gfiles magazine

May 11, 2017

Go hard on Soft Bank

Are civil servants in the Ministry of Finance aware of the big ticket funding by Japan’s Soft Bank to many Indian companies. The way Indian companies are receiving funds from foreign banks has surprised many. North Block needs to be vigilant. Are Indian companies really getting clean money? International finance is a multilayer business; nobody knows who is financing whom. Currently, international finance is in a recessionary mode and yet, Soft Bank’s Chairman Masayoshi Son is very aggressive. Paytm, it is learnt, is in talks for funding from Soft Bank. The Alibaba-backed online marketplace company Paytm, is looking to raise around Rs. 12,000 crore from Soft Bank, in the single-largest investment in an e-commerce company. Rajeev Misra, Soft Bank Group’s head of strategic finance, is reportedly looking after the deal. The news surprised many: Saudi Arabia and Japan’s Soft Bank Group will create a technology investment fund along with ‘several other large, unnamed investors’ who are in active talks on their participation and could bring the total size of the new fund up to $100 billion, Soft Bank said. The only solace is that Saudi Arabia’s top sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), will be the lead investment partner and may invest up to $45 billion over the next five years. It is not yet known who is investing the balance $55 billion.

Mess in awards

There are two important awards functions in Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi, every year. The first is the SCOPE Awards on the occasion of Public Sector Day on April 11. Second, the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration on Civil Services Day on April 21. The SCOPE Awards are presided over by the President of India and the PM’s Award is presented by the Prime Minister of India. The Ministry of Heavy Industry and Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances administer the awards, respectively. Both the functions this year were botched up and there was utter chaos. In the SCOPE Awards, officials did not know the sitting arrangement. It was free for all. The cool-headed Home Minister Rajnath Singh was the Chief Guest on the first day. Miffed at a 12-minute delay in starting the function, Singh used the opportunity to chide bureaucrats on their lack of punctuality and even asked them to introspect on whether the delay was due to a “laxity of commitment”. The gathering of senior IAS and IPS officers, including Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha and Additional Principal Secretary to PM PK Mishra, were stunned to hear the plain talk of Home Minister. Secretary DAPRG C Viswanath , who was managing the function, was clearly embarrassed before senior officers. Media persons were the biggest victim in both the functions as they did not receive any press material. Earmarked media seats in both functions were occupied by senior officers. Some very senior journalists were seen sitting on the aisles. In the PM Awards function managed by ITDC, none of the attendees had any clue who are the awardees. The printed awards booklet was being offloaded from the truck after the function was over.

Lal Batti Gone…

The use of red beacons which symbolise power, a sense of entitlement and VVIP culture in the corridors of Delhi and state capitals has come to an end from May 1. There is an eerie silence among the civil servants but some are enthused and welcome the change. Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer of Haryana cadre, took to Twitter to say that, “some other privileges must go too. “Use of British honorifics, ‘Sir, His Excellency, My Lord’ like the use of red beacon light on car also need a review.” IAS-turned politician Jayaprakash Narayan says banning red lights on cars for ‘VIPs’ is long overdue. After welcoming the move, he added: “All other trappings of VIP culture in our democracy should go.” Haryana State Election Commissioner Dr. Dalip Singh uploaded a photo on Facebook removing the “red beacon” from his car. Significantly, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had not used vehicles with red beacons even before the decision was taken. Air India Chairman and Managing Director and 1980-batch Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineering (IRSME) Officer Ashwani Lohani said that the VIP culture had always disturbed him since the time he had joined bureaucracy. In a Facebook post, the senior bureaucrat went beyond the red beacon to argue that the culture of officials accepting and expecting “bouquets, special arrangements, protocol, slew of subordinates to receive and see off and to top it all gifts and freebies” must also end along with red beacons. “A reminder of the raj era, such conduct that diverts focus away from deliverance would hopefully also diminish considerably,” he wrote in his Facebook post. “The red beacon now has gone for good but nobody can say with certainty that the same in the mindset has also disappeared,” the PM said in his recent ‘Mann ki baat’. Clearly more is on the anvil.

