Renu Pokharna

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

RAW data: secret funds buy cars, an office under cloud

In Corruption, Defence, Red Tape on November 30, 2010 at 6:14 am

Using secret funds to purchase cars for staff, buying snoop equipment worth $350 million without conducting user trials, building a whole new tower in the new office without any clearances — a string of controversies has gripped the country’s premier foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

RAW, incidentally, is the recipient of the largest amount of secret funds, close to Rs 350 crore this year. While there are provisions for an internal audit by a CAG official posted in the agency, its findings are never made public or even shared in a sealed envelope with a Parliamentary committee.

The latest controversies come when efforts are on to replace RAW chief K C Verma before his retirement in January next year.

Indications are that S K Tripathi, the head of RAW’s air wing, the Aviation Research Centre, will take over. But Tripathi retires in December, a month before Verma. So, for him to become RAW chief, Verma has to be moved out and sources said he’s likely to go to the National Technical Research Organisation, where he would get another three years.

RAW Chief K C Verma, when contacted by The Sunday Express, declined to comment.

 

The key controversies:

About 30 Maruti Altos were purchased — using secret funds —to allegedly mollify the much-agitated junior official staff that had complaints over slow promotions and related service conditions. The procurement has been shown for “operational” purposes and it’s learnt that the cars have just been handed over to each deputy secretary. A couple of them, sources said, have apparently refused to accept a car if they don’t get a driver with it.

 

The Finance Ministry has questioned RAW for incurring almost double the expenditure for construction of a new building near the CGO complex in the capital after adding a third tower without taking clearances. While Rs 90 crore was sanctioned to construct a building with two wings in 2005, a third wing was added without taking the required clearances, shooting cost up to Rs 160 crore. With the finance department strongly objecting to changes in the design plan, the building has been lying unused for over a year now. For, no money has been released to complete the interiors. It is learnt that an internal committee of RAW has been asked to report on how these changes were sanctioned.

 

The Finance Department of the Cabinet Secretariat — under which RAW falls — is also learnt to have raised serious objections against two major contracts that have been finalised by the agency, including a $350-million deal to supply airborne electronic surveillance systems. Besides concerns on competitiveness of the bids, the main objection is that both contracts were finalised without carrying out user trials, as is the norm in all defence contracts.

 

Also under the scanner is the purchase of a VSAT (satellite communication) monitoring system. In December 2009, RAW approved the purchase of untested interception equipment to snoop on enemy satellite communication on the basis of a “live performance” in Ukraine and not on the basis of user trials at home. Moreover, a top RAW official cited ISRO’s endorsement of the system to clear the purchase worth Rs 11.7 crore. However, records later showed that ISRO had, in fact, rejected the system. This was confirmed in writing by the Defence Intelligence Agency — under the Ministry of Defence — that was ordering a similar system through ISRO. The purchase of the VSAT monitoring system has also invited objections from the Finance Department of the Cabinet Secretariat.

 

Indian Express, 28 Nov 2010

After the win, the agenda

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Politics on November 30, 2010 at 6:12 am

The last Nitish Kumar government presented annual report cards to the people of Bihar. This time round, the chief minister has indicated that the government’s work may be up for internal review in six months. The six-month review may or may not take place but in Patna’s secretariat, it has already unleashed a frisson. As preparations were afoot for the grand swearing-in at the historic Gandhi Maidan on November 26, secretaries in key departments were urgently overseeing the preparation of the agenda for the next five years. There was no time to be lost, especially in areas that Nitish had prioritised in his poll campaign. In his second term, Nitish will have the political room to set his own pace. This, after all, is an election in which Bihar’s voters have elected a government, but no opposition. The fact that no party has notched the number of seats required to be anointed the main opposition party in the new House—Lalu Yadav’s RJD has won only 22 against the required number of 25—does not fully capture the story of the terrible decimation, not just of the RJD, but also of the Left forces, now huddled into one seat, and the Congress’s spectacular failure to relaunch.

But realistically speaking, Nitish will have two to three years before the clock starts ticking louder for Lok Sabha polls 2014. Two to three years in which to move towards “sampann Bihar” without any distractions, and to give a meaning to “sushasan” that is larger than the assurance of personal security and road connectivity. The gains made on these two fronts are on their way to being normalised. In his second term, Nitish must match his stride with the vaulting popular aspirations he himself awakened in his first.

If in the first five years, the work of setting up of a system where none existed was accompanied by a certain flourish and spectacle, the hard labour of the second term is likely to be of consolidation more than creation. It will be conducted in a quieter place, less invested with publicity and drama. In many areas, what is now required is the honing of delivery of an already existing basket of schemes.

There is another crucial difference this time. In the past five years, Nitish’s attempts to bring back the state into the business of building public goods in Bihar had to be feverishly tempered by his compulsion to craft a political constituency of his own through specially targeted schemes, transfers and reservations for the sections he courted—the extremely backward castes, Mahadalits, Pasmanda Muslims and women. This time, however, Nitish will have more room for manoeuvre in this respect as well.

As a senior cabinet minister in Bihar puts it, “Ab bacha kaun?” In other words, between Lalu and Nitish, all the political mobilisations that were possible on the basis of identity in a state of raging caste inequalities, have arguably been exhausted. Nitish showed great political ingenuity in his first term in identifying and addressing each and every group and sub-group left unattended after the Mandal revolution of the 1990s.

But there is a second reason why Nitish will have more freedom, should he look for it, to blur the lines and work more overtly towards a caste-neutral framework of development: the nature of his mandate spans virtually every social group. Nitish’s big win suggests that even his opponents voted for him, while Lalu’s abject loneliness today is borne of the fact that even his supporters didn’t vote for him.

Deputy chief minister Sushil Modi says that the new government’s priorities will be power and irrigation. These two sectors figure in all the lists being drawn up of the new government’s priorities. Other areas that Nitish Kumar has also conspicuously flagged in his election speeches, and that are, therefore, likely to draw special attention: reform of the public distribution system, and corruption, especially at lower levels of bureaucracy.

