gfiles magazine

April 19, 2011

‘The knowledge about this vital act is very limited’

After a stint as a State Bank of India probationary officer, Satyananda Mishra joined the IAS and spent 10 years in various field postings in Madhya Pradesh, including as Collector and District Magistrate. After that, he has worked in culture, information and public relations, urban development, small-scale industry and human resources. A 1973-batch IAS officer belonging to the Madhya Pradesh cadre, he formulated the culture and information policies of the Madhya Pradesh government, was Chairman of the Special Area Development Authority, Korba, provided urban infrastructure such as roads, sewage and drinking water, and dealt with conservation and habitats. He also shaped the human resource development policy for the Government of India.


gfiles: The Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005, was passed in order to help promote social and economic justice by creating total public accountability. How is it now viewed?
Satyananda Mishra: My feeling is that knowledge about this Act is extremely limited. Just like knowledge about many of our laws is very limited. Raising any kind of awareness through the established channels such as the print media or the electronic media has limitations. If you are targeting the people at the grass-roots level, then these two have their limitations. This is, assuming that we’ve enough funds and motivations to really use both these channels to spread awareness. Just as we are doing in the case of “Jago, Grahak, Jago”, the consumer thing. Unfortunately, in the last five-and-a-half years, the budget allocation for awareness raising has been insignificant.

‘My feeling is that knowledge about this Act is extremely limited. Just like knowledge about many of our laws is limited.’
gfiles: How much is the budget?
SM: Less than a crore of rupees. One of the stated objectives of the government is also to create awareness by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs under the name of “Jago Grahak Jago”. That has been getting a lot of emphasis and focus because the target there is mostly the private sectors. “Grahak”, that is, the consumer, is to be made aware about his rights, vis-a-vis private people like grocers, shopkeepers, insurance companies and so on. But RTI is entirely against the government. So raising awareness of the people means a law for better governance.
But I have a feeling that here the person who is errant, as it were, before the Commission is the government officer for not giving the information. If the information was to be given without the law, then there was no need for a law. The fact that a law was necessary means the legislature wants to regulate the government and bring it to a level where it will like to disclose the information. So, in a sense, the target of this law is the government. This law gives power in the hands of the people to ferret out information from the government.
Traditionally, there was no covenant with the government that all information must be shared. We are hearing this in the last few years, that this is also a right. Otherwise it was assumed by people that the government is doing its business in the department offices. Our interaction with the government is only when I have to subject myself to some controls or regulations of the government in order to obtain such and such facility from the government. The need for information was limited to an individual need. The Right to Information Act has completely changed the paradigm. The citizen does not have to seek information only about himself. In fact, this law means a citizen has locus standi in seeking the information. Section 6 of the Act clearly says that nobody shall be asked the reason why he is seeking the information.

‘Unfortunately, in the last five-and-a-half years, the budget allocation for awareness raising has been insignificant.’

I’ve been here for the last two years and I was thinking, what is the philosophical basis for the RTI? This is the law which legitimizes the government. A democratic government legitimises itself every five years through an election process but people are not willing to wait for five years in order to legitimise their government. They would want to legitimize the government on a daily basis. How’s it done? It’s done through the media, which brings up issues between the citizens and the government and then arrives at certain conclusions. It tries to find out whether the government action is legitimate or not. But, on a larger scale, if you want to legitimise the government then you have to really connect people with the government. How do you do that? The connection is through the RTI. The citizen just has to put in an application and he will know what is there in these files. The RTI Act has, in a philosophical sense, removed the walls around government officers.

gfiles: Is there still a mental block among government officials to part with the information?
SM: Since we are to enforce the law, even if there is a reluctance it usually does not come in the way of enforcement because we have the power to penalise and we do impose the penalty. But I would say that, yes, people within the government, both at the Centre and in the States, are not yet totally used to the RTI Act. We should not look for a short time-frame for this to change. It will change over a very long period or it may not even change. I’m told, in the US the number of RTI applications received by government offices is several times more than what we receive in India. That means, even in a country where there is so much digitisation, so much openness in government working, people still need to seek information. So, as long as governments do not completely lay themselves bare, there will be a need. Within the government there will always be a reluctance to part with information for two reasons. One is not to part with information because that gives the government official a sense of power and if you share the information then you reduce your own power. But also, to some extent, it increases your work load. For example, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) is already doing several other jobs. In addition, he has been giver this job. This is an arbitrary appointment with the attendant risk of being penalised. A section officer or deputy secretary arbitrarily becomes a CPIO, he runs the risk of being penalised for not giving the information. Therefore, obviously there would be reluctance. This reluctance is unlikely to be over in a short period. There is and there shall be a general tendency to not very willingly part with information.
We have put this to the government on various occasions – supposing every Ministry comes out with a disclosure policy for each department. Except the following items of information, all the rest shall be given. Then all the information would be disclosed without asking. Of course, the cost might be a problem in a big Ministry, since we work in paper. Scan the papers and upload. It’s a costly affair. RTI is not the only need of human beings, so the money can’t be spent entirely on it. If that situation would come, where each department comes out with a disclosure policy, listing the type of information they won’t disclose.... Section 8 of the RTI Act lists 10 types of information which need not or can’t be disclosed. Suppose the Home Ministry comes out with a website for the general public to know that the following 10 types of information will not be disclosed. All other information will. Once such information is published on the website by the Ministry, then the officers down the line would know that they have no choice but to give the information except for those 10 types. The conflict between citizens seeking information and the government officer would get minimized. Then the public also would not ask for such type of information.

gfiles: You are an autonomous body, your power is compared to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. In several ways you have the right to give a directive to which the government should respond.
SM: No, there is a difference. This law gives only two powers to this Commission. One set of powers comes from the fact that, in disposing of appeals and complaints, it has the power of the civil courts. The other set of powers relates to imposing the penalty for wrongful denial of information or delayed supply of information. This carries a penalty of Rs 250 per day up to a maximum of Rs 25,000. But that is levied on the information officer who is arbitrarily appointed, and is not necessarily the repository of the entire information. So even a penalty on the information officer is some kind of symbolic act. Yes, he’ll shell out Rs 25,000 from his salary. But it is a symbolic act because he alone is punished. There is no provision in the law that if the information is denied, levy a penalty on the head of the office.
‘Section 6 of the Act clearly says that nobody shall be asked the reason why he is seeking the information.’

gfiles: Is Rs 25,000 not very high?
SM: If the information has not been given for 100 days or delayed by 100 days, then it’ll come to Rs 25,000. Less than that would be a multiple of Rs 250. It doesn’t have to come within 30 days, it has to be sent within 30 days. Supposing it’s received on the 1st, it has to be sent by the 30th. It also depends on the quality and volume of the information sought. If somebody is asking for one piece of information which can be culled from a single file then even 30 days is a long period. But if you are seeking 50 types of information which has to be culled from 100 files then 30 days is a short period.

gfiles: There are some shortfalls on both sides. There are complaints that Information Commissioners are not being trained properly. Also, that we don’t have any electronic compilation of what has been done so far. Is it true?
SM: No. I’ll limit myself to talking about the Central Information Commission because there are more than 20 State Information Commissions. I’ll not speak about them as they are independent bodies. About the CIC, all our orders are uploaded on the website as soon as they are signed. So all our orders since this Commission came into being are on the website.
There is a serious problem regarding training of the Information Officers and appellate authorities in the government. Frequent change of Information Officers is another problem which has to be addressed. The government must ensure that a person who is appointed Information Officer should remain for at least 2-3 years because this job requires some amount of skill and knowledge. While hearing appeals we come across these people and I find such an abysmal lack of knowledge about the provisions of the law even after five years. In some places in the country where the nationalised banks’ branches are located, some officers even now do not know that the Rs 10 fee has to be paid in a particular mode. They insist that it should be paid in the manner which is not provided for in the law.

gfiles: What about public awareness, and women’s awareness....
SM: The demand for information is preceded by knowledge about the existence of the information. Suppose somebody does not even know how something happens. So the awareness has to be not only about this law but about individual rights vis-a-vis the government in various walks of life. For example, suppose every Minister compiles a compendium of schemes and programmes which every department has more or less in the annexure – say, a 50-page list which a citizen can ask for. Take NREGA. In the implementation of NREGA, the following information can be sought by the citizen. It’s a part of the disclosure policy, the government would encourage the people to ask, “Please give me a copy of the master role of the village for the last three months.” So the people would not even think about what they have to ask for. They have to get this copy or this bulletin has to be pasted in every gram sabha, so that every literate citizen in the village can go there and know that he can ask these questions.

