff are throughly trained, and other upmarket chains around the world would do well to study the group's operations.

Every room at the Amarvilas has a view of the fabled Taj Mahal. The service was exquisite.

But. I found out later that the hotel had given copies of my personal details to a political operative of Chief Minister Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh. You can imagine my surprise. Why would Mayawati be interested in me? And why would this political operative want to keep tabs on me?

I wrote to P. R. S. "Biki" Oberoi, the group's dynamic chairman, and a person whom I've long admired for the way in which he has developed the hotel chain in India and internationally. Mr. Oberoi responded promptly; he said his staff said that no Amarvilas staff member had relayed any of my personal information to any political operative.

I persisted. I wrote back to Mr. Oberoi that, as a veteran journalist, I knew what I was talking about. I even named the political operative who had received my personal information. In my view, this was a glaring invasion of my privacy. I wasn't at the Amarvilas in any official capacity, nor as a journalist; I was simply an Indian-born man wishing to enjoy the beauty of the resort and take a break from my otherwise hectic life.

Mr. Oberoi promised to "leave no stone unturned" in getting to the bottom of this sordid saga.

Today (Saturday, October 18), I received an e-mail from Mr. George Kuruvilla, the general manager of the Amarvilas. It is said in part:

"I have thoroughly questioned my team members and none of them have given any information to a private person. As you know it is mandatory for all hotels in India to submit details of foreign passport holders to the Local Intelligence Unit (L.I.U.) or to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in major cities. Furthermore if the government offices request us for more information we are legally bound to share this information with them. On 6th October Mr. Pandey from Local Intelligence Unit visited the hotel to verify and check passport details of all foreign nationals who arrived on the 4th October 2008."

No, Mr. Kuruvilla, I did not know that it was mandatory for all Indian hotels to relay visitors' personal information to local intelligence officials. If this is indeed the law of the land, then why aren't visitors informed accordingly when they make their booking? Isn't full disclosure in order? What else do Indian hotels such as the Oberoi do? Tap the phones of guests? Make video recordings? (I have always wanted to be a star in a movie!)

I wonder if potential tourists to India around the world know about this snooping on guests by reputable hotels such as the Oberoi Group. And I always thought that India was the most open society in the world.

A request to the Oberoi Group: I would love to see the information that your staff has relayed to local intelligence and political officials about other guests such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi (the Italian-born head of the Congress party), and various visiting dignitaries from abroad.

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