The challenge in the power sector is the most urgent but results here take a longer time to show. Nitish has promised to make Bihar a power surplus state by 2015.

With a thermal power installed capacity of only 440 megawatt, while the peak load is 2,500 megawatt and growing daily, Bihar is dependent on a central allocation of 1,750 megawatt. Of this, according to Ravikant, principal secretary, energy, Bihar gets 900 to 1,000 MW—1,400 MW at best—leaving a huge gap.

The problem also is, Nitish has repeatedly stressed, the Centre has not provided coal linkages for investments in the power sector in Bihar. “We will put greater pressure on the Centre in this regard, after this mandate,” says BJP minister Nand Kishore Yadav, who has now been given the roads portfolio.

The situation is expected to ease a bit after expansion work at the two plants at Barauni and Kanti is completed and there is talk of a joint venture with NTPC in Nabinagar, but that will take about three to four years to deliver. In the short run, says Ravikant, Bihar has asked for more allocation from the NTPC unit at Barh, and is actively encouraging biomass projects.

Lack of electricity has also meant that Bihar has not been able to fully utilise its large groundwater resources for agriculture. Agricultural productivity is further held back by the fact that the entire state boasts of only two large irrigation projects, on the Kosi and Gandak. “In this term, we need to develop an irrigation system. We need to make barrages, harness technological knowledge from all over the world. North Bihar has the most fertile land in the Gangetic plain. It used to be said that the second green revolution will unfold in Bihar,” says Vijendra Prasad Yadav, a senior minister in Nitish’s cabinet, who has now been given the portfolio of energy, excise and parliamentary affairs.

But while on both power and irrigation the results are likely to be slow and somewhat unspectacular, the new Nitish government has eye-catching moves up its sleeve on two other fronts—in the drive against corruption and in reform of the public distribution system.

Having sensed a building clamour against corruption in the lower bureaucracy, in all his poll campaign speeches Nitish mentioned a law with the provision that if a chargesheet has been filed against someone accused of corruption, permission can be sought for the confiscation of his property. He would open schools in those buildings, said Nitish, or use that space to create other socially useful assets like old age homes.

The Bihar Special Courts Act 2010 was sent for presidential approval where it was pending for almost 10 months. Presidential assent came in March. Since then, High Court benches have been constituted and in June, nine cases were filed against senior officials, including an ex-DGP. The law and its effects will fully unfold in Nitish’s second term.

A big idea is in the works for PDS reform. Bihar is planning a separate, independent body to create a new BPL list for the state. At present, according to government of India estimates, Bihar has 65 lakh BPL families while the state’s own surveys point to a figure of up to a crore and a half. In his election campaign, Nitish promised, to loud applause from his audiences across the state, that the state government would make up for the shortfall of foodgrain.

“The chief minister has been personally involved in PDS reform in the state,” says Tripurari Sharan, principal secretary, food and civil supplies. “Bihar PDS was in a shambles in 2005,” he says. “Now Bihar is on the procurement map. There’s been a silent revolution.” Four years ago, he says, Bihar used to lift 1,30,000 metric tonnes of foodgrain per month for PDS; it lifts more than 3,25,000 metric tonnes per month today.

There are plans to decentralise procurement. But if availability of foodgrain still remains a problem, the government proposes to give cash to the needy. This will be a step ahead of the food coupon system introduced by the Nitish government in 2007.

The Nitish government has widely experimented with direct cash transfers in its first term—for instance, the Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojana, the scheme that gives Rs 500 for uniforms for girls and boys in classes 3,4 and 5, or the one that promises every child in the aanganwadi Rs 250. Nand Kishore Yadav claims, “We reached cash to every household, in some form or the other.” Cash transfers, he says, cut down corruption. “The Planning Commission is debating the cash subsidy, we have implemented it,” he says.

This debate could catch up with the Nitish government in its second term. “Even cash transfers can be fiddled with,” says PP Ghosh, at the Asian Development and Research Institute at Patna. “The government should focus its energies on reforming the PDS by learning from states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala. There is no substitute for enforcing greater accountability of the bureaucracy. Cash transfers are a short cut”.

For Saibal Gupta, also at ADRI, Nitish’s big challenge will be this: “So far, he could get a dividend from the strategy of direct transfer. Now he must address the fundamentals. For instance, land records must be updated, the bataidar (tiller) must be given legal status and benefits.”

In June 2006, the Nitish government set up the Bihar Land Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of D Bandyopadhyay; it submitted its report in 2008. One of its recommendations urges legal recognition to bataidars, because “…the Bihar Tenancy Act did not recognize the vast mass of cultivators commonly known as bataidars through whom 30 to 40 per cent of arable land in Bihar is getting cultivated.”

That report was put on the backburner after it stoked a political controversy, and threatened a backlash from the landowning upper castes against Nitish. Now that fears of that backlash have proved to be exaggerated, it remains to be seen whether the second Nitish government will make its way back to that report.

A report card

What was done: Roads

In 2004-5, with the RJD government in power, the state spent Rs 133.85 crore on roads and built a measly 384.60 km. After the Nitish Kumar-led government came to power for the first time in 2005, both the money spent on roads and the length of roads increased steadily. In 2005-6, the government spent Rs 263.23 crore on roads and built 415 km. A year later, the numbers went up to 1662.93 and 984.04 respectively. In 2008-9, 2,417.14 km of roads were built
What’s left: Power

As a result of bifurcation, power generation capacity in present Bihar reduced. Only 29.6 per cent of total generation capacity remained with Bihar; the remaining 70.4 per cent went to Jharkhand. According to latest government figures, per capita power consumption in Bihar stands at 100 units against the all-India figure of 700.
Indian Express, 28 Nov 2010

After The Circus

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Urban Management on November 26, 2010 at 10:31 am

Off With Their Rights…

  • As many as 3 lakh slum dwellers in Delhi were evicted before the Commonwealth Games
  • When a family is evicted, each member loses many rights—the rights to livelihood, shelter, health, education etc
  • Of some 60,000 beggars on Delhi streets, more than 50,000 were removed for the Games

***

Forget the razzle-dazzle and the hype over the recently concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi. The human cost—paid, as always, by the poor—has been mind-boggling, the extent and force of its effects far greater than the corruption which has been in the media’s focus. According to the Delhi Shramik Sangathan, quoted in the exhaustive report prepared by the internationally reputed Housing & Land Rights Network (HLRN), in the five years from 2003, when India won the bid to be the host for the Games, close to 350 slum clusters housing three lakh people were demolished in Delhi. Most of these slum-dwellers had been living there for over a decade. Only a third of them have been resettled.