‘Information gives the government official a sense of power and if you share it you reduce your own power.’

gfiles: Is e-governance affecting this process?
SM: e-governance should greatly help disclosure of information because retrieval of information would be faster, almost instantaneous. Right now, the retrieval of information is a major problem. We have not discussed this, you have raised a very good issue. We have talked only about the rights and awareness, not about record-keeping, archiving and retrieval.

gfiles: Is it not a serious matter?
SM: It’s very serious because until now nobody really paid much attention to it. Over the years we’ve only increased the amount of paper work and the record retention policy is not being followed very strictly. Every government office has got more records in its possession than it should normally have, leading to a situation that now records are simply impossible to retrieve except for the current files which are on the tables of the officers. If you are asking for a file which is three to five years old, it’ll be a nightmare for most government officers to locate it. So the record-keeping and progressive digitization of records is one aim of e-governance. I think something is being done, on a pilot basis. The government has taken up 100% digitization of some of the Ministries and departments. I read about this sometime back in the newspaper. The Cabinet Secretariat is one of them. The CIC is also one place it’s being attempted. We have decided to deal only with efiles. We are planning that, when an appeal arrives in our registry, it will be scanned and digitalized to be sent to Commissioners.
We are extremely informal. We have no court-room, we hear people across the table. We discourage people from bringing in lawyers, we don’t give any adjournment, whether the party has come or not, we pass the order. Disposal of any case is delayed by frequent adjournment. This is in contrast to some State Commissions which give 10 adjournments which is a sure recipe for delay. We receive something like 3,000 appeals and complaints per month. We have a team of six people, one Chief Information Commissioner with five Commissioners at present. We are disposing of roughly 300-350 cases per Commissioner per month. That works out to nearly 15-20 cases per day. You will surely agree that, after reading the files, hearing people and writing the orders, you can’t do more than 15-20 cases a day. It’s humanly impossible. If we were to follow the practice of saying yes or no, then of course we can dispose of anything.

gfiles: You were saying that the RTI Act has been implemented but the government is not very enthusiastic about it.
SM: That would not be exactly appropriate. I mean, within the govt there are vast numbers of people who are yet to really come round to the fact that there is an RTI Act and information has to be given. This I say on the basis of the following premise: if the information is to be given then it should be given willingly without people asking for the information. How is that done, by disclosing it on your own? The RTI Act has a Section 4, which mandates every public authority to publish 17 types of information within 120 days of the law coming into being. It means, by December 2005, all the information should have already been on the website. Please go to the website of any public authority and check how much information is there. We’ve done random checks and I’ve not come across a single public authority which has put all the information as expected. So what does it show? That even a mandatory requirement has not been complied with.

‘There are vast numbers of people who are yet to come round to the fact that there is an RTI Act and information has to be given.’

gfiles: How does this happen?
SM: Because the law does not provide for any penalty. In future, if this law is ever to be strengthened then this is one area where it has to be strengthened by putting in some kind of penal provision if a public authority does not publish all the details. The head of that authority should be responsible and should be penalised monetarily. Just like the CPIO. Imagine, if that provision were there then everybody would be uploading and disclosing information. But we are quite satisfied that this law is making steady progress.

gfiles: You have mentioned that your monitoring system is very weak....
SM: The Central Information Commission is not a monitoring body. It’s only a quasi-judicial body for hearing appeals and complaints. It has no other functions. The monitoring, creating awareness orany other attendant functions belong to the government. It’s the job of the Centre to monitor and create awareness. Recently, somebody had put a question in Parliament as to how many RTI applications had been received in the year 2010-11. So my attendant brought the figure that 37,000 RTI applications had been received. I said that it’s some kind of joke. He said, “Sir, in spite of our repeated request, only 5% of the public authorities have given their figures. So it’s 37,000, otherwise it’ll run into more than 7-8 lakhs.” In order to publish our annual report for placing before Parliament, we have to collect such figures. So we write to the government departments and ask them to send the numbers of RTI applications received but they do not send. So, yes, the monitoring is poor.

gfiles: How do you deal with the challenges of not just the CIC but also the State Information Commissions?
SM: This is a very serious problem. People who are into RTI, civil society organizations, Commissioners, mediapersons who think that RTI is a good thing must also come out because right now we are receiving 3,000 appeals and complaints. If we would be 1+10 then each one of us would be dealing with roughly 300 cases which means about 15 cases a day (20 working days).

gfiles: Do you feel that the RTI Act has managed to touch on some of the problems?
SM: No doubt about it. IAS officers working in the Government of India with whom I interacted have said that, now, while writing a note in the file they are always aware of the fact that this note can passed on to the people. It gives such a tremendous sense of responsibility to a person.

gfiles: How do you deal with systemic problems?
SM: This is a larger question of administrative reforms. For example, decision-making in the Government of India today passes through five levels before the final decision is made. In the corporate sector, decision-making is done at two levels. We are almost slaves to the system we created. With so many letters moving, not only is the process delayed, more records are created. Information becomes involved within.

Culture of Impunity

Civil servants, once the bedrock of probity in public life, are now tainted as the pillars that support the edifice of dishonesty, sleaze and bribery
THE Joshi couple—Tinu and Arvind—both senior IPS officers, are headed towards jail for making only one big mistake. They did not stash away the money they managed to amass in 32 years of service in accounts in some foreign banks! That was what some senior man in civil service told a correspondent jocularly. Not necessarily Swiss banks he was talking of, for being in the service he knows there are too many of those in different countries and administered areas. His point was simple: had the Joshis done so they could have avoided all harassment simply by paying income tax.
One may ask, how? “The Finance Minister of the country,” the officer pointed out, “made it clear that the inviolable agreements the Indian government is signing with those countries makes no room for hunting the source of the income.”
If you cannot recall this IAS couple we are talking of, that is not your fault. Each day one more instance of corruption tumbles out of the government cupboard. It is another matter that the Prime Minister of the country feels that such a scam-tainted image of the country should not be flashed in the media so prominently. If our Prime Minister were not a man of such impeccable personal integrity, one would have thought his intent was to shield the corrupt. That not being the case, we may conclude that he actually made this appeal in his interaction with visual media editors on February 16 only to cover his inefficiency in dealing with the cobweb of corruption that has caught even his colleagues. And, for us, these new revelations every day have made it too difficult to remember the characters involved. However, the suspended IAS couple stands out among the other civil servants for their extraordinary feat.

If our Prime Minister were not a man of such impeccable personal integrity, one would have thought his intent was to shield the corrupt.

It is not so relevant that Arvind was in George Fernandes’ team in the Defence Ministry in the NDA days, serving as a Joint Secretary during the Kargil war, and his wife served as the secretary general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) when Kamal Nath was the Commerce Minister during the UPA’s first term. What is relevant is the 7,000-page Income Tax report submitted to MP Chief Secretary Avni Vaish and Lokayukt PV Naolekar, according to which these two officers, serving the MP government before being suspended, own 400 acres of land and 25 flats. The worth of all these exceeds Rs 360 crore. Very interestingly, out of 25 flats the Joshis have, 18 are in Guwahati.
What punishment is awarded to these two IAS officers of the 1979 batch, we will come to know in future. That will give us a clue to whether the nation will be able to fight corruption in the future or not. Till now, the Lokayukt has not initiated action against them as the relevant documents from the state government are still awaited.

Arvind was in George Fernandes’ team in the Defence Ministry during the Kargil war, and his wife served as the secretary general of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations.