Kudos to Sinha

Dr PK Sinha gets a one-year extension as Cabinet Secretary in a one-line order/ The government said that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet approved the extension of Cabinet Secretary and 1977 batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer PK Sinha’s tenure for one year beyond June 12, 2017. It means, Sinha will get tenure of three years as India’s top bureaucrat. The extension clearly indicates that PM does not want to take risks in experimenting with a new hand at this juncture. The efficient and able KM Chandrasekhar and Ajit K Seth were given extensions multiple times. Each got a chance to serve for four long years. The sanction of an extension is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. There’s is nothing wrong in it. The only issue is that it denies bright and performing bureaucrats of at least three successive IAS batches the chance to reach the top of the bureaucratic stratum. The Secretary of Defence and External Affairs gets a two-year fixed term. The term of S Jaishanker, the External Affairs Secretary, has already been extended for one year. The debate among senior civil servants is, what if union secretaries too are given extension for a year or two? Will it not destabilise the IAS structure? Chandrasekhar’s first one-year-extension ruined the hope of Sudha Pillai of the 1972 batch of becoming India’s first woman cabinet secretary. In June 2011, Ajit K Seth of the 1974 batch became Cabinet Secretary. He first got a one-year extension during the UPA-II, but many were surprised when Narendra Modi decided to retain him as the Cabinet Secretary. But the extension was on expected lines as Modi needed a smooth transition of power and who can do a better job than the Cabinet Secretary. If the current trend continues, incumbent Sinha too may end up getting a four-year-term. The extension to Dr. Sinha not only recognises his work ethic but ensures smooth sailing during the elections for President and Vice President. As has been observed during the recent Civil Service Awards, Sinha is well in tune with the mindset of the PM and acts accordingly.

Building an IT capital

IF the Asaf Jah dynasty (Nizam) built Hyderabad, it was the British who founded Secunderabad. Credit must be given to Chandrababu Naidu, who ruled un-divided Andhra Pradesh for a decade, for adding a new city called Cyberabad, a high-tech hub that is the pride of Hyderabad. Despite the partition of the State and Andhra Pradesh facing a huge financial crunch, Chandrababu is moving earth and heaven to build a new capital-Amaravathi-as the new destination for IT and compete with Hyderabad, Bangalore and NOIDA. As part of this strategy, after he became Chief Minister of new state in May 2014, he went on a long visit in April 2015 to the US and confabulated with several IT majors inviting them invest in Amaravathi. Now, in a fresh bid, Naidu is again on a nearly two-week long coast-to-coast visit of the US, via the mid west to invite investment in Amaravathi. While criss-crossing the US, Naidu is expected to meet about 300 CEOs. His visit is scheduled to end in Silicon Vally where he will be meeting Tim Cook (Apple), Sunder Pichai ( Google), Bill Gates and Satya Nadella (Microsoft). Meetings are also fixed with the heads of Facebook, Oracle, Twitter, Tesla and others. Before departing for the US, he met Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and other ministers to give a final shape to deliverables promised to potential foreign investors.

The Jaitley durbar

It would be an understatement if we term Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as indispensable to the Modi government. Or a master in statecraft? When it comes to crunch decisions, he is like Kautilya; when it comes to the passage of crucial and important bills in Parliament, he dons the role of Vidhur in taking opposition parties into confidence. When Parliament is in session, Jaitley is the most sought after person by ministerial colleagues, bureaucrats, captains of industry and the media. He is the only minister who virtually holds a durbar In the Central Hall with several mediapersons sitting with him or surrounding him. Senior Ministers like Venkaiah Naidu, Anantha Kumar and Ravi Shankar Prasad come and brief Jaitley.
His personal staff often interrupts with small chits, which carry the names of Sanjay Goenka, Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry or sometimes a Banking secretary or Lt. General. In an imperial manner, Jaitley nods his head and asks them to wait. While interacting with the media, Jaitley is full of camaraderie. Asked about the chances of Venkaiah Naidu becoming vice president, Jaitley answers: If he becomes Vice President who will hold press conferences to brief the nation? If somebody asks what are the chances of Jharkhand lady tribal Governor Draupadi Murmu, Jaitley counters by asking about an additional secretary in the Ministry of Finance? As far as the media is concerned, the USP of Arun Jaitley is that he is a great story teller and enjoys real gossip. If the media tells him anything about his enemies or detractors like Ram Jethmalani, Subramaniam Swamy or for that matter Arvind Kejriwal, he is eager to listen.

Modi reads in the morning

NARENDRA Modi is the first Prime Minister of India who likes gadgets and digital media. Whenever he is free, he likes to be updated with the latest happenings of the world. But old habits die hard. He still regularly reads the newspapers (hard copy) in the morning at 5.30 a.m. He used to read the local newspapers in Ahmedabad when he was serving as Chief Minister of Gujarat, along with a glimpse at some newspapers published from New Delhi. He had especially made an arrangement from New Delhi to have the newspapers parcelled to him by the first flight.
Nowadays, the Prime Minister’s Office has made arrangements to get the Gujarat newspapers on the first flight from Ahmedabad. The PMO has also deputed staff especially to collect the morning newspapers from Connaught Place every day at 5 in the morning. No doubt, staying abreast of the news is essential.