In fact, the homeless have had a bitter struggle ever since India won the CWG bid. Without voter IDs and ration cards, most of them were forced to rebuild their lives from the debris left by demolition drives. Their only shelter from the elements are plastic sheets and other flimsy material; the police won’t allow them to use anything more permanent. Miloon Kothari, former special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council and executive director of the HLRN, says,  “There is overwhelming evidence to suggest slums were demolished for reasons connected to the Games. The government lives in complete denial.”

With the Commonwealth Games declared a success, the slum-dwellers’ voice is something that Delhi doesn’t want to hear. They remain ignored and go unlamented in the din surrounding the corruption stage-managed by a public-private partnership of politicians, officials and business.
As autumn lends a nip to Delhi, residents of Shaheed Arjan Das camp, having braved the summer heat and relentless rain, wonder and wait for winter in their shelters, made of tarpaulin or plastic sheets propped with rope, lumber, loose bricks, material retrieved from the screens used to keep slums hidden from road view during the Games.

At the cluster of some 300 jhuggis along the open drain behind the swanky Thiagaraja stadium, built at a cost of Rs 300 crore for the netball events, the residents—mostly migrants from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh—are waiting for Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit or her son Sandeep, an MP. “We voted them to power,” says Raj Kumar, a resident of the cluster and father to five children, “and this is how they repay us!” His children had to discontinue their studies, as they had lost their home. Most residents of this jhuggi cluster have voter IDs and ration cards. Some even have passports. But they weren’t allowed to stay. There are some whose parents couldn’t survive the shock of demolition. Manoj Kumar, whose father died of shock after seeing their home razed, says, “Is there something wrong with simple dreams and hopes that clash with the hopes of India Shining?”

For those living in Shaheed Arjan Das camp, who were told in January 2009 that their homes were being demolished for a parking space, there was surprise in store: no parking lot came up. In fact, a year later, but for the open drain there’s little to prove that their slum was in the way of Games projects. “We were not informed till the last day that our homes were being removed,” says a slum-dweller.

Kothari says gross violation of the UN’s basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement took place in not informing the affected parties and denying them a chance to seek reprieve. The guidelines aim to minimise displacement and call for alternative solutions. The guidelines are rather stringent as far as eviction goes: only in exceptional circumstance, with full justification and procedural guarantees, can people be displaced. Besides, the government must enumerate the steps to be taken by the state to protect people’s rights prior to, during, and after eviction. Comprehensive “eviction-impact assessments” are to be carried out beforehand. And compensation and rehabilitation packages must be consistent with human rights standards. According to Kothari, it’s specifically prohibited to disrupt the education of children, specially during festivals or exam time. Some of the Delhi demolitions happened during Lori, the harvest festival.

The Delhi High Court intervened when it clubbed four petitions that sought relief, rehabilitation and relocation of slum-dwellers. Former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, A.P. Shah, who was instrumental in passing a judgement that stood by the poor, says, “The manner in which the evictions have been carried out, in direct violation of the law with no prior notice, no consultation with communities, and with use of force and intimidations, and without any compensation and rehabilitation, amounts to gross violation of the right to shelter, right to livelihood and a host of other human rights.”

The judgement, passed with Justice S. Murlidhar on February 11, says: “…it is not uncommon that in the garb of evicting slums and beautifying the city, the state agencies in fact end up creating more slums.” Shah says Article 19, which guarantees that citizens can move freely around the country, is being trampled upon when the state pushes people out of specific regions or cities. In particular, the judges observed: “It cannot be expected that human beings in a jhuggi cluster will simply vanish if their homes are uprooted and their names effaced from government records. They are the citizens who help rest of the city to live a decent life; they deserve protection and respect of the rights to life and dignity, which the Constitution guarantees them.”

Ironically, the judgement has been referred to a larger bench by the present chief justice and relief to the slum-dwellers, which was to come in four months’ time from the date of the judgement, will get more delayed. How long it will take, no one knows. The slum-dwellers haven’t a clue.

 

Outlook, 15 Nov 2010

‘A PPP model for a metro has never succeeded anywhere in the world’

In Corruption, Urban Management on November 26, 2010 at 10:30 am

E Sreedharan, Managing Director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, is the man credited with changing the way Delhi travels. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Executive Editor Unni Rajen Shanker, Sreedharan speaks of how the Metro kept its deadlines and his earlier assignment with Konkan Railways

Unni Rajen Shanker: When you look back at your stint with the Konkan Railways project and now the Delhi Metro, which was a tougher assignment and why?

The tougher and more challenging is Delhi Metro. With Konkan Railways, the main challenge was the length of the line: it passes through four states, a lot of reserved forest land and the most unfriendly, undulating terrain. The other challenge was raising funds. The government had given us one-third of the cost of the project, two-thirds had to be raised from the open market. At that time, the condition of the capital market was very poor, and raising money was very difficult. We could not raise money within the country and had to go to countries such as England, Japan and Korea to raise funds.

