Renu Pokharna

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Editor-in-Chief of Bihar

In Bizarre Laws, Civil Services Reforms, Corruption, Media on April 20, 2012 at 6:06 am

If you haven’t heard of an income tax raid on the residential premises of Nitish Kumar’s close aide and treasurer of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Vinay Kumar Sinha, you are not alone. Thanks to the local media, it took a while even in Patna—where the house is located—for people to get to know. This, incidentally, is the same place where Nitish Kumar used to live until he became Chief Minister of Bihar. In the aforementioned raid, which took place in the third week of March, tax sleuths seized sacksful of cash, nearly Rs 5 crore of it, and ownership papers of 50 flats located in different parts of Patna, among other things. But in the next morning’s newspapers, this news was either missing or buried deep within as a single-column or brief item on an inside page.

“Not that it was not big news, it indeed was,” says the editor of an English daily in Bihar, “But, you see, that’s how it is.” The helplessness of this editor, who speaks anonymously, is a feeling shared by several other journalists. They talk ominously of controls placed on the media in Bihar. Yet, what is most striking about this awkward truth of the state is the determination with which this ‘control’ is being exercised on the media. It is a carrot-and-stick mechanism that is unparalleled in the modern history of Bihar.

“This is undeclared censorship,” says Dr Raihan Ghani, a veteran Urdu journalist of Patna. “I joined this profession in 1978, but I have never seen this kind of censorship before.” Dr Ghani is himself a victim of this censorship. As Chief Editor of a local Urdu daily, Pindar, he had been writing a front-page column, ‘Doh Tuk’, since March 2004. But in May 2007, one of his pieces enraged Nitish Kumar, and the paper’s proprietor had his column dropped, him demoted to Managing Editor, and his name removed from the print line. “In that column,” he says, “I had written against the misuse of religion for winning government favours. I had criticised a local Muslim religious leader, Syed Shah Shamimuddin Ahmed Monami of Khanqah Monamia, for reciting the Fatiha (opening words of The Quran) at the funeral of Manju Singh, the wife of Nitish Kumar. There is nothing wrong in a Muslim cleric reciting the Fatiha at the funeral of a Hindu. The only problem was that all other Muslim religious leaders had boycotted the funeral, as Nitish Kumar had turned it into a political event. I questioned Monami sahib because instead of demurring like other clerics, he chose to participate in such a politicised event of the JD-U and BJP, and that too, for obtaining some favour of the government.”

The response to that column spelt trouble for Dr Ghani. “The very next day,” he recounts, “I was called by the proprietor of my paper. He told me that the government was quite unhappy with me and that the state Minority Commission Chairman Naushad Ahmed wanted me ejected from my post. Soon, I was sidelined, my designation was changed from chief editor to managing editor, my name was replaced by that of the proprietor in the printline, and my column was stopped.” Frustrated, in February this year, Dr Ghani resigned. “If you are not ready to crawl, you won’t be able to get a job in [Bihar’s] Urdu press these days,” says he, now jobless, “The Urdu press has never been a good place to work, but under Nitish Kumar’s regime, it has become worse, and things are no better in the state’s Hindi press. I remember the Emergency, when there was declared censorship. Under Nitish, it is undeclared, and this makes it even more dangerous for democracy. The truth is being suppressed like never before, and the entire media is being pressured to build and burnish Nitish Kumar’s image.” Proprie- tor AK Ehsani has a different spin on the story. He says, “I had already decided to make him Managing Editor; it had nothing to do with the column.”

+++

Why did the owner of Pindar act against Dr Ghani at the government’s behest? The answer is clear from information gathered via a series of RTI applications filed by Patna-based activists, Purandar Sawarnya and Shiv Prasad Rai. What emerges is an ugly game being played by Nitish Kumar in the distribution of government advertisements—being wielded as a tool of control.

According to the RTI responses, in 2006-07, Pindar got advertisements worth just about Rs 1 lakh from the state government. In 2007-08, after Dr Ghani was gagged at the start of that fiscal year, the paper was rewarded generously: its revenues from government ads soared to Rs 24 lakh. Nitish Kumar’s largesse apparently rose in step with the paper’s willingness to please him. In 2008-09, it drew nearly Rs 40 lakh from such ads, and in 2009-10, about Rs 48 lakh. Asked for his comments on this rise in the paper’s fortunes, Ehsani simply says: “I don’t believe these figures.” Still, discerning readers can perhaps attest that Pindar remains in no mood to lose its gains by rubbing the CM the wrong way.