Now, there may be few other officers who can compete with the magnitude of corruption of the Joshis. But smaller icons abound. Fifty-six-year-old AK Srivastava was arrested recently along with his wife for amassing huge wealth. This man had worked for two decades with the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd. Then he moved on to Cement Corporation of India and then to NALCO. This mechanical engineer, a product of Delhi IIT, rose to be chairman-cum-managing director, and then was caught by the CBI. His wife was nabbed by the agency when she was trying to salvage some of the family’s ill-gotten assets from a locker in a branch of the Bank of Maharashtra. According to the CBI, astonishingly, the locker was not in the name of the Srivastavas. What has been recovered from the couple is peanuts in comparison to the Joshi couple, only 10 kg gold (worth Rs 2 crore) and Rs 30 lakh in cash. The officer amassed this much wealth—and remember the investigation is on to unearth further connections and wealth—by taking bribes. Sometime back, some bank officials were arrested on the same charges. But bribery still rules government dealings, and little hope of a great cleansing beams out of the system.
TALK of civil servants neck-deep in corruption and they are seen everywhere. The Adarsh Housing Society or 2G spectrum cases are well known. Here the difference with the Joshis is in involvement of other players along with the bureaucrats. In the 2G scam, politicians and bureaucrats came together to carry on a game, for years together, of doling out favours and bending the rules whenever necessary to disfavour the others. Now, the persons who we were told were doing wonders in the telecom sector are heading towards jail. But not because of the government of the day.Rather, we can say, despite the government, the law has started taking its course. Previously, despite many allegations from the BJP and the Left, Manmohan Singh never bothered to act. In fact, as we may deduct from what he said in the press conference on February 16, he did not find any reason either to act against officers like Siddharth Behura, who is now in CBI custody, or A Raja. Strangely, as soon as they took up the files, the CAG found so many irregularities. ven the Shivraj Patil Committee named so many officers working since 2001 for acting in some peculiar way to favour one or the other company.
The Adarsh scandal involved the top brass of the Army apart from the combination of bureaucrats and politicians. hile hearing a petition on the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society scam, in which the bureaucrats who cleared the key files in the revenue and urban development departments were gifted flats in the Society, the court asked why no action was being taken against these officers. The court described the scam as “a clear-cut case of manipulation” by the bureaucrats.
THIS nexus and shielding repeats itself time and again, and often follows the same model. People talk of the Commonwealth Games. No, not of the extravaganza in a poor country, we are talking of the quintessential corruption that still stirs middle- and upper-class emotions. But, was it not known that, given the humongous amount of money involved, there would be huge corruption which would later be condoned? Otherwise, why would Manmohan and Sonia Gandhi say that everything would be investigated after the Games when the charges started tumbling out more than a month before their commencement? That was long enough time to cover up the misdeeds. And, this was not the first time that officials and others were making huge money out of purchases. This was not the first time that the highest authorities of the country were condoning all these. Let us see why.

The dirt just piles up
? In October 2009 five government departments were asked to submit their reports on action taken against corrupt officials after India’s ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, complained of millions of dollars being paid in bribes to government officials. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) was ordered to look into the matter and to coordinate with the CBI. Shankar wrote a letter on May 12 of that year to TKA Nair, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and mentioned bribe amounts paid by US companies to officials of the Indian Navy, Maharashtra State Electricity Board, Indian Railways, Indian Central Insecticides Board and other unnamed senior officials to secure government contracts. It denoted involvement of five departments: the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, Agriculture Ministry, Railways, Defence Ministry and the Department of Revenue. Along with them, even Customs and Excise was said to be involved. In one instance, Shankar cited a bribe of $132,500 given to Indian Navy officials by an agent of York International orporation, a global provider of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration products. The money was transferred over a period of six years (2000- 2006) for placing 215 orders. What is interesting is that a majority of the pay-offs happened when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power, but it continued even after the Congress-led UPA came to power.

The Joshi couple—Tinu (above) and Arvind (left)—both senior IPS officers, are headed towards jail for making only one big mistake. They did not stash away the huge amount in accounts in some foreign banks!

No one knows whether a single person has been punished for these deals. The basis for Shankar’s letter was a US government report on the prosecutions carried out under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FPCA), a federal law prohibiting US companies from paying foreign government officials to gain a business advantage.

? Now, one example to show how big the net of corruption can grow when influential bureaucrats get involved. In March 2009, the Kashmir government’s top anti-corruption body, the State Vigilance Organization (SVO), registered a case against seven top bureaucrats for “misuse of official position for illegal transfer of state land” at Gulmarg to influential private parties. The officers allegedly violated the provisions of the Roshni Act which was introduced to give ownership rights of government land to those farmers across the State who were occupying them. In this particular instance, the land that was transferred to private parties was earmarked for development of tourist infrastructure under the master plan of the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA). According to the Vigilance Organization, a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act was slapped against Mehboob Iqbal, then Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Khan, District Collector, Garib Singh, Tehsildar, Tangmarg, Farooq Ahmed Lone, Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg Development Authority, Farooq Ahmed Shah, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Sarmad Hafiz, Joint Director, Tourism Department, Rafi Ahmad, Assistant Commissioner, Revenue, Baramulla, and Ghulam Mohiu-Din Shah, Naib Tehsildar, Kunzar, for misuse of official position for illegal transfer of State land.

Shankar (centre) wrote to the principal secretary and mentioned bribes paid by US companies to officials of the Indian Navy, Maharashtra State Electricity Board and so on.

? If that was an example of misdeeds at the ground level, the Antrix-Devas agreement was an example of wrong-doing (otherwise why should the government cancel it?) at a very high level. We do not know why ISRO went for an agreement with Devas and why five years later the Space Commission recommended scrapping of the deal. We do not know why, even after the recommendations, the government took eight months to take the final call. What we understand is that a lot of interests merged. And we know there will be no real punishment awarded to anyone for playing with the national interest.

? This impunity factor has emboldened a whole lot of people—bureaucrats and others who deal with them. Otherwise, there was no reason to appoint PJ Thomas Chief Vigilance Commissioner despite a plea for his prosecution hanging fire. Whether the charge is serious or frivolous, whether there is an iota of evidence against Thomas or not is irrelevant. One cannot be given charge of looking after all vigilance matters if there exists even one faint question mark against one’s name. Ignoring even that faint question mark is unethical. Still, Manmohan and P Chidambaram—both immune to taking bribes—selected him for reasons not known to us. Was it because there was an acute dearth of untainted officers?

For sale: Indian democracy

In Tamil Nadu, electoral reform is being pushed by a civil society coalition of concerned citizens and NGOs
INDIA’S resources, governments, Parliamentarians and Ministers are on sale. This has been clearly brought out by the recent WikiLeaks revelations. As I said in these columns about two years ago, India’s then “honest” Prime Minister was not only willing to sell his soul but also sacrifice the Government of India itself to conclude the highly controversial Indo-US nuclear deal.
Now, down south in Tamil Nadu, democracy itself is on sale. Political parties are reeling under the WikiLeaks exposure of cash-for-votes at the grassroots: “Bribes from political parties to voters, in the form of cash, goods, or services, are a regular feature of elections in South India (in particular Tamil Nadu). Poor voters expect bribes from political candidates, and candidates find various ways to satisfy voter expectations…. The money to pay the bribes comes from the proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption.”
What a fall in a land where towering leaders like Periyar, Rajaji, Kamaraj and Annadurai preached and practised simplicity, honesty, self-respect and dignity in politics and governance – and Tamil literature extols these virtues! The WikiLeaks exposure has brought national and international shame to the land of Tamils and the Tamil race.

What a fall in a land where towering leaders like Periyar, Rajaji, Kamaraj and Annadurai preached and practised simplicity, honesty, self-respect and dignity in politics.

Also, the very dignity of democracy is in peril. More than anything else, democracy is founded on the dignity of the human being. This is reflected in the Preamble to the Constitution of India, which is the bedrock of our democracy: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.”
The message is clear – unity and integrity of the nation is possible only if the dignity of the individual is assured. Only a vibrant and functioning democracy can ensure this.
Election is the essence of democracy. Integrity is the salt. But if the salt loses its flavour, it is then good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. This is precisely what is happening. The saltiness of India’s elections in general and Tamil Nadu’s in particular is fast losing its flavour and the electoral process is being cast out and trodden under the heavy boots of criminal and money power. If this continues unabated, India’s democracy will lose all its dignity and become worthless.

More than anything else, democracy is founded on the dignity of the human being. This is reflected in the preamble to the Constitution of India, which is the bedrock of our democracy.