For Delhi Metro, money was not a problem. The problem was that it is the capital; whatever we do is directly under the gaze of the people in power—President, Prime Minister, Lt Governor, Chief Minister—everybody is aware of what we do. People here are educated, they are exposed to what other cities, countries have achieved. So expectations are very high. Also, we have to work with the least inconvenience or disturbance to the public. The technology for the Metro is highly complex. It is four times more complicated than railway technology. And tight targets had to be met; in the second phase, the target was the Commonwealth Games.

Sunil Jain: One reason why Metro is profitable is because you get sales tax waivers, excise duty waivers. How do you say that you are fully self-financed?

Our ticket revenue contributes 85% of the total revenue. The non-operational revenue, the non-fare revenue, is only 15% today. The property development or real estate revenue in DMRC is limited to very few areas. The government has not given us any land specifically for property development. We have the responsibility to pay back the loans we have taken. As much as 60% of the cost of the project is paid through loans. No metro in the world has been funded with such a large debt component. Yes, the government has given us concessions, but these are soft concessions—land given to us at a subsidised rate. During phase I and part of phase II, remission of taxes and duties have been given. But then, look at the kind of service we provide. The ticket value of Delhi Metro is the lowest worldwide, except Kolkata Metro, which is making a loss of Rs 75-80 crore per annum. We are making profits: in the current year, we expect operational profits of Rs 350 crore that’s needed to pay back the loans.

Sunil Jain: When the Hyderabad Metro was coming up, you were of the view that the Delhi Metro model is the best model to follow. Now Larsen & Toubro has the contract for the Hyderabad metro; do you still think it won’t work?

I am still firmly of the opinion that metros are highly capital intensive and the returns are not much, as the ticket fares have to be low. Which private party will invest its money unless he gets a return on his investment? Metro is not a financially viable proposition. The normal internal rate of return (IRR) is 1.523%. I have very grave doubts whether Hyderabad Metro can be a success or not. They are getting subsidies from the Government of India and the state government. The state government is giving land free. Larsen & Toubro has a great advantage; they have a brand name to help them raise funds.

Manu Pubby: Delhi Metro is the only public mode of transport where people are disciplined; there is no vandalism. How did that happen?

It called for a lot of effort from us, particularly educating the public that this is public property, this is meant for you, so keep it clean and respect it. Even then things were not working the way we wanted. We had to bring in punitive measures like on-the-spot fines. But I discovered that when commuters find the stations and the trains clean, they will not spoil it.

Sweta Dutta: Your term is to end in December this year and you have been requested to stay on for some more time. Have you decided on whether or not to stay on?

My term ends on December 31 and I have taken a decision to finally step down, hang up my boots. The Delhi government wanted me to stay on for another three months to see that phase three is approved and takes off. But I regret that I will not be able to continue for three months. I have been here for 13 years and I don’t think any project of this type has had an executive for so long.

Sweta Dutta: Have you thought of a successor?

My succession plan is to be decided by the Delhi government. The posting of the managing director is the prerogative of the state government and the posting of the chairman is the prerogative of the Government of India. So the state government has to decide on my successor. A second level of team is available within the metro—seven functional directors, any one of them can easily step into my shoes. They are more competent than anyone in the country. If I am given a chance to nominate, I will nominate one of them. Instead of a rank outsider, who doesn’t know the system; it is better that somebody who is already well-versed in the work is given the responsibility.

Coomi Kapoor: It is a common problem that in any construction project, the budgets always overrun and deadlines are never met. How did you overcome those problems?

There are several reasons but I will talk of a few points. The working culture of Delhi Metro is very different and has some unique values that we cultivate and instill in everyone. The most important thing is a sense of social accountability. We think we are here to serve the people, not to take our salary and walk away. If you ask me, my salary is not even one-thirtieth of the salary that I can command in the market.

Sweta Dutta: The Reliance-led airport metro line is a PPP. For phase III, the government is asking you to look at the PPP model for all the lines. Do you think the PPP model will work for Delhi Metro and do you think something went wrong with the airport line because of this?

A PPP model has never succeeded anywhere in the world. Some countries had experimented with it, particularly Malaysia. They had two metro systems in Kuala Lumpur by private parties. After five-six years, both the private parties declared bankruptcy and the government had to take over. Once a metro system is established, you can’t wind it up, so when the company wraps up, all the liabilities have to be taken on by the government. In India, we started this in three regions. Mumbai line number one was awarded almost four years ago and today, not even 50% of the work has been completed. They are facing a lot of hurdles and in the process, the cost has gone up by at least by 50%. It will take another one and a half to two years for completion. How are they going to make it viable? In Hyderabad, it took them almost three-and-a-half years to get the first concessionaire, Maytas, which then flopped. Now they have got L&T, which is a very dependable, reliable party, but L&T will suffer in the process, according to me. The third was Delhi Metro itself. Our PPP model is for the airport line because on this line we could have a ticket fare that is almost ten times the normal fare. An air traveller is prepared to pay Rs 150-200 for the journey, for which otherwise he has to pay Rs 400 by taxi. Even here, we failed the country—this line did not open in time for the Commonwealth Games.

Sunil Jain: When will the airport line open? Are there any cost over runs there?

It is nearly ready. There have been cost overruns—and they are paying a heavy price. For the first one-and-a-half months of delay, they have to pay Delhi Metro Rs 37.5 lakh a day. After that period, they have to pay Rs 75 lakh a day as penalty to us. They did not pay but we encashed the bank guarantee and got the money. It is not a very happy thing. It happened because they don’t have the expertise, they don’t have the wherewithal for the construction of a metro. For Delhi Metro, we engaged people with the know-how to help us. We didn’t have the knowledge to start with. Initially, we had to engage international consultants. Reliance did not do any of those things, so the problems started.

Rakesh Sinha: You said that your term ends on December 31. Would you be open to the idea of any other assignment after that?

I wear two hats. I am the president of the Foundation of Restoration of National Values. It is an NGO committed to eradicating corruption in the country, bringing change and good governance to the country. I may continue with that work.