That paper’s is not an isolated case in Bihar. Such pulls and tugs have attended other dailies as well. And in a state with so few private sector ads to go round, the government remains an outsized source of earnings for the media. Operating from such a position of strength, the Nitish Kumar government seems to be using its ad budget as a way to transform newspapers into courtiers.

It has also spelt a dramatic increase in government ad expenditure over that of the previous Rashtriya Janata Dal regime. In the first year after Nitish Kumar assumed chief ministership, the hike in allocations was not so glaring, but the years since have seen the state splurge on publicity. From Rs 4.5 crore in 2005-06 (the RJD ruled for most of this fiscal, losing power to the JD-U-BJP alliance in November 2005), Bihar’s ad expenses rose 20 per cent to Rs 5.4 crore in 2006-07, and then almost doubled to Rs 9.65 crore in 2007-08. If that wasn’t startling enough, the figured trebled to Rs 27.5 crore in 2008-09. The government was revelling in the joys of favourable newsprint, and the figure topped Rs 34.6 crore in 2009-10, before dipping a bit to Rs 28.5 crore in 2010-11. By this point, the message was presumably loud and clear, but the dip can be explained by the fact that an election code of conduct restrained adallotments for a few months in the runup to Assembly polls in November 2010.

Apart from expanding the Bihar government’s ad budget year after year, Nitish Kumar has centralised both the awarding of ads and release of payments—a decision notified in Bihar Gazette on 12 March 2008—thus reversing the earlier regime’s policy. This, many believe, was interpreted by media managements exactly as intended: that they had better fall in line.

+++

How Nitish Kumar uses this ad lever to control the media is best illustrated by the case of Bihartimes.com. The media policy notified on 12 March 2008 also made internet sites eligible for government ads in Bihar. But Bihartimes.com, the state’s most visible news portal, is still in the queue for such ads while far less popular sites are crawling with them. As internet surfers can make out, it is being punished for continuing to carry reports related to corruption and misgovernance in the state.

Bihartimes.com has been operational since 1999, and has been No 1 from the time of its inception. Many reputed journalists and intellectuals contribute to this news portal,” says its editor Ajay Kumar, “Immediately after the state government’s policy decision in March 2008, we applied for empanelment with the Public Relations Department (PRD). But we have not even been empanelled with the PRD so far. Nor has the PRD given any concrete reason for this.”

According to Ajay Kumar, other news portals that dare to exercise independence suffer the same fate. “Lesser known sites like Magnificentbihar.com get government ads in good numbers. Even Whispersinthecorridor, which is run from Bhopal and has hardly anything to do with Bihar, gets government ads from this state,” he says, “This only shows that unless you carry favourable stories on the Nitish Kumar government, you won’t even be empanelled for such advertisements.”

There are several specific instances that show how Nitish Kumar’s tool has been calibrated to suit his purposes. Just before the Assembly polls of November 2010, two leading Hindi dailies saw their government ads vanish. All they were guilty of was carrying reports judged as unfavourable to those in power. This, even as a senior journalist was hounded out of Bihar—by his own paper’s managers—for the temerity of writing against the government.

Small wonder that journalists in Patna often refer to Nitish as Bihar’s editor-in-chief instead of Chief Minister. The sarcasm is not unwarranted. Barring a few editors and media managers, just about every journalist concurs with Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), when he points to a media crisis in the state. On 25 February, Justice Katju said: “The information I have gathered about the media in Bihar is not good… the press does not enjoy freedom at present… I have been told that people don’t muster the courage to write against the Bihar government or its officials. The Constitution is being violated by such people… You are a government, but you are not above the Constitution.”

Yet, when a three-member enquiry team of the PCI held hearings on the issue in Patna on 1-2 April, hardly any journalist turned up to make a deposition. Of the 100 odd people who did turn up and voice their complaints, according to sources, most were members of either civil society or a political party piqued by the slanted news they were being presented. Interestingly, a few journalists sent their testimonies in sealed envelopes to the PCI team, while some others spoke to it on the phone.

“We’ve completed hearings in Patna,” says Arun Kumar, a PCI member who was on the enquiry team, “In the weeks to come, we will hold similar hearings in Gaya, Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, Katihar and Monghyr. Then, we will hear the government’s argument, before finalising our report and submitting it to the PCI.”

Meanwhile, nobody wants to annoy the state’s editor-in-chief. And this means having to stifle the truth if it flies in the face of Brand Bihar, a miracle of development, as it is tom-tommed. The details of a tax raid on the ruling party’s treasurer, of course, does the brand no good, so why publish it?