In Tamil Nadu, there has been a precipitous fall in electoral ethics. Over the last few years, there has been a steady increase of cases involving cash for votes, distribution of household goods and articles of value, mass feeding and supply of liquor – all aimed at garnering electoral support. The directives of the Election Commission and its exhortations notwithstanding, this reprehensible and clandestine activity has shown no signs of let-up.
The direct fallout of this rot is the appalling reality of a severe disconnect between the “first generation voters” and the electoral process. There is a general perception among college students that they are not relevant to democracy, and vice-versa. This is perhaps the worst failure of India’s governance and the most dangerous challenge to the country’s democracy itself.
Fortuitously, the Election Commission of India is not idle on this. Based on the experience gained in the Bihar election in monitoring election expenditure, the Commission has recently issued comprehensive “Instructions on Expenditure Monitoring in Elections” and is backing up its implementation with a well-structured Election Expenditure Monitoring Mechanism comprising Expenditure Observers, Assistant Expenditure Observers, Video Surveillance Teams, a Video Viewing Team, Accounting Teams, an Expenditure Monitoring Control Room and Call Centre, a Media Certification and Monitoring Committee, Flying Squads, a Static Surveillance Team and an Expenditure Monitoring Cell.

The Tamil Nadu Forum for Electoral IntegrityThe Forum believes that people power in general and youth power in particular can combat the venality of electoral corruption. For this the citizens need to be informed and educated about the forces that can destroy our democracy. With this in view, messages are being given out to the community at large:
? Election is the foundation of freedom and democracy and the vote is the most basic of all democratic rights. Go and vote.
? Those who offer bribes for your vote are making you a “partner in loot and corruption”. This will destroy your freedom and your children’s future.
? Once you sell your votes you will have no rights and cannot demand basic services like safety, shelter, water, sanitation, healthcare, education etc. Your voice will not be heard.
? Giving and taking of bribe for votes are criminal offences under the Indian Penal Code.
? Honour, self-respect and dignity are the hallmarks of Tamil culture that need to be preserved.
? Therefore, do not sell them for notes, bottles and packets and suffer as slaves for the next five years.

Besides keeping a vigilant eye on the usual election-related expenses, this mechanism will specifically scrutinize accounts of Self-Help Groups, MFIs, NGOs and so on, including daily auditing of cash flow, check distribution of gifts/serving of food in marriage and community halls, distribution of tokens to be exchanged for gifts or cash, distribution of money through various means, distribution of cash by candidates/political parties along with disbursement of wages under any government scheme, production, storage and distribution of liquor during elections, cash withdrawal from banks and distribution of cash by candidates or political parties along with disbursement of wages under government schemes like NREGA.
But these tasks cannot be accomplished by the EC alone and needs full support from civil society. In Tamil Nadu, this is being attempted by the Forum for Electoral Integrity, a Chennai-based civil society coalition of concerned citizens and NGO organizations who have come together to work towards the ideal of holding elections with integrity

Jagged skyline, swarming kerbs

A workshop warns that the government must resist real estate lucre in the interest of the people and avoiding expansion of slums


EVERYONE involved tends to pay lip service when it comes to implementing the provisions of the 74th Constitutional amendment relating to development plans for a city. Under the provisions, every citizen who has the right to vote also has the right to participate in formulating a city’s Development Plan (DP). At a recent workshop in Mumbai, organised by the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), Pankaj Joshi, the institute’s executive director, pointed to how this provision is ignored when DPs are made. “The Development Plan is first drawn up by the bureaucrat and then the people are invited to make their suggestions within two months on a plan that is going to have a long-term effect on their lives.” Joshi said priority is accorded to Housing, Health, Water and Sanitation, but not in the same measure to urban planning. He pointed out that in some of the most densely populated areas of south Mumbai like Bhendi Bazaar there is less than 2 sq m of space available per person. No thought is being given to development of the waterfront and open spaces.
Lashing out at the government’s construction of skywalks in Mumbai, Joshi remarked, “They come out of nowhere and seem to go nowhere. The general situation is that there are hardly any users for them.” He was also critical of the government’s cluster development policy, arguing that in many slum redevelopment projects there is hardly five feet of space between eight- or 10-storeyed buildings.
Dr Anita Patil-Deshmukh, executive director of Pukar, emphasized the link between urban planning and public health. She cited studies showing the high standard of hygiene and sanitation in properly planned areas.
Even planned cities like Navi Mumbai or Charkop in Mumbai have slum pockets. Yet, no solutions are on offer on putting an end to newer slums from coming up in cities. Shirish B Patel, who planned the city of Navi Mumbai, admitted that his team had never envisioned slums in a planned city. Sheela Patel, SPARC director, argued that unless and until cities plan for the poor, they are bound to encroach upon public space.

In the most densely populated areas of south Mumbai there is less than 2 sq m of space per person. No thought is given to development of the waterfront and open spaces.

All the speakers pointed out that the slum dwellers are the service providers for building residents – milkmen, bakerywallahs, vegetable or fruit vendors, laundrywallahs and so on. So it is not possible to banish them from cities or prevent their migration. There is also the political angle to it, with outfits like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) agitating against migrants from outside the State.
Students from the Harvard School of Design also participated in the workshop and visited the Dharavi slum. Following the success of Slumdog Millionaire, slum tourism appears to have taken off among the urban rich. For the experts and the government, slums seem to be a potential draw of funds for urban renewal. Yet no one looked at how much progress had been achieved by the government’s flagship programme – the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
Another issue that was discussed was the problem of land availability in Mumbai, especially south Mumbai. Former Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Jamshed Kanga joined Patel in saying the solution was to reclaim land from the sea.
Speaking on “Urban Form for Mumbai”, Vijay Sane of Surbana International Consultants criticized the government for failing to evolve a national policy on open spaces. Sane, who is assisting the Maharashtra government in redrawing Mumbai’s Development Plan, said there is just 1.5 sq ft of recreational space for people in the metropolis. He added that the government has made no attempts to properly list heritage structures within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and many of them are being demolished.
He said the Rent Control Act and Cessed Building Act have compounded the problem of refurbishing heritage structures and redeveloping cessed buildings as owners are not bothered.
Patel remarked that the 4 Floor Space Index (FSI) in the Rs 15,000 crore Dharavi Redevelopment Project was “unworkable” and called the Mukesh Mehta plan for redevelopment of Asia’s largest slum “even worse”. He argued that the redevelopment project would actually add more slums and people to the locality as free housing is promised.
The chief planner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, VK Phatak, said that till 1964 FSI had no real value. In 1995, it began to be treated as currency. “Money is now being made out of FSI. In 2008, the government came up with a new FSI norm of 1.33 for redevelopment. It meant one had to pay more for the 0.33 extra FSI. Despite the court striking it down, the government reintroduced the concept by issuing a fresh ordinance,” he said. He added that FSI should not be treated as a substitute for money.

Following the success of Slumdog Millionaire, slum tourism has taken off among the urban rich. For the experts, slums seem to be a potential draw of funds for urban renewal.

Qutub Mandviwala of the Saifee Burhani Charitable Trust said his organization has drawn up an ambitious redevelopment plan for 16,000 people living in a 16.25-acre plot in Bhendi Bazaar.
The norm of seeking the consent of 70% of the slum dwellers in any rehabilitation scheme is carried out only where the land cost is high, said Simpreet Singh, RTI activist and founder of Ghar Bachao Andolan. He said the World Bank had stipulated participation of the people who are to be affected by the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP). Around 20,000 families have been displaced but no thought given to what kind of resettlement they want.
He said the people’s consent for the Metro Rail car shed project at Laljipada in Kandivali was a “sham”. Referring to the Metro Rail project, he said that the State government, instead of implementing the project under the provisions of the Indian Railways Act, chose to do it under the Tramway Act, 1860, to retain the ownership of the project. He pointed out that even the British government, while framing the Tramway Act, had called for noting the views of the people to be affected by the tram route.
More criticism of the government followed as Ravindra Punde, principal of the Academy of Architecture, argued that, by forwarding the Public-Private Partnership model, the government was actually trying to get rid of its own responsibilities. Amid all the talk of TDR and FSI, no thought was being given to building theatres, schools, hospitals, gardens and public places. “The state itself has now become the developer,” remarked Punde.
Several speakers harped on the importance of involving the people. Social activist and lawyer Gautam Patel pointed out that if people are left to themselves to take care of their own precincts, they tend to do a better job. The Development Plan should be broken down into smaller, ward-wise plans and people should be allowed to decide what they want.
And Ana Gelabert Sanchez, planning director of Miami city in the US, said the people were told to decide if they wanted the public space and where it should be located. If they wanted it in a certain part of the locality, they had to follow prescribed construction norms. By following them, they stood to get twice the size of open space they had got earlier.

Poor, poor taxman!