Sanjeeb Mukherjee: You said that the operating profit you are making is being used to finance the loan that you have taken. Will DMRC be listed on the stock exchange and then be run as a corporation ?

Absolutely. We are moving towards that. We had engaged financial consultants for this and they advised that we should go to the market earlier, but I said no, we will complete phase II, start phase III and then go to the market. It may take a year or two.

Sanjeeb Mukherjee: Extending the Metro beyond Delhi to adjoining states like UP, etc, hasn’t seen much success.

We want to take the Metro to Ghaziabad. We wanted to take it to Faridabad, which the Haryana government has agreed to. We have already gone to Noida—they want to take it to Greater Noida now and that is possible. Similarly, the Haryana government wants to take it to Bahadurgarh, which should come up in another four-five years.

Sweta Dutta: There have been some technical glitches in the overhead electrification lines, especially on Line 3.

Bombardier officials say they have to manufacture trains in a very short time because Delhi Metro has a high demand, so the testing period, which is usually 21 days across the world, is done in four days. There are technical glitches and that happens to every new product. What Bombardier has given us is a new product that they normally do not manufacture because our specifications are different. Our specifications suit the climactic conditions in this country and the heavy overloading that takes place in the trains. Bombardier is a good manufacturer but initially there were glitches. We have identified them and are tackling them. When you operate 2,500 trains a day and trains are run every 2 minute 40 seconds during peak hours, even one dislocation will have a cascading effect. This is what the public sees. The public has high expectations of the metro. If you miss a bus, you don’t mind waiting for another half an hour. But if you miss a metro, nobody has the patience to wait for five minutes.

Coomi Kapoor: You were the first person to detect that there was something fishy about Maytas. How did you discover that and what was the official response?

We were the consultants to Hyderabad Metro. We found that they were deviating from our advice and doing certain things that were not very ethical. We smelt a rat. Immediately, we withdrew. They changed the metro system to suit a particular party and the line was being taken to a particular area where the party has a lot of land. When we found that, we said this is not correct and withdrew our consultancy.

Rakesh Sinha: If you didn’t have this job, what would you have done?

I would retire to my native place devoting my life to spirituality.

Unni Rajen Shanker: What is the biggest hurdle you have faced in building the metro in Delhi?

I won’t consider them as real hurdles. They were irritants and some disappointing moments. The real hurdle was the technical aspect, making a tunnel. The technical challenges were sometimes huge. The difficulty with politicians, bureaucrats, these are all part of the game. But the technical part was something which you yourself had to solve and nobody would come to your rescue.

Sunil Jain: You blacklisted Tandon Consultants after the Zamrudpur accident but then they were hired for the Commonwealth Games and were involved in the bridge collapse near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Is there a central database where everyone knows that a builder has been blacklisted by one company?

I want to clarify we did not blacklist Tandon. Blacklist means he is then debarred from taking work from all government departments. He was only debarred from working with the Delhi Metro. If you want to debar them from taking work with other metros, then it is an elaborate process. If it is a serious crime, then it should be done, but not for technical lapses— they can happen by anyone. You are driving a car and meet with an accident, does that mean you should not be allowed to drive a car ever in your life? The country has a huge infrastructural agenda and the construction industry is not geared up to deal with all this.

Raj Kamal Jha: What are the things that you worry about the metro now?

No glitches; train services should not suffer. That is the most important. Safety is assured, I am not worried about that. Our system is such that nothing can really go wrong; a collision, derailment cannot take place— shouldn’t take place unless someone does it with a mischief. Security is a concern, but it is being taken take care of by CISF and by our staff. What really worries me is that we should not have dislocation in train services.

 

Financial Express, 25 Nov 2010

Centre’s gaffe forces BPL families to buy grains at higher prices

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Gujarat, Malnutrition, PDS on November 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

The 35 lakh-or-so BPL families in the state have been forced to buy about half of foodgrains from the Public Distribution System at higher prices than they are entitled to. This was due to some goof-up that arose because of a miscalculation in the number of BPL families in state and Centre’s figures, court documents revealed.

In an ongoing case in the Gujarat High Court on implementation of various food security schemes, the HC has asked the state government to explain why 55 per cent of foodgrains allotted to BPL families are sold to them at prices for Above Poverty Line (APL) families.

The state government replied that the amount of foodgrains they receive from the Centre is insufficient for all BPL families in the state, and so it had to divert foodgrains sanctioned for the APL families to meet the deficit.

The state, however, had not reduced the prices since the Centre had also not laid down the rates.

As far as the BPL families are concerned, the state government said the Centre is allotting foodgrains for BPL families as per Planning Commission 1993-1994 estimates. According to Centre’s estimates, the number of BPL families in Gujarat is 21.20 lakh, while the state claims it has 35.51 lakh BPL families.

The state government has also said it has requested the Centre to consider its estimates as the Tendulkar Committee had also reported 34 lakh BPL families in the state. Following this, the high court had asked the Centre to respond on the issue.

However, the state issued a resolution on October 1 and revised the prices at which BPL families were sold foodgrains. From Rs 165.25 for 35 kg of foodgrains per month, the price has now dropped to Rs 156.65.

Between the lines
While the state told the High Court that the Centre did not allocate enough foodgrains to cover all the BPL families, the amount of foodgrains the state government contributes to the Food Corporation of India warehouses is also negligible.

In 2008, Gujarat contributed 700 tonnes to the total stock of 19 lakh Metric Tonnes (MT) available to the Food Corporation of India. This means Gujarat contributed about 0.03 per cent to the total stock meant largely for the PDS.

Incidentally, Gujarat produced 38.19 lakh MT of rice and wheat in 2008; so the 700 tonnes contribution comes to 0.018 per cent of the total rice and wheat produced.

 

Indian Express, 21 Nov 2010

Don’t stop at Raja

In Corruption on November 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Now that the government has finally done the right thing, and the opposition has won a major victory, it is important for both to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion, to get the licences back (how else will the government recover the lost

Rs 1.76 lakh crore?) and to get the bureaucrats who colluded with Raja. It’s interesting how, in most cases, it is the politicians who get caught, not the bureaucrats who help them do the dirty.