+++

The regime’s control mechanism has its share of apologists in the media too. The 27 March edition of Prabhat Khabar offers an example. In it, the Hindi daily’s Chief Editor Harivansha has a double-page article that purports to debunk Justice Katju’s remarks but can more sensibly be interpreted as unabashed glorification of the state government. ‘Suppose we believe that the press is not independent in Bihar, where are instances such as the Bhagalpur blindings, fodder scam or a genocide that did not find place in the local media?’ he writes (as translated from Hindi), ‘Or should we imagine news of a genocide, kidnapping or fodder scam even if they are not occurring, and only then would the press be considered free?’

Harivansha’s rhetoric, of course, is calculated to remind readers of some of Bihar’s most infamous injustices under past regimes. But the relevant point is the real state of affairs under the current government. According to the Bihar home department’s own annual report, the total number of cognisable offences—including rape, murder, robbery and kidnapping—registered in 2011 was 148,000. Now compare this with the figure for 2005, at the end of which Nitish Kumar attained power. In that year, the number of such offences stood at 104,000. That law-and-order has ‘returned’ to Bihar is just a myth.

Ironically, in the same edition of Prabhat Khabar, news of a gruesome crime was buried on page 13 as a small-single column item. It was news of the gangrape and murder of a woman at Jamui in front of her family members—who were made to run about in circles for over 12 hours before the police let them file a First Information Report (FIR).

Asked about this, Harivansh says, “We did not play the news item prominently because our correspondent at Jamui told us that the husband of the victim had a role in it. We, therefore, thought that giving prominence to that news would not have sent out a proper message. But we did carry regular follow-ups.” Asked why his paper’s ‘follow-ups’ did not care to report anything beyond the CM’s statement on the crime, he ducks the question. “That may be your viewpoint,” he says, “Nitish gets prominence because his stature is so large in Bihar.”

Of course, Prabhat Khabar was not alone in its dismissal of the appalling incident and attitude of the police. Many other dailies did the same. After all, Bihar has changed; won’t the report of a grisly murder and gangrape remind readers of Lalu Prasad’s RJD regime? And who wants to tarnish Brand Bihar?