The errors and loopholes in the Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010, point to a shoddy job of drafting

THE Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010, presented in the Lok Sabha on August 30 last year, will replace the existing Income Tax Act, 1961, and the Wealth Tax Act, 1957, with effect from April 1, 2012. While there has been much discussion relating to conceptual changes that have been or should have been brought into it, there has been none on whether the actual provisions of the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) convey precisely what they are intended to convey and whether they have been properly drafted to be effective. Undoubtedly, the old tax laws which the DTC seeks to replace made for cumbersome reading and were very difficult to understand even for experts.
In contrast, the DTC is clothed in refreshingly simple language which is easy to understand even for a layman. But the alteration of the language of an entire statute which has been refined and settled over the years by making various amendments in the light of experience in the field as well as numerous court decisions interpreting its language is a laborious, exacting and perilous task and should have been undertaken in a most cautious and solemn manner. However, even a cursory glance at the DTC’s various sections reveals otherwise. As a result, the language is replete with ridiculous errors, pitfalls and loopholes which will not only result in huge loss of revenue and consequent gain for tax evaders but will also bring ridicule upon the Income Tax Department. It is shocking that such ridiculous and obvious defects were not noticed even by the officials in the Law Ministry.

Assessees can now safely inflate their losses to evade taxes in subsequent years when there is income by carrying forward the inflated losses without any fear of this penalty.

One of the most important provisions is Section 230, which provides for penalty for understatement of income because it is this provision which deters the recalcitrant from evading the taxes. The most apparent and glaring defect in the language used in this section is that, if the assessee over-reports losses incurred by him, no penalty can be levied upon him under this section though the IT Act, 1961, clearly provided for it. Therefore, now those assesses who incur losses in any year can safely inflate their losses to evade taxes in subsequent years when there is income by carrying forward the inflated losses without any fear of this penalty.
Again, Section 230(5)(b) lays down that the aggregate amount of addition made by the Assessing Officer for the purpose of levying the penalty will be calculated by reducing the income disclosed in the return filed under Section 144 or 146 from the amount of income assessed by the AO. Returns filed under Section 144 or 146 include the revised returns filed by the assessee. This means that, in a scrutiny case, where the AO is able to catch a tax evader, he can simply avoid the penalty for under-reporting the income by filing a revised return and including in it the income detected by the AO. Under the IT Act, 1961, there was no such provision, with the result that the courts held that where the assessee filed the revised return after detection by the AO, the penalty could still be levied for under-reporting of income. This will not be possible now because of Section 230(5)(b) in cases where the assessee has time under the law to revise the return. This section suffers from many other defects, which are less obvious.
However, let me take up the glaring defects of another important Section under which most of the under-reported income is taxed – Section 58 of the DTC which relates to taxation under the head, “Income from residuary sources” and defines gross residuary income. Section 58(2)(o), (p) and (q) lay down that the gross residuary income shall include the value of unexplained investments, expenditure, money, bullion, jewellery and so on. Now, all these amounts are not the direct accruals or receipts of the assessee in the nature of income and therefore do not fall within the natural definition of income. As such, the courts will not uphold orders taxing these amounts as income. This is a classic case of criminal carelessness in drafting the Code. All these amounts are not directly income and therefore, in order to tax them, the DTC must “deem” them to be the income of the assessee as was done in the IT Act, 1961, in corresponding Sections 69, 69A, 69B and 69C. All these provisions are applicable mainly to those cases where search operations are carried out and all the effort to book the tax evaders and bring in legitimate revenue will go in vain simply because of the improper drafting.

The Ministry should brace for the cynicism of honest taxpayers and the ridicule of the dishonest ones. Meanwhile, there will be incalculable loss of revenue as well.

Further, Section 58(2)(p) says that gross residuary income of the assessee shall include the value of unexplained money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable articles owned by him. However, clause (p) is silent about the year in which this money, bullion, jewellery and so on are to be taxed. In the absence of this, the onus would be on the AO to prove the year in which the assessee became the owner in order to tax these things. Experience shows that for the AO to prove the exact year of purchase of these things is well nigh impossible in almost all cases as no such evidence is discovered in the searches carried out and that was why, in the IT Act of 1961 it was provided in the corresponding Section 69A that the value of these things was to be taxed in the financial year in which the assessee was “found” to be the owner. A similar stipulation was required in the DTC. Therefore, despite this provision being there in the statute book, the AO will not be able to tax these things because of careless drafting and, again, all the effort of carrying out searches in order to collect proper revenue from tax evaders will come to naught.
The more you read the DTC Bill, the more you find such errors, pitfalls and loopholes. Some are obvious and literally stare you in the face as soon as you open the document and read a section, others are not so obvious. If so many are detectable at this stage, it is horrifying to think what will happen when clever assessees and their lawyers put their heads together to find holes in the DTC once it is put into operation. It needs extensive modification, failing which the Ministry of Finance should brace for a series of amendments before, as they say, even the ink is dry on it as well as for the cynicism of honest taxpayers and the ridicule of the dishonest ones. Meanwhile, there will be incalculable loss of revenue as well!

- with inputs by Nipun Jain

(Narindar Singh was a member of the CBDT, New Delhi)

Chasing the Budget

The Finance Minister seeks the public’s mandate every year
EVERYBODY knows that India goes to the polls every five years. What many people do not realize is that one Minister seeks the public’s mandate every year – the Union Finance Minister! The Prime Minister may be the most important Minister in the Cabinet and for the nation. But it is the Finance Minister who is the most important Minister for the common man.
At least three Ministers share the responsibility for making the annual Budget – the Finance Minister, the Railways Minister and the Home Minister! People may not be concerned with the Finance Minister during the year but he commands the rapt attention of the whole nation at least once every fiscal year – the day he presents the Union Budget.
The Defence Ministry, the Home Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry supposedly rank the highest among all the Ministries in terms of power and importance. But, again, it is the Finance Minister who presents the Budget for them!
There is only one Ministry which is out of bounds for the Finance Minister – the Railways Ministry. The practice of preparing a separate Budget for the Railways is inherited from the British Raj. Faced with the onerous task of connecting the length and breadth of India through a railway network, the then government did not want the railway project to be crippled by budgetary constraints. Hence, a separate Railways Budget was presented.
The basic purpose of presenting a separate Railway Budget was achieved long ago. Yet the practice continues to this day. The contention is that rail freight and fare touch everybody’s life in some way or the other. If that is so, the Petroleum Minister should also present a separate budget because movement of passengers and goods by road also affects everyone. And modes of road transport use petroleum products for fuel. Even the Railways use diesel to some extent.
When members are elected to the Lok Sabha, they are elected to the national legislature. They become representative of the nation. But few Railways Ministers realize this. Many of them fail to look beyond their constituencies, their States and their regions. During the Budget session, the main job of the Railways Minister is to present the Rail Budget. But most Railways Ministers end up announcing new trains, many of which either originate from and terminate at the Minister’s constituency or pass through it even if they have to take a circuitous route.
Today, corporate lobbyists manage to influence government decisions. But the captains of industry have influenced the Union Budget for a long time.

Ministers announce new trains, originating from and terminating at or passing through their constituencies even if circuitously.

In view of the numerous scams that are tumbling out of the closet one after another, someone was keen to know whether there would be a separate allocation for scams in this Budget. “Since scams seem to have become a necessary evil for growth, we might as well make a provision for scams in the Budget,” commented another wag.
The roles of the Finance Minister and the Railways Minister in the annual Budget are well known but where does the Home Minister come in? Well, the Home Minister under reference is not the Union Home Minister. This Home Minister may be an NGO (Non- Government Officer). “Home Minister” is a common nickname for the housewife. She is the one who bears the brunt of the Budget and has to prepare a corresponding budget for her home.
Financial experts may roll out their views, analyses and comments on the Budget but the one who really faces the heat of the Budget is this “Home Minister”. Asked to comment on the current Budget, one housewife remarked: “The whole idea of making a budget is to make both ends meet. The crux of a budget is to match the income with expenses. With unfettered price rise, the only end that is visible to me is the income. I have to track down the other end before I can make both ends meet!”

Why Mumbai burne d on 26/11

The top echelons of the police force suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), hence the delayed response during the 26/11 terror attack. Why did no one go to the rescue of Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar? The response time of the famed Mumbai police has been 6-7 minutes after any incident. Even after 45 minutes, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar were unattended.
That is because the top police brass was suffering from PTSD and was too scared to react. There is mistrust between the top brass and the low-ranking officers and constables.