A good first indicator of where things are going would be a PIL in the Supreme Court asking for the CBI to renew its investigation. The government’s affidavit, given last week, defended Raja and made all the arguments he’s been making so far — he was only following existing policy, and so on. So, if the government is serious about following things to their logical conclusion, it should ask for more time and present another affidavit. The affidavit, incidentally, the telecom secretary had confirmed, was cleared by either the solicitor general or the attorney general — among other things, the affidavit says the courts have, at best, a limited role in looking at “policy matters”.

What’s worse is that the officers who helped Raja are still around. The deputy director-general,

access services, A.K. Srivastava, who was interrogated by the CBI for his role in issuing the licences, continues to remain in the same office. He is the person who formulated the note that the telecom ministry’s law officer and finally the law ministry cleared, to tell the CAG that it had no locus standi in investigating the case.

There is the far bigger scandal indicated by the CAG, that has little to do with the Raja protestations about following existing policy or about what’s called the first-come-first-served policy. The CAG has pointed out that 85 of the 122 licences issued were to firms that never even met the criterion specified by Raja’s own ministry. All companies submitted their applications by Octo-ber 1, 2007. Over 100 of them were knocked out on technical grounds, that is, their net worth was below what was required, their articles of association did not allow them to be in telecom, their shareholding pattern did not meet the requisite norms, and so on. Yet, 85 licences, including to companies like Unitech and Swan, were given despite this — clearly someone in the licensing division must have been in cahoots with Raja. In the case of Loop Telecom, the CAG says, an investigation would have revealed whether its shareholding pattern violated the law. The reason why these companies were allowed to get away with this, it is clear, had to do with the first-come-first-served policy — if they had taken, say two weeks, to get the paperwork in order, they would have lost their place in the queue for the spectrum.

It’s been almost three years, and a very large number of these firms have not rolled out their networks. Under the licence, they were supposed to do 10 per cent in the first year and all of it by the end of the third year. This is something the licensing division of the DoT should have been keeping tabs on, on a regular basis, to levy penalties going up to Rs 20 lakh per week for a delay of more than 26 weeks — in case of no roll-out, or big delays, the licenses were to be cancelled. So how come the paperwork never got done? Removing Raja is no solution, even if another DMK MP doesn’t come to warm the same seat, the concerned officials have to be removed.

Indeed, the CAG report on the fact that so many applications never met the minimum criterion, and the fact that there have been huge delays in rolling out the networks, is enough ground for the government to cancel these licences. Frankly, if the government does not get back the licences, it doesn’t stand any chance of being able to recover the Rs 1.76 lakh crore the CAG says it lost thanks to Raja’s actions. It has to get back the licences and auction them to telecom players and, depending upon how the market conditions are, either get back all the money it has lost or at least some part of it. Keep in mind that when Arun Shourie legalised Reliance

Infocomm’s wireless in local loop mobile phone and made them full-fledged mobile phones, he did so after charging the company around Rs 2,000 crore by way of additional licence fees and penalties.

Perhaps it’s time to do what the Planning Commission has been recommending for some time now: clean up the entire licensing system, not just for telecom, and hand it over to independent regulators who report directly to Parliament. Had this been done, for instance, any licence issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India could automatically be reviewed by the courts (which does not happen when licences are issued by the ministry, unless as now, some serious corruption is alleged and, as the government affidavit says, the courts have limited jurisdiction in the matter). Had this been done, TRAI would also have levied penalties and even cancelled licences — right now, all it can do is to recommend this, leaving the final decision to the government.

Given the CBI’s complete lack of progress in the case for over a year, perhaps another good idea is to either get the CBI to report to the court or to set up an independent prosecutor’s office as in various countries in the West. Too many cases, and this could well be another one, fall by the wayside once the CBI gets involved.

For all journalists, PIL-types and the honourable few like former Telecom Secretary D.S. Mathur and Member-Finance Manju Madhavan (their stories were front-paged in this news-paper on November 13 and 15, respectively) who chose to stick to their guns, the message is: Keep it up!

 

Indian Express, 17 Nov 2010

NREGS loot: Dead men walking as ghost workers

In Corruption, NREGA on November 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm

If affluent NRIs, doctors, government officials and teachers turned out to be NREGS job card holders in Kotda village, the story is no different in nearby Katvana village. The village has only 338 registered voters, but the number of job cards issued is 1145 and the beneficiaries include some long dead, family members who had two separate job cards made in their names, government officials and some who never even stayed in this village.

Villagers are candid that not all are unemployed or otherwise eligible to be NREGS beneficiaries. Aslam Khokhar, the e-literate paanwala of Kotda, who chanced upon the NREGS job list discrepancies, found that not only Kotda, but Katvana village too abounds with fictitious beneficiaries.

Going by NREGS records, more than Rs 1.2 crore worth employment projects including road construction and lake deepening were undertaken in Katvana village between March 2009 to March 2010.

The administration, jolted by the Kotda scam, has now been alerted about similar siphoning of NREGS funds from this village too. “There were some complaints. The preliminary inquiry indicates that job cards may have been duplicated,” admitted Laxman Shiyal, Katvana taluka extension officer.

G Gamit, who has recently taken over as the TDO, was succinct. “There will be an inquiry into the matter,” he said.

Aslam Khokhar, a Katvana village resident who exposed the scam at Kodta village which led to a police complaint, says of the scam brewing in Katvana: “Our survey found large-scale duplication. This is why the number of job cards issued there is at least three times the total number of voters.”

The Kutiyana TDO has his hands full, trying to figure out how job cards were either duplicated or got made in fictitious names.

Ramesh Pitha Solanki , a teacher in Katvana villager who died no less than two years ago, is the holder of a current job card, numbered GJ-21-005-026-001-195. Another deceased in the neighbourhood holds job card number GJ-21-005-026-001-171 despite dying years ago.

