gfiles magazine

March 10, 2018

Kissa kursi ka…

Organising the Republic Day Parade at India Gate is an enormous task but the Defence Ministry manages to make it memorable and exclusive year after year. The Ministry is ably aided by the CPWD which takes care of logistics like chairs, barricading, decoration, ‘Salaami Manch’ etc., and other infrastructure modalities. The job begins in October each year when the CPWD issues tenders for logistics support; it spends around Rs. 1.25 crore on logistics. The most reputed tentwallah is engaged for the job. Approximately 90,000 chairs of all quality are arranged for visiting dignitaries. The CPWD and contractors have to hand over the complete India Gate site after making all stipulated arrangements to Army personnel by January 15 each year. It’s a drill. But there is another drill that is carried out without raising an eyelid. The moment the Beating Retreat is over on January 29, the contractors have to pack up and vacate India Gate by February 10 each year. This is the time when some CPWD mandarins become active. One will be surprised to know every year out of 90,000 chairs approximately 4,000 chairs and other logistic support goes missing. When gfiles enquired about this annual theft, it was disclosed that some of the lower CPWD staff run tent houses in their spare time and they shamelessly take away the chairs every year after the Republic Day parade. There is no theft report filed by contractors!

Food Mafia in UP

Who is the most powerful functionary in the Uttar Pradesh bureaucracy? Obvious answer should be the Chief Secretary of the state. No. The most influential civil servant in Uttar Pradesh is the Panchayat Secretary of a District. He is the nerve centre of the villages in his/her district. The State has about one lakh villages. As per the Government scheme to feed the poorest, nearly 500 below poverty line (BPL) villagers in each village are being provided daily rations like rice, wheat, kerosene, sugar and salt. Sources disclosed that State politicians and civil servants are running the biggest mafia in the Public Distribution System. The modus operandi is simple: the wholesale distributor just allocates half the ration to the village supplier and the latter distributes half the sanctioned limit. The rest is sold in the open market at little lower than market prices. The village Pradhan has nothing to do with the distribution of the ration as the State Government has appointed private agencies in the villages. At a conservative calculation of one lakh villages and 500 people in each, every day 5 crore people are fed by the State and even if one rupee is siphoned each day per person, it comes to Rs. 18,000 crore each year. The villagers are still starving. Will anybody wake up in Uttar Pradesh!

Lobbyist Bibek Debroy

Aregime change normally brings new faces. But, some academicians, economists and theory pro-pounders have survived the UPA1, 2 and NDA regimes. One such economist is NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy. An analysis of his advocacy reveals the forces operating the system, which makes such people indispensible. Rethink rail electrification: Bibek Debroy redflags the railways diesel phase-out plan, writing “Several experts have questioned the logic of 100 per cent electrification and have argued that if few countries have done this, there is a good reason for it. And that includes the need to have a back-up plan in case of a grid failure-due to sabotage or natural reasons-as well as the fact that certain routes simply do not have the requisite transport volumes to justify electrification.” He has been advocating for diesel locomotives for the last four years since Alstom started its Rs. 40,000 crore manufacturing project of electric engines in Bihar. If the Railways opt out from 100 per cent electrification and cancels the order of Alstom and GE, who is benefitted? Back in 2015, Manoj Sinha, the then Minister of State for Railways, informed the Lok Sabha that the single largest bulk consumer of diesel in the country, (Railways) requires about 2.5 billion litres of diesel a year and has to foot a bill of about Rs. 17,000 crore. “Sinha did not tell the house that Essar Oil and Reliance had won the rate contract to supply diesel to the Railways, edging out Indianoil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum. We leave you draw your own conclusions.

Eccentric Barugaru

Sanjay Baru alias Barugaru is a seasoned professional (he was a journalist once upon a time). Many say that professionals generally don’t have a loyalty factor in their genes; they move wherever their bread and butter are earned. Sanjay Baru is not an exception to this. He was the Press Advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but moved out and wrote a book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh. Nobody in the Congress leadership understood till now how Sanjay Baru got the job in the PMO and who forwarded his name. Last year, Barugaru joined FICCI, which claims to be the ‘voice of industry’, reportedly with the blessings of Finance Minister Arun Jaitely. Barugaru is acting like his masters’ voice since he has joined FICCI. This year’s budget briefing at FICCI headquarters was fabulously arranged by Baru but the result left everybody puzzled. For the first time, FICCI bought telecast rights of the Finance Minister’s speech to ETNow TV. Not only this, FICCI restricted the entry of all other journalists from different newspapers and TV networks. The impact was instant; except for Economic Times, very few newspapers carried the advocacy of budget by Arun Jaitely the next day. FICCI President Rashesh Shah, Chairman and CEO of the Edelweiss Group, does not know what to do with Barugaru’s eccentric behaviour.