A man of vision

NO way! I shall not retire till I die… I have a lot to do…” These are the words of one of the youngest old man in the community of NRIs in UAE, a textile magnate, chairman of the Regal Group of companies, Vasu Shroff. He is one of those expatriates in UAE who has seen Dubai growing from a mass of sand to one of the top global destinations. Following the partition of India, a family from Gwader (Sind, Pakistan) migrated to Ujjain in India and finally to Devlali in Maharashtra. The youngest member of this family was seven-year-old Vasu, who after few years carved out his destiny on his own terms and conditions in a desert land, Dubai.

Emaar MGF : Loot in the open

It’s a story that has all the classic and inherent ingredients of a mega scandal-a realtor operating in India, where most real estate deals are murky; a foreign promoter based in the Middle-East, where no distinction can generally be made between money and power; Indian promoters, who are well-connected in Delhi, and have residential addresses in Amrita Shergil Marg and Golf Links; friends of the promoters, who had access to a former Prime Minister of the country, and who were allegedly involved in an earlier scam; and, of course, two mega media organisations, which were shareholders. More importantly, all the right persons and agencies knew almost everything about the various swindles. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) collected 50,000 pages of documentation.

Quick response

ATUL Chaturvedi, 66, was born in a family of civil servants. His father, PN Chaturvedi, was a PCS who was coopted into IAS. His father’s elder brother, BS Chaturvedi, was an IPS. His grandfather, Harcharan Chaturvedi, also a PCS, retired as Collector of Faizabad. His great grandfather, Visheswardayal Chaturvedi, was a Provincial Civil Services Officer as well. Yet, Atul, born in Jhansi, had no inclination to join the civil services until the day when KK Sharma, his father’s chief and Commissioner of Bareilly division, made a bonfire of his selection letter as senior management trainee. “It was in the winter of 1972. I had been selected as senior management trainee in Hindustan Unilever. My father was then Collector in Bareilly. His senior, Commissioner KK Sharma had come to our residence for dinner. I showed my selection letter to him. He threw it into the fireplace and told me to sit for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam.

INDIA’S COASTLINE IN PERIL : Whither environmental governance?

INDIA is a land of diverse ecology and its ecosystems include oceans, deserts, forests, mountains, grasslands and wetlands. It has a land frontier of 15,200 km and a coastline of 7,517 km. This coastline is endowed with a wide range of sand dunes, mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, salt marshes, mud flats, atomic minerals, estuaries, lagoons and unique marine flora and fauna. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, was enacted to protect this diverse ecosystem from all kinds of predatory activities. Special attention was given to the coastal ecosystem in which more than 30 per cent of India’s population live. This was done through the instrumentality of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). The first CRZ notification was promulgated on February 19, 1991, by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

Facing challenges

These statements show the confidence of the Government of India that family silver cannot be sold out in the open market in haste. It has taken 26 years for the Government of India to draw a firm policy of disinvestment. The government has to still fine tune a roadmap of withdrawing from running business enterprises. The 8th Public Sector Day celebrations by Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) indicate they will grow robustly and will remain the main donor to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, said that India we started with only five PSEs with an investment of Rs 29 crore. He said India is a fast-growing economy and many more glorious chapters will be added to the credit of PSEs in future too.

Competitive Federalism

THE ELEVENTH Civil Services Day celebrated on April 21, 2017 changed the dynamics of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration. Narendra Modi was the force behind making the awards more dynamic, racy, pacy and consequential. The Prime Minister presented a total of 12 awards, which included 10 under the five Priority Programmes and two under Innovation category. These awards were given in three Groups, the first group consisting of the eight North-Eastern States and the three Hill States of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, the second group comprising the seven Union Territories and the remaining 18 States constituting the third group.

From the Editor

A chchay Din Aanay Wale hain (Happy days will come),’ was the slogan coined by Narendra Modi during the parliamentary elections of 2014. ‘Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai (My country is transforming),’ is the new slogan of Mr Modi. This is a perceptive change in Modi’s thinking after taking over as the 14th Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014. He is the most vigorous Prime Minister in the last 70 years. He has galvanised India. Whether you like or dislike him, but you cannot ignore Modi. India is observing a completely new class of politicians, politics and governance for the last three years. Modi’s biggest achievement is that he has created such a political hype across India that the BJP, which never dreamed of forming a government on its own, has not only captured Raisina Hills but has 17 State governments in its kitty.