A third, Karshan Solanki, is a paralytic who cannot even walk, not to mention wielding pickaxes and building roads, but has a job card in his name numbered GJ-21-005-026-001-197.

Mohan Solanki and Meena Kothia, both mid-day meal scheme employees, found to their surprise that job cards were issued in their names as well.

Devshi Khima Chavda has 10 family members but has no less than 20 job cards issued in his family members’ names. To be fair, his was not the only family to do so. Kana Leela Dhokia, with six family members, has found to his consternation that 12 job cards have been issued in his family’s name.

Dhana Naran Nandaniya, with job card number GJ-21-005-026-001-137, is an employee with Pashchim Gujarat Vij Company Limited, while Natha Ala Solanki is a teacher in Surendranagar. And the list goes on.

 

Indian Express,  16 Nov 2010

How we condone the corrupt

In Corruption on November 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

A. Raja and others accused in the 2G spectrum “scam” have tended to be rescued somewhat by the complexity of the nature of the scam. But with the CAG reported to be talking of lakhs of crores and with 3G now on its way, it’s becoming a little easier to contextualise and comprehend the Raja case. So, with the Tamil Nadu assembly elections merely months away, how could “corruption” play out?

Last November, five Rajasthan state MLAs, in a rare display of bipartisan bonhomie from both the Congress and the BJP, blocked the Alwar highway, to protest against government and civil society efforts to audit the NREGA payments. An FIR was lodged against the MLAs, but the audit was made very difficult. Popular support was whipped up by sarpanchs against the auditors, by saying that the auditors were on their way to stall NREGA in the district, which is what they said would happen if irregularities were found. Citizens, apprehensive that whatever little was coming their way could also stop, were thereby brought on the side of the anti-audit wave. It’s illustrative of why India, at a popular level, has sometimes demonstrated a politically ambivalent attitude to “corruption” as an issue.

The first corruption scandal to find its way to the floor of Parliament in 1958 was the scam of LIC buying selective shares, to rescue certain dodgy companies, not to benefit the corporation or the general public. It was raised in Parliament forcefully by Feroze Gandhi, the then PM’s son-in-law, and politically secured the scalp of the finance minister. More importantly, a 24-day public inquiry by Justice M.C. Chagla established the malpractice and laid down new rules.

Over time, all parties that have held power at the Centre have had to bear the brunt of “scams” (Bofors, hawala, fodder, Taj corridor, petrol pump allotments, urea, Tehelka tapes, to name a few) that resulted in political banishing of the players involved, but otherwise little movement in bringing the matter to an appropriate close, let alone recovering public money.

Bofors was the one exception — as the opposition parties rallied together with accusations of a kickback at the top rungs of government. That almost marked the apogee of the curve of public outrage over perceived wrongdoing — ever since, nationally at least, corruption has not been seen as a political factor in itself.

As the Indian economy has opened up in the last couple of decades, some explained corruption as a carryover from the licence-permit-raj. As Jitendra Singh, a professor at Wharton, puts it, it was “a kind of shadowy market” which, in the absence of free-pricing mechanisms, encouraged backroom deals. However, with continued malpractices, we will have to look for a better explanation; corruption is no longer acceptable as an “Indian way” of doing things, the dark side of the much-admired jugaad. It’s fascinating to recall how a Congress leader from Himachal Pradesh, Sukh Ram (also accused in a telecom scam), caused a record number of days of stalled business in Parliament in the ’90s, but then went on to win elections with the telephone as his election symbol!

Of course, corruption galls the Indian public. But then, how does one explain a popular leader like Lalu Prasad winning despite being continuously berated for his alleged role in the fodder scam? One view is that as governments continue to exercise a powerful hold on the mind of the public as bearers of deliverance, that faith is not matched by a genuine expectation of getting anything. So, given the poor track record of public money reaching those it is marked out for, any improvement in that situation is such a pleasant surprise for those who are recipients that they refuse to take cognisance of “corruption”, as defined by better-off voters.

There is also a perception that corruption is so spread across the political spectrum that it ceases to be a way of separating the parties at election time. But for all the apparent disappearance of corruption as a political issue, the electorate has a clear “sense” of how it assesses its representatives, a sense of what they stand for and how connected they are to the voters’ issues. This operates as much for leaders as it does for parties. Also, the DMK should know, in Tamil Nadu, being stuck with a label for big scams can be tricky in the end, if it creates an image that alienates it from its populist moorings. Ironically, Jayalalithaa, now in opposition for a long time, was at the receiving end for inappropriate deals and a scathing tirade by the Supreme Court — and the DMK, after all, was masterful in casting her as a self-absorbed politician. The SC, as recently as March, ordered the resumption of a trial against her on charges of misappropriation of funds of more than Rs 66 crore between 1991 and 1996, when she was chief minister.

The openness of both the AIADMK and DMK to changing alliances with national parties too came to the fore when Jayalalithaa, in an extraordinary parody of the situation, offered support to the Congress. By doing so openly, she cleverly ensured that the Congress too is drawn into the list comprising those resisting Raja’s dismissal.

No one is bringing up allegations about Jayalalithaa at this stage and she has been allowed to have a go at the DMK. This reveals an interesting aspect of how corruption is generally perceived in politics. Once leaders are defeated for being corrupt, as Jayalalithaa was, they are seen to have atoned and the electorate almost squares with the candidates.

And it is this popular perception that UPA-II needs to manage too. The NDA took years to recognise why it had lost in 2004, and if the shining India blather was part of that loss. With the DMK defensive for the first time in 15 years and the Tamil Nadu polls in less than six months, the political fallout will be interesting.

 

Indian  Express, 15 Nov 2010

They wear gold, but eat subsidised food

In Corruption, PDS, Poverty Eradication on November 18, 2010 at 8:17 am

Rajwanti Devi moves around wearing gold jewellery, lives in a double-storey house and her husband Shatrughan Chouhan works with the Food Corporation of India.