IN my book, Why Mumbai Burnt And Bhiwandi Did Not, on the communal riots, I analysed the chain of events that led to the communal riots in the twin cities. More than any external factors, the local criminals were responsible for the riots. Since the 1992-93 post-Ayodhya riots in Mumbai, there have been more deaths due to communal violence in Mumbai than in Bhiwandi, perceived as a communally sensitive town.
Since I introduced the Mohalla Committee concept in the 1984 communal riots, the higher echelons of the police administration have been systematically trying to scuttle the concept – labelling it as unpragmatic and leading to corruption. The concept ushered in an attitudinal change in the police who began interacting with the locals more politely, thereby also bringing in transparency and reducing mistrust and corruption. One singular effect of the scheme was that intelligence gathering improved considerably.
I have always maintained that the “Dispute-Free Village” scheme is impractical. [The scheme was introduced by the Democratic Front government led by the Congress-NCP in 1999-2004 and is now recognized by the UN.] In India, villages are divided along caste, communal and even political ideologies. I am also against giving cash awards to villages that ensure zero crime rate or disputes. The scheme actually suppresses registration of cases. The poor are often turned away with the argument that registration will deny their village the award. The suffering citizens are told that their dignity has no value.
The Mohalla Committee should be headed by the local senior police officer rather than any politician or local leader. The same should be done in the case of committees under the Dispute-Free Villages scheme. That is because consensus is never reached on one candidate and that leads to rival camps claiming that the appointee is their man.
Moreover, I had called for making these 100-member committees and for youth to be given due representation.
I have repeatedly called for police reforms. It has been repeatedly shot down by the bureaucracy headed by the IAS. As communal tension was beginning to rise again on August 29, 2003, I had written to the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) and urged reforms in the police administration. The system still operates on the pre-British Police Manual and is incapable of curbing terrorism. The response from the then State Director General of Police was: “Do not send such useless letters.”
Our policing methods are now outdated, be it the Mission statement, the Objectives, Strategies, or ways to handle Crime and Law and Order situations. Hence, there is a sense of insecurity among the people. The question is not of modern equipment. That is there. What hurts is the opposition from senior bureaucrats to any change in the system. I have tried to remain in the system and reform it from within. The ones opposing this want to survive on the system itself.
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s Mumbai visit after the July 11, 2006, serial blasts, I was told by the then DGP to keep my mouth shut. Patil knew about my innovative scheme. When he enquired about the Mohalla Committees, the Mumbai Police Commissioner fumbled for words as the top brass had taken the decision to wind up these committees.
Even in the second phase of the December 1992 communal riots in Mumbai, the riots ceased only after the local rioters lost steam. Worst of all, even today our response to investigating terror attacks is like that of an investigation into a diamond heist.

The top brass is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because hardly 2% of IPS officers, like the late Kamte, have really opted for the IPS cadre. The rest are IPS officers by default.

The height of it all came when Why Mumbai Burnt And Bhiwandi Did Not was published in November 2010. Additional Director General of Police Satyapal Singh sent a letter to me asking why disciplinary action should not be taken against me. I said, first read the book and then decide. As per the Constitution and service rules, my book is scientific and does not violate the rules.
They did the same thing in 2003 when I brought out my book, Navi Disha (New Direction), on the need for police reforms. For two years they consulted their lawyers. They found nothing whereby they could take any action against me. Senior bureaucrats always dread the prospect of any change. But their norms of service are interwoven into the power structure and their apprehensions are unfounded.
I have had to pay dearly for having the courage to speak about the system and the need for reforming it. For 12 months I was made to sit at home, my salary was denied. I was even denied my annual increment. The DGP’s office had declared me “Not Traceable”. Imagine, if the Home department and the police establishment cannot trace an IPS officer, how on earth will they be able to trace another Kasab? Eighty percent of my subordinates support my view. But the senior officers are fearful of being seen beside me or talking to me.
My biggest mistake was made in 1982 when I joined as Deputy Superintendent of Police and was posted at Panvel in Raigad district. There were two dacoits, Ram and Shyam, who had a reign of terror in the region. The Superintendent of Police, Purushottam Jadhav, had made an unsuccessful attempt to nab them. I laid a trap and an encounter ensued. I sustained bullet injuries in the abdomen and right thigh. Had the shot at my abdomen been an inch higher, it would have ruptured my lungs. While recuperating, I wrote my report. But I made the mistake of not writing one line stating that the encounter would not have been possible without the guidance of my senior, the SP.
Well, people are ego-conscious. It took 11 years of struggle to get my first police medal. For the last 30 years, I have been asked to keep mum at the DGP-level meetings. It is very difficult and humiliating to work under junior officers. Initially, my family used to get tense over my habit of speaking about the system. Due promotions were also denied to me.
Prior to this posting, I was posted in the Establishment branch which deals with service records and confidential reports of IPS officers. The order never reached me, but a junior-rank officer was prompted to move the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT) with the ulterior motive of scuttling the transfer order.
Our police continues to use procedures like nakabandi, combing nearby slums, going through local historysheeters and using third degree methods against hardened terrorists, Maoists or separatists. The police force has the capacity to tackle a menace like terrorism, but it is never fully utilised. That is because the top brass is stunted and is incapable of leading the force. The IAS-IPS tussle is another cause for the decline.
Today, the IPS and policing have become more technology-oriented. Instead of having jockeys in top posts, we have tongawallahs manning the police force. I say the top brass is suffering from PTSD because hardly 2% of IPS officers, like the late Kamte, have really opted for the IPS cadre. The rest are IPS officers by default. Moreover, they care more about getting foreign postings and planning their career moves.
Global research has shown that people who man ambulances or police personnel who deal with fatal cases tend to become panicky and show emotional disorders over the years. When confronted with such situations again, panic sets in – giving rise to responses such as seen during the 26/11 terror attack. It is like the case of the terrified rabbit running helter-skelter, screaming that the heavens have fallen when it is just a dead leaf that has fallen on its back. It is not the low-rank constable, but the high-rank officer who is at fault.
What is needed is the alternative police manual. Any change is initially met with denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of the fate accompli. Clean administration does not mean putting saintly figures at the helm of affairs. It is a classic case of the management science concept of a frog quickly jumping out of the bowl of boiling water. But if the same bowl of water at room temperature is slowly brought to a boil, the frog does not realise the increase in temperature and dies a painful death. That is what has become of our police administrative machinery.
We need bureaucrats with full knowledge of the police psyche and they should be flexible. Politicians tend to be flexible. They take into account factors like vote-bank politics, age-limit factors and re-election. However, these factors do not govern IAS officers. Since one does not need any qualification to be in the Cabinet of Ministers, the politicians’ dependence on them is taken advantage of by these IAS officers.

I cannot stop myself from speaking. If I do, I will not be able to survive. I am due for retirement in another seven months. I have not set any agenda for myself.

We need a borderless laboratory where people can come together and solve problems. The bureaucrat does not care for the common man, he cares only for the rich. But the Cabinet does fear the common man. Activists and the common man can target the bureaucrat. It is a case of “If not you, then who; if not now, then why not now?” We need the kind of system there is in China which keeps a check on the administration and stops corruption in its tracks.
In 2009, I introduced new concepts of policing titled “Mega City Policing” while I was in charge of North Mumbai. Prior to that, in 2003 I implemented new concepts in rural policing while taking into account human resource development and modernization schemes.
I cannot stop myself from speaking. If I do, I will not be able to survive. I am due for retirement in another seven months. I have not set any agenda for myself. I want to reach out to the masses, apprise them of where the problem lies and how they can try and rectify it.
Following my book on the Bhiwandi riots in 1992, the Library of Congress in the US has included my name in its reference catalogue. In 1998, I was called by the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, for a seminar. In 2010, I went to China for another seminar on social conflict resolution where my paper was adjudged the best paper.

Suresh Khopade, Special Inspector General of Police, CID (Crime), belongs to the 1987 IPS batch.