UIDAI falls flat on its feet

As of February 15, 2018, the Government has issued over 117 crore Aadhaar cards with a countrywide coverage of over 89 per cent. In some of the States and Union Territories, such as Delhi, Goa, Chandigarh, Punjab and Kerala, the registration rate is over 100 per cent. The worst in terms of performances are the North-Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Depending on which side of the fence–pro-privacy or anti-Aadhaar–you are on, it can be deemed to be a huge success or monumental malaise. But if there is one failure that was unanticipated, not-thought-through, it was in the area of governance, management, and continuation. The nodal agency, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), should have known that the real problem is invariably post-issuance management. At any given point in time, 10-20 per cent of the card holders will require changes–change of names due to marriage, new cards due to births, and change of address in an ever-migrating ecosystem. The authority seems totally unprepared to deal with such changes in 20-25 million Aadhaars on an annual basis. The number of branch offices for changes are limited even in Delhi, the nation’s capital. Queues are common; people line up at 5 a.m. reminding one the old ‘Socialist’ days of the 1970s. Government servants at UIDAI branches are ‘lazy’ or ‘uninterested’ and citizens have to make frequent visits. The issue has more critical after the Government has insisted on linking Aadhaar with almost everything– PAN, bank account, mobile number, subsidies, etc.

Who cares about Parliament business?

THE meeting of the Business Advisory Committees of both the Houses was recently convened to discuss which issues are to be tabled in the House. The Rajya Sabha committee meeting was chaired by its chairman Venkaiah Naidu, but no minister was present to represent the Government while the Opposition leaders were present. So the Opposition took advantage of the situation and decided the agenda of the Rajya Sabha with mutual consent. After stepping out from the meeting, Trinamool Congress’ Derek-O’Brien tweeted, “Seeing the attitude of the BJP, one can understand the honour left in them for democratic institutions.” While the Rajya Sabha committee meeting was underway, the meeting of the Lok Sabha committee also took place. Government representatives were absent even from that meeting. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan thought the missing ministers were busy with the Rajya Sabha meeting. But when the hunt for the two began, neither Ananth Kumar nor Arjun Ram Meghwal could be found in the other meeting too. After a good half an hour, Meghwal walked into the meeting followed soon after by Ananth Kumar. Kumar reportedly tried explaining the delay by saying he was in a meeting with the PM. Opposition leaders just smiled.

Kanimozhi meets Rahul

TAMIL NADU is likely to be the main State which will decide the fate of the politics of 2019. The next political battle will be fought in Chennai. Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, is learnt to have met Rahul Gandhi last month after being acquitted in the controversial 2G case. During the conversation, Kanimozhi was reportedly trying to convince Rahul that Congress should talk to Kani instead of Stalin for a coalition in Tamil Nadu. She said that she, alongwith her brother Alagiri and former Union Minister A. Raja are together. And their trio has more influence in DMK politics. Sources disclosed that Kani claimed Central Tamil Nadu to herself alongwith the high influence of Alagiri in South Tamil Nadu and A Raja in North Tamil Nadu. Rahul did lend his ear to Kani but in return gave no concrete assurances. He as usual smiled and thanked Kani for meeting him.

Railway signals

THERE is a fierce war in the Ministry of Railways over selection of a telecom network model for the much-needed Modernisation of Signalling and Telecom Project. The plan is to go in for European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2. The war is among 2G and 4G network suppliers. Railway Minister Piyush Goel has called three presentations in which Thales, Siemens, Alstom, Hitachi, Bombardier and Ansaldo, Nokia, Ericsson, and Kapsch (represented by Vista) presented their case. The meeting was moderated by E&Y and was also attended by the Minister of State for Railways and the Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani. Sources disclosed that it was decided to use Long Term Evaluation (4G) as the telecom technology for this project despite the fact that it was pointed out during the meeting that there is no live reference of LTE usage for ETCS Level 2. This took Piyush Goel by surprise and he asked if this was true. Two people pointed out that it was not true: DG-Safety &T of Railways said the same has been done in China and Korea while and an Alstom representative mentioned that they had done a project in Australia. Goel said he would get the same checked. Sources have informed gfiles that no such project has been done in China and Korea and in Australia, a 11 km pilot project has been undertaken. Let us remember that the 162-year-old Indian railway system has more than 60,000 km (40,000 miles) of track on which ETCS level 2 is to be implemented. Meanwhile, a budget of Rs 79,000 crore has been approved for the same. The Modi Government is keen to showcase this as one of its major achievements during the 2019 election but actually Finance Minister Arun Jaitely has sanctioned peanuts for this mega project. Piyush Goel is now reportedly looking for financiers for this project.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

Andimuthu Raja’s book on 2G scam is indeed a revelation. However, it’s an exposure in the form of omissions. It has indeed opened a new Pandora’s Box on the Rs. 176,000-crore scandal. But it also hides more than it discloses. The book, for instance, delves into details of the pulls and pressures exerted by COAI (controlled by Sunil Mittal), the powerful lobbying arm of the private cellular operators, to influence, twist and manipulate the country’s telecom policy. But it doesn’t describe the overarching role played by a Mumbai-based business house, which has played several hands to deal the right cards to decide the winners in the games to appoint key civil servants and ministers in the telecom ministry. A reader gets no idea of the roles played by crucial civil servants such as Nripendra Misra, former Telecom Secretary, Pulok Chatterjee and TK Nair, ex-officials in the PMO, and Omita Paul, who was the right hand of the former President, Pranab Mukherjee.