Nukul Nayak, who owns a shop and a double-storey house, zooms around on a mobike. Baldeo Choudhary owns a two-storey building and a public distribution shop.

They are certainly not poor. But since they have somehow managed to get hold of Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, they get subsidised food from the state government.

These three are not the only economically well-off people using BPL cards to get subsidised food. Hundreds of families are enjoying the benefits of a scheme meant for the poor in and around Dhurva, Hatia and Chutia.

And the biggest irony is the authorities are aware of such bogus families in the BPL list but is yet to identify them and delete their names.

The racket has its own story. After Jharkhand was created, a survey was carried out across the state in 2002.

Each family was evaluated on the basis of the Centre’s 13-point parameters such as land, house, occupation and literacy. In all, 23.94 lakh families, each having 17 marks or less out of a maximum of 52, were classififed as BPL in 2006.

Three years later, when the state declared all 24 districts of the state as drought-hit and decided to distribute free rice to the BPL families, there was widespread agitation. The protesters demanded BPL cards for the poorest of the poor who did not have them.

The state government then conducted another survey following the same criteria in 2009. The same year, when the Assembly polls were held, the ruling BJP promised 20 kg rice to each BPL family every month at the rate of Re 1 each.

After the BJP, the All Jharkhand Students’ Union and the JMM led by its president Shibu Soren came to power, it translated its promise into a reality. Later, when the Soren government was succeeded by the Arjun Munda government, the report of the second survey came out, adding 11.44 lakh families in the BPL list.

There were allegations of bogus families in the list — both rural and urban —- after which the state government conducted another survey. It found 1.50 lakh fake BPL families in rural areas and deleted their names.No such deletion took place in urban areas though the authorities admitted that scores of fake BPL families continued to claim subsidised food there.

“They must be identified and booked,” said Deputy Commissioner Kamal Kishore Soan. “We have already lodged a couple of FIRs,” Soan said.

 

Indian Express, 15 Nov 2010

Gujarat paanwala googles NREGS, reveals Rs 1-cr scam

In Corruption, NREGA, Poverty Eradication on November 18, 2010 at 8:15 am

A newly e-literate village paanwala’s obsession with Google has blown the lid off a unique NREGS scam in Porbandar. The motley bunch of beneficiaries include affluent NRIs, doctors, government officials, teachers and well-off farmers — all shown as unemployed village labourers holding NREGS job cards. So far, the money siphoned off comes to nearly Rs 1 crore.

On paper, there are 963 NREGS job cardholders at Kotda village in Kutiyana taluka of Porbandar district. Records show they have been paid over Rs 95 lakh for their ‘labour’ over the last three years. In reality though, none of them have ever dug wells or built roads in their lives or actually received any money for the same under NREGS or otherwise.

The scam came to light after Aslam Khokhar (37), a Class X drop-out and a paan shop owner in Kutiyana learnt how to use computers and searched NREGS on Google. “I was thrilled to find every detail of NREGS work in our area on the website. But I then came across the job card of a friend, who is a government employee. I searched and found there are doctors, teachers and NRIs I personally know in the village, listed as ‘labourers’ on the site,” said Khokar.

Gujarat paanwala googles NREGS, reveals Rs 1-cr scam Veja Modedara, an independent councilor at Kutiyana taluka panchayat, and Congress worker like Bhanukant Odedara soon joined hands with Khokhar. The trio conducted door-to-door meetings with villagers named in the website and found they had neither worked on any NREGS site nor received any wages.

Several like Bharat Ganga (23), who has been to Muscat for the last three years, were shocked to learn that they were named as NREGS employees on record and have been even paid for their work. “How can this be ? I moved out of India three years ago,” Ganga told The Indian Express.

Varu Karsan Uka (38), an official with the Pashcim Gujarat Vij Company Limited for 15 years also holds the job card number GJ-21-005-030-001/726. Even his wife has also been also named as a card holding labourer. According to the records, the couple had built roads and dug wells for 60 days and received Rs 6,000 for their work. “How can I possibly get an NREGS job card when I am a state government official ?” said Uka.

Dr Dayaram Babhania (58), a well-known physician in Kutiyana too holds a job card (number GJ-21-005-030-001/526), though he admits never to have lifted a pickaxe in his entire life.

Other like him on the list are Range Forest Officer Jesa Odedara, Forest Guard Arshi Bhattu, Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) employees Meru Odedara and Arjan Odedara, teacher Leela Dasa, Ex-serviceman Kunti Rama, and NRIs Haja Modha, who have long left the village and settled in Israel. On paper, all are ‘labourers’ and many have been paid too.

Khokhar said he filed an RTI application seeking names and details of NREGS account holders at the Kotda post office, but “never got a reply”. But last week the postal department registered a complaint against post-master Ramdev Odedara and sarpanch Bhima Modha after Kotda post office employee Bhavesh Patel filed a complaint with the Kutiyana police saying that Rs 95 lakh has been siphoned off by the two accused. Odedara himself is listed as an NREGS ‘labourer’ holding card number GJ-21-005-030-001/81.

The duo had allegedly taken names and addresses at random from the voters list, made job cards, opened saving accounts against the names and then withdrawn the money deposited in the accounts in the last three years.

Kutiyana Sub-Inspector I Damor said the police probe will take a while since details of all the 963 accounts need to be verified.

Kutiyana Taluka Development Officer (TDO) J Gamit said, “Preliminary investigation by the department has revealed that at least 73 cardholders are government employees, professionals or NRIs.”

District Development Officer (DDO) K D Bhatt said: “We will begin a door-to-door survey to find the exact scale of the scam.”

Laxman Shiyal, the TDO in the last three years and now an assistant extension officer, said: “I had visited the village thrice, but the department had no clue about the goings on as nobody ever complained.”

 

Indian Express, 15 Nov 2010