Naked lobbying for top post

The irregularities in the appointment procedures for the next Chairman could be one more embarrassment for the Manmohan Singh government

WHO will be the next chairman of India’s mighty navratna, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), is the million dollar question doing the rounds of Delhi’s power corridors. This energy behemoth accounts for 79% of India’s crude oil and 54% of natural gas production.
One of India’s top business houses and another one, known as “the Tilakdhari brothers” in ONGC circles, are lobbying frenetically to install their candidate as chairman. Uncounted billions of dollars are at stake and stories of venality and corruption in the affairs of ONGC are regularly doing the rounds in the media.
The headless ONGC is being run by temporary boss AK Hazarika since the retirement of RS Sharma.
The Public Selection Enterprise Board has named two candidates — Sudhir Vasudeva and K Tyagi. Vasudeva is a serving junior director offshore in ONGC. Tyagi is the chairman and Managing Director, Pawan Hans. So where was the delay when two apparently able candidates were shortlisted?
As is customary, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPN) sent the file to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner for clearance.
M Pillai, Director CVC, through its letter to the Ministry (number 010- VGC-154/110081 dated November 26, 2010) accorded vigilance clearance to Tyagi “for the stated purpose”. In the same letter, Pillai added: “As regards Sh. S. Vasudeva, the commission has advised that the complaints referred to in Ministry’s letter dated 4.11.10 and factual position thereof may be placed before the competent authority while it considers the candidature of Sh. Vasudeva for the impugned appointment”. The letter is self-explanatory. It did not find Vasudeva’s credentials apt for clearance. It appears to have camouflaged the issue.

The pressure came from the Tilakdhari brothers and the other business house for whom Vasudeva has been known to do favours in the past.

The file was sent to the then Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Murli Deora. The file failed to surface for two months. Why it remained in the locker room is best known to Deora. But the wags are surmising that it was at the behest of a powerful business house close to Deora which has substantial interests in ONGC.
On January 10, 2011, before he demitted office, Deora sent the file to the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. On February 9, 2011, Deepak Isran, Under Secretary in the Ministry, wrote to Sudhir Bhargava, Additional Secretary of the Petroleum Ministry, asking that the proposal be resubmitted after going through the proper procedure again to be approved by the new minister of petroleum following CVC clearance. Actually, Isran returned the ACRs of both the candidates. Apparently, the file for the appointment of Vasudeva was sent to DoPT without the clearance of the CVC.
Surprisingly, within two days after the return of the file from DoPT, it appears that Vasudeva’s file was sent the same day to the CVC for clearance. But again Pillai wrote to the MoPN (letter dated 12.01.11): “ It is seen that CVO/ONGC’s reports have been forwarded to the commission without the comments of the Competent Authority.” In his letter Pillai lambasted the CVO, ONGC report and the role of Vasudeva in B-193 Process Plant, B-193 Sub Sea Pipeline, and report of CVO, ONGC dated 06.12.2010 regarding hiring of 13 vessels (OSV, PSV, AHTS & MSV). In brief, Pillai pointed out the alleged dubious role of Vasudeva in the said dealings. In the same letter, in the last paragraph, Pillai did not clear the name of Vasudeva from the CVC’s side.

The question is, when the credentials of Vasudeva were doubtful, why was his file sent back for CVC clearance? Why was the name of Tyagi not sent to the DoPT?

The question is, when the credentials of Vasudeva were doubtful, why was his file sent back for CVC clearance? Also, when CVC did not clear the name of Vasudeva,why was the name of Tyagi not sent to the DoPT and after that to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet for final approval? The pressure was reportedly built up by the Tilakdhari brothers and the other business house for whom Vasudeva has been known to do favours in the past. The minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and its officials came under tremendous pressure to get Vasudeva’s name cleared.
It seems that the UPA goIt seems that the UPA government has not learned any lesson from the PJ Thomas case. And the whispers in South Block are that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi are fully aware of the activities of the business house and the Tilakdhari brothers. Sources disclose that a strategy was worked out in the absence of a full-time CVC by the business house and the Tilakdhari brothers with K Subramaniam, OSD to CVC, to get the name of Vasudeva cleared by the CVC.
UNDER this course, R Srikumar, a methodical and technical official of CVC, was required to give his report as well. It was on the basis of this report that Vasudeva’s name was expected to get the green light – or so his supporters hoped. How this official would be managed or manipulated was the hot topic of discussion within the ONGC. Ultimately, on March 31, the business house and the Tilakdhari brothers succeeded on getting Vasudeva’s name cleared by the CVC. Now, it remains to be seen which of the two names the Prime Minister will clear in the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.

‘To fight female foeticide I have revived the system of midwives’

SONEPAT’S Deputy Commissioner, Ajit Balaji Joshi, is something of a social activist. An electrical engineer from Mumbai’s Sardar Patel Engineering College, he chose the IAS over Infosys. The 2003-batch officer of the Haryana cadre has been using modern technology to plug the loopholes in the system while at once putting traditional institutions to optimal use to address issues like a skewed sex ratio. He emphasizes that addressing the root causes of society’s ills is better than clamping down with stringent laws.

interviewed by KELLOL DEY

gfiles: Sonepat has about 1200 private schools and an equal number of government schools. The district had the first women’s university in North India — the Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Viswavidyalaya. But the lack of quality education fosters unemployment, which is one of the biggest problems. How are you tackling this?
Ajit Balaji Joshi: We recently brought a PPP model on employment exchange to Sonepat to increase the scope of employment. Infrastructure is not a headache. Sonepat has adequate power and water supply, and 75% of agricultural land is irrigated. The district is one of the largest producers of rice and wheat in Haryana. Also, Sonepat is not deprived of industries. There are three or four industrial estates located in the district. What worries me are social indicators like sex ratio, female foeticide, adult literacy and so on.
The 2001 census listed Haryana as having the worst male-female ratio in India. Since then, the Haryana government has taken measures to reverse the imbalance. Sonepat was among the nine villages which received an award for improving the sex ratio in 2009 but 2010 showed the negative trend again. Sustaining the improved ratio requires a huge thrust and public participation. The Haryana government scheme of Janani Vikas Yojana was valuable. The main reason behind female foeticide and the skewed sex ratio is the high cost of marrying off a daughter. There are other ageold factors like the custom of a younger brother marrying his elder brother’s wife to protect family land holdings. The biggest threat is the growing trend of bride purchase, which has negated the efforts of the administration in improving the skewed sex ratio. The incentive to curb female foeticide has been wasted as brides can be purchased from both neighbouring and far-flung states. There are touts in Delhi who get brides for the men here for a price and that has made the battle against female foeticide an uphill one. Demographically, it will pose a big problem in coming years.
To fight female foeticide, I have revived the system of midwives and made use of Anganwadi workers. These are the best people to counsel the pregnant mother and her family, keep track of births, and check mortality at birth. Training is imparted to the midwives and they are given a basic knowledge of allopathy, homoeopathy, and so on. They are given incentives for institutional deliveries. Anganwadi workers have been given mobiles.
Institutionalizing childbirth to fight female foeticide needs meticulous technical support. We are pursuing development of new software to facilitate better coordination between midwives and Anganwadi workers and the administration, and to track pregnant mothers and deliveries more effectively.

gfiles: What about another social ill – child labour?
ABJ: Child labour is a problem that the administration in places where industries flourish has to tackle. The soil on the banks of the Yamuna in Haryana is considered ideal for brick-making. Thus, brick kilns come into the picture. This industry provides a livelihood to lakhs of poor families who migrate from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and even Assam. But it also breeds child labour. Sonepat has at least 350 brick kilns. We started the Bhatta Pathshala scheme to provide elementary education to the children of the migrant labourers in these kilns.
We cannot crack down on child labour in the kilns without offering the labourers an alternative. The Pathshala scheme was accepted by the Union HRD Ministry in 2008 and also the International Labour Organization and UNESCO and is now being implemented all over Haryana. The first pathshalas were set up in Jhajjar in December 2006 when I was posted there as Additional Deputy Commissioner. In 2008, I replicated the successful model in Sonepat. On January 1 last year, 56 such schools, with 1,356 students, were set up in Sonepat. Now, technical and vocational training is being planned for children over 15 years of age. The project also gives employment to youths who have studied up to Class XII, as they are recruited to teach in the brick kiln schools.