Perennial Reformist

NARENDRA Kumar was born on July 10, 1957, in Delhi’s Karol Bagh, in a family deep into poverty. His father Late Lila Ram Molparia, who had five daughters and three sons, was trying to find his moorings after migrating from Sindh, now in Pakistan, by setting up a small household unit for manufacturing ladies footwear. Kumar’s initial schooling took place in a municipal school. He might not have studied further despite securing first position in Class V board examination, for his father had fallen sick with TB. The whole family was struggling for survival. It was his municipal school teacher who came to his help and got him admitted to government-aided Ramjas Higher Secondary School No. 5. He finished his higher secondary with first position in the commerce stream.

Caution! No mines ahead

INDIA received a not so envious accolade last week when the Fraser Institute (one of world’s top think tanks) dropped the country from its list of top mining destinations, based on policy and social frameworks. Juxtapose the above with the developments in the mining sectors in the recent past. It is mired by social and judicial activism, resulting in not just economic loss to the institution of State, but also the degradation of whole socio-economic ecosystem. Of course there are cases where irregularities were found and it those should be addressed. The top Court of the country duly did it by ordering closure of mines in the beginning of this decade in Karnataka, Odisha and Goa. However, never before the court put an absolute ban in mining activities.

Uncivil fight

THE ugly face-off and the violent fallout between the Civil Service and Delhi government remind us of EV Lucas’ short story, Face on the Wall. The plot isn’t important. Still, “There are three extraordinary, three most remarkable things” about the fiction. The first is the association between a face-like patch on a damp wall and the life and death of a person. Second is the link between the name of the living person and the place where the patch existed. Finally, as the narrator concludes, “The third extraordinary thing about the story is that I made it up about half an hour ago.” Similarly, there are three astonishing and exceptional things about the physical assault on Delhi’s Chief Secretary, Anshu Prakash, by Delhi’s elected MLAs (and ex-MLAs) of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the presence of the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia.

Standard deduction, a mere delusion

IN the budget speech, the Finance Minister, in para 151, under the caption ‘relief to salaried taxpayers’, has accepted the contribution of such persons to the income-tax revenues of the country saying: “There is a general perception in the society that individual business persons have better income as compared to salaried class. However, income-tax data analysis suggests that major portion of personal income-tax collection comes from the salaried class. For AY 2016-17, 1.89 crore salaried individuals have filed their returns and have paid total tax of Rs. 1.44 lakh crore, which works out to average tax payment of Rs. 76,306 per individual salaried taxpayer. As against this, 1.88 crore individual business taxpayers, including professionals, who filed their returns for the same AY, paid total tax of Rs. 48,000 crore, which works out to an average tax payment of Rs. 25,753 per individual business taxpayer”.

All that glitters isn’t Modi

KUCHCH din to gujaro Gujarat main! Only then can you visualise the entrepreneurial spirit of money-making adventures that grips the soul of a Gujarati. You will be able to listen to her dreams of wads of cash, not to show off, or spend in a wild spree of conspicuous consumption. The cash is not a means, but an end in itself. There is no cause and effect between the money earned, and the manner in which they live, think and behave. In fact, there is no effect at all. The two are related randomly. Obviously, when entrepreneurship and money-making go hand-in-hand few unscrupulous elements emerge at regular intervals.They can take various shapes, and acquire varying contours.

Army – ill-equipped to fight a war

MANY years ago during the height of pro-Khalistan insurgency in Punjab, a senior police officer interrogating a captured militant received the greatest shock of his life when the militant asked the police officer to be polite and treat him (the militant) courteously. “Why?” the officer asked. “Because, you are one of the biggest beneficiaries and gained as a consequence of our armed struggle. Look at what you were and what you have gained. Till a few years ago you had World War-II army discard .303 rifles, outdated jeeps and wireless sets. Today, thanks to our armed struggle, at least you have been issued with better weapons, transport and communication equipment,” the militant replied. Needless to say the Punjab Police officer was taken aback and did not know what to say.

Rafale deal – Mess by Politicians

THE Bofors gun proved its efficacy and lethality in the Kargil skirmishes. And the Rafale will prove its undisclosed virtues in the battle for Tibet whenever that happens. But what about our virtuous politicians who invest so heavily in domestic politics, selecting candidates, wasting time and resources on campaigning and misguiding people, and raising funds by crook to win elections and rule the people, half of whom are more malnourished than people of sub-Saharan Africa. When will India’s politicians prove their virtue by spending some time in understanding military matters and issues of national security? Perhaps Never. Look at their track records.

From the Editor

THE North-East has been won by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), coming after a spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh, and a tough, but eye-opening one, in native Gujarat, which made its impact felt on Budget 2018. But, at present, the BJP and its several allies have saturated their presence in North India, in States such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They can only lose seats in these States in 2019, rather than increase the combined tally of 2014. Hence, the initial Look North policy shifted to Look East, and now has to change to Look South. To make up for the possible shortfall in its northern bastion, the BJP and its allies have to make up with wins in the south. This is why Tamil Nadu will prove to be crucial in 2019.