‘Sonepat was among the nine villages which received an award for improving the sex ratio in 2009 but 2010 showed the negative trend again.’

gfiles: As District Commissioner of Sonepat, you are also the district electoral officer….
ABJ: I eliminated the system of paperbound manual preparation of twin databases – two separate electoral rolls, one for the State Election Commission and one for the Central Election Commission. It would take officials several days and hundreds of manhours to manually compile both lists. Inherent flaws in the system like duplication of names meant several persons could technically vote twice.
I hired a software firm, who sent down an engineer to work with us on a common database. The first Common Electoral Roll (CER) programme was thus created in December 2008 at a cost of just Rs 95,000. With the CER, it took only a few hours to manually key in details of the entire population into the database. This software, which was accepted by the Election Commission, not only saved crores for the State in paper and printing but also unearthed a huge number of duplicate voters in the twin lists.

gfiles: Any other innovative projects for better administration?
ABJ: I started a call centre in Sonepat – a number at which people can call to register their complaints and relate their woes to the administration. But people still prefer to come and see me with petty problems. The administration in Haryana is very centralized. Hundreds of citizens want to see me instead of getting the issues solved at tehsildar level, for instance. The system of administration even at village level needs to be decentralized.

A social odyssey

The story of a dirt-poor boy who became an IAS officer dedicated to rural development
Title : My Life Sturggle and Service
Author : Cholleti Prabhakar, IAS
Publisher : Navasakthi Township Developers
Price : Rs. 100

CHOLLETI Prabhakar, son of a poor parent, in whose house the day when all the eight members of the family “ate stomach full” was a special day, overcame all obstacles to become an IAS officer. Clearly, the feat would have been unachievable had there been no Scheduled Caste Government Welfare Hostel. The rest of us should also be thankful for that hostel, for it provided us an upright IAS officer committed to rural development.
Prabhakar describes several hindrances a rural “backward caste” child faces, such as studying in Telugu medium up to graduation. This brings to the fore a striking conundrum: Those who come from vernacular-medium schools know at least a part of the ground reality but are increasingly being outnumbered by convent-bred administrative officers who have little touch with the grass roots.

The fire in him was stoked by the continual harassment and transfers.... It leads him to conclude: ‘There is a need for committed officers to face and challenge the rotten system.’

He comes down heavily on corruption and corrupt elements in the civil administration. The fire in him was stoked by the continual harassment and transfers he faced at the hands of higher-ups and politicians. It leads him to conclude: “As per my view there is a need for committed officers in administration in government service to face and challenge the rotten system.” This, he says, is the biggest challenge faced by modern democratic governance in India. Things were not in such a mess till 1975; after that, the “executive had sensed the power politics game and drawn the favouritism as dominant character cutting the rules and regulations enforced”. It saw the end of honest officers who acted according to the rulebook.
The first three decades of free India saw proper functioning of bureaucrats. The next three witnessed falling standards, nepotism, corruption and bending of law. Prabhakar is frank: “The transfers and postings have become a tool in the (hands of) political leadership and captured the real situations for their selfish games. The postings and opting the officers had eroded the realm and ethics in administration. There are instances from either side the earnings mismatch the assets. Few officers and political leaders had cases against them under these disproportionate assets to their incomes.” He adds: “The corruption and nepotism and red-tapism have taken strong roots along with middleman exploitation and rowdyism. Truth has no value and the lies ruin day to day administration.”
He rightly points out: “The plan documents are prepared with high hopes but the implementation is very weak and results are not countable. Popular schemes announcements on the floors of Houses are very common. But no concrete results, no much change in the eradication of poverty, hunger, illiteracy and providing basic minimum needs in rural areas for the livelihoods of the rural citizens for disadvantaged people is a myth.”
Prabhakar was transferred several times as he tried to act according to the rulebook and refused to obey the whimsical orders of politicians. At times, the risk involved was a bit more than just getting a transfer order: “The minister taken a decision to transfer me and on 19th March, 1993 he personally brought the order issued at Hyderabad and brought orders copy. I got relieved from Adilabad district but the followers of the minister has attempted to teach a lesson to me by using malpractices and muscle power. By God grace destiny and presence of mind I avoided the situation proceeded to Hyderabad ….” Sadly, Prabhakar had to pay a high price for all this as the education of his two sons was hampered. But he now laments it, for nothing can be more saddening for a father than the failure to raise his sons properly.
He displays a healthy insight into the functioning of the rural economy and knows where matters went haywire. A chapter named “Exchange of Paddy Husk To Watery Butter Milk” explains how, earlier, in landlord-dominated villages people were exploited but yet survived. The poor got watery butter milk in exchange for paddy husk (after winnowing the husk from the paddy they received as wages for service rendered to the Dorawaru, the chief of the village) and it made for a delicious meal with jowar, bajra, ragi or korralu. Even that agrarian lifestyle has failed to withstand the onslaught of modernism. Prabhakar lists the reasons for this decline: “Migration of agricultural labour, non-implementation of Minimum Wages act, import of agricultural produces in the absence of a regulating mechanism to protect native farmers, no irrigation facilities created, and poor understanding of choice of cash crops by the farmers.”
I thought the self-sufficient village economy was destroyed under British rule. At least, so was I taught three decades ago during my higher secondary education in St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. But here is a man from Munugode village of Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh who says that even in the 1970s such a system worked there. I cannot comment on his analysis for I do not have adequate knowledge about village economies. But this book must be read by those interested enough to discover a new swathe of life.
Prabhakar, who has earlier written five books in Telugu, would have done well to write this one too in his mother tongue and get it translated. The biggest hindrance in reading about his experiences, which are both illuminating and educative, is the convoluted language. However, another prominent retired IAS officer, SR Sankaran, had described Prabhakar as “pro-poor and change agent for the downtrodden communities” and this additional dimension of his makes the book extremely interesting.

‘Buy on corrections’ is the new mantra

THE way the markets have shrugged off serious concerns emanating from the developments in Japan and Libya, rising oil prices and inflation has compelled investors to rethink their strategy about Indian markets. The strength shown by the markets has again opened up the debate on decoupling of the Indian economy. Also, analysts believe that most of the negatives have already been factored into the prices and things can only look up now.
The recent correction and the underperformance of the Indian markets have made the valuations look reasonable when compared with the peers in emerging as well as developed markets. Also, if advance tax data is any indicator, the top corporates are likely to record a robust performance. With the domestic demand remaining strong, corporate India should report strong growth in the top and bottom lines.

It is not a bad idea to buy good stocks from the rate-sensitive sectors that’ve been hammered down by 30-40% since the interest rate cycle may soon peak out.

So far as oil prices and inflation are concerned, the Indian economy is better equipped to handle them than most others. Inflation is otherwise seen to be sobering out – a fact that enhances the comfort level of investors. Though oil prices rising to a level of $115 a barrel and rocketing food prices may again make matters worse. The former may even end up throwing the global economic recovery off track. This may become reality if the recent nuclear disaster in Japan makes policymakers in countries such as China seriously rethink their nuclear programmes, putting further pressure on oil as the major source of energy.
India is now emerging as the fastest growing economy, forcing investors worldwide to take note of it. Warren Buffet’s visit reinforces the faith foreign investors are likely to place in the Indian economy and the markets. In the short term, things are therefore looking good. The only strong negative is the political scenario that does not present a happy picture. The deep-rooted corruption and exposing of a number of scams are likely to take a heavy toll of political stability. The developments have also not been conducive for the next phase of reforms, that have already come to a grinding halt.

Stock Shop
(CMP Rs 45)

THE company manufactures and sells tensile fasteners and its products include bolts and screws, pins, nuts, allen keys, anchor bushes, hammers, wedges, studs, axles, cambrake, shafts, and PAN heads with washer assembly. It serves the wind energy, locomotives, automobiles, agriculture equipment, machine building, and industrial sectors. The company exports its products primarily to the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Dubai, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, and Sweden.
The company announced a phenomenal rise in standalone net profits for the quarter ended December 2010 wherein the net profits rose by around four times to Rs 15.76 million as compared to just Rs 4 million in the same quarter in the previous year. The total income also jumped by more than 47% during the same period. The company has an uninterrupted record of paying dividends for the last several years. The fact that the current market price discounts the trailing 12 months EPS by a PE of merely 5.4 and the book value of Rs 80 make it a highly safe stock at these valuations. With increasing applications of its products, the future outlook of the company looks quite promising. Investment with a time horizon of 2-3 years will give decent returns.

In a nutshell, the market view for investors has changed from selling on rallies to buying on corrections. Investors can therefore start taking exposure to good scrips in a phased manner. It is not a bad idea to buy some of the good stocks from the rate-sensitive sectors such as real estate, banking and auto that have been hammered down by more than 30- 40% since the interest rate cycle may soon peak out.

The author has no exposure in the stock recommended in this column. gfiles does not accept responsibility for investment decisions by readers of this column. Investment-related queries may be sent to with Dr Sood’s name in the subject line.