14 April 2012, OPEN Magazine

Classroom struggle

In Bizarre Laws, Education, School Vouchers on April 18, 2012 at 8:20 am

Court settles the class issue, but the real challenges of RTE have to be metThe debate over the Right to Education is beginning to display characteristic symptoms of Indian debates. Elites are inventing specious arguments to condone the economic apartheid in the current system. But India’s self-appointed anti-elites are often even more elitist. They are more fixated on taking down elites a peg or two rather than intelligently fixing real problems. There is also a good deal of unhelpful abstraction in the debate. The judgment on the Right to Education Act must be seen in this context. The majority judgment, rightly, comes to the conclusion that reserving 25 per cent seats for economically weaker sections is not unconstitutional. However, the reasoning in the judgment itself is perfunctory. It shoddily skirts difficult legal issues under the guise of uncharacteristically easy deference to Parliament; Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan’s dissent, on the other hand, has the greater internal integrity of argument.Ideally, a government should be able to create a school system that mitigates class bias and does not perpetuate it. Unfortunately, neither the poor nor the rich trust the government to do that. There are cries that the government should do its job. True enough, and the RTE is a prod in that direction. But there is a brute sociological fact: no government school system can run successfully if there is a large-scale secession of elites from the public system. The accountability dynamics are largely determined by the presence of the powerful. In India this secession is almost total. We can have a chicken-and-egg argument about whether quality comes first or elite involvement. Against this backdrop, closing pathways to elite schools would be an argument in bad faith.The serious problem with the RTE is not 25 per cent reservations. There is no expropriation insofar as schools are being compensated to some degree. But the court’s vague homilies on burden-sharing skirt a fundamental issue of fairness. In funding by taxation we usually adopt progressive taxation. In the current scheme there is a real danger that a proportionately much larger burden may fall on relatively lower middle class parents than rich ones. The argument for exempting minority institutions seems bogus. It says that all rights in the Constitution are to be interpreted in light of appropriate qualifications and directive principles of state policy, except minority rights, which have an “absolute” character. It is not clear why their minority status would be impaired by such reservation; at the very least they could admit weaker sections among minorities. If the objective is integrated classrooms, this goes against the grain.The judgment is a missed opportunity to clarify the real issues in the RTE. For the core issue is this. All professions have to be regulated to some degree. But is regulating wages (over general minimum wage regulations) and infrastructure, and how you admit and who you can promote reasonable regulation? These issues will be more consequential for the RTE. Everyone pronouncing on the RTE is very confident in their answers: they range from revolution to disaster. But my honest answer is the three words policy analysts hate using, but should use more often: “I don’t know.”This is because the real action is not in the act, but in the rules states are framing. These show wide variation on many issues. Is this going to be a disaster for the private sector or is it a voucher scheme in disguise that will lead to the expansion of the private sector? You could argue that there is going to be a minimum 25 per cent expansion in demand for new private schools among the moderate to high fee-paying population. There could also be political dynamics where citizens demand more private schools. Twenty-five per cent might turn out to be the beginning of a full-fledged voucher system. Will there be a supply response? It depends on land and labour markets. Complaints about the cost of schooling gloss over the fact that these costs are a function of these two markets.Will recognition requirements kill low-cost private schools? Again, it depends. On current evidence, state practice varies widely. The real backbone of the private school revolution in India was flexibility in teachers’ wages. From a pedagogic point of view, this flexibility is important. Wages have no correlation with quality, especially in elementary education. States seem to have wide variations in their rules. Will quality assessments happen? As Parth Shah has pointed out, Gujarat has come up with a very sophisticated school quality assessment programme, while others are floundering. Will this system achieve social integration? I suspect you will get a varied story. For one thing, the neighbourhood criterion for determining eligibility seems too narrow. What will be the eligibility criteria and design of the lottery that allocates kids?Everyone was so fixated on the 25 per cent reservation that the status of the real freedoms the schools need, on wages, infrastructure etc., were not clarified. The federalism currently being practiced is a good thing. But this will also be at some point litigated. We can only hope that the government and courts will go for more rather than less flexibility. It is something of a mystery the courts consistently choose to underemphasise the nuts and bolts of autonomy.The current system is not pedagogically child-centric. But it is an open question whether the new system will be. Teaching the child is easier said than done. The RTE does not allow a school to hold back a child, no matter what their learning attainments. How do we compensate for learning disparities that set in by age six? As Rukmini Banerjee of Pratham reminds us, the real issue is going to be curriculum and pedagogy, and the jury is out on that issue.Will the RTE improve accountability? Short answer: We don’t know. But the current system also has zero accountability. There are a lot of myths about prevailing structures of accountability. Even in high-end schools, teacher variance is very high. Would kids in most elite schools pass conceptual understanding tests in grades nine or ten without outside support? The RTE creates a new institutional locus for the politics of accountability that might be more tractable than the current institutional centralisation. It also creates incentives for a new politics of classification: it will be interesting to see whether there is a rush to establish “minority” schools. There will be the inevitable politics over inclusion in EWS. But sometimes opportunities to game the system also mean parents take more interest in it. Also, we may just be at a different historical moment in parental interest. The court has settled the class issue. But the real challenges of the classroom will not be solved by self-righteous elite versus anti-elite debates.

18 April 2012, Indian Express

Cabinet okays Public Procurement Bill to bring transparency and efficiency in mechanism

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption on April 13, 2012 at 9:38 am

The United Progressive Alliance government has given its go-ahead to a law that seeks to regulate all state purchases above 50 lakh to bring transparency and efficiency in graft-laden procurement mechanism.

The union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the Public Procurement Bill, 2012, that will be tabled in Parliament in current budget session and includes a provision to debar bidders found engaged in corrupt practices.

The bill, after becoming a law, will route through an e-portal purchases of over 11 lakh crore goods and services by all central government departments and ministries and public sector entities. Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal said the law proposed by the government will help check graft.

The Bill would create a statutory framework for public procurement which will provide greater accountability, transparency and enforceability of the regulatory framework.

“The bill provides for codifying the fundamental principles governing procurement, essential for achieving economy, efficiency and quality as well as combating corruption and legally obligates procuring entities and their officials to comply with these principles,” a statement issued by the government said a statement.

At present, the General Financial Rules, 2005 govern procurements by the Central government while some ministries and departments have specific procedures or manuals to supplement these rules.

There is no legislative framework governing procurement. The bill is based on the recommendations of a committee on public procurement headed by Vinod Dhall.

In a separate decision, the union cabinet also approved creation of a special purpose vehicle for IT infrastructure for the proposed new indirect tax regime, Goods and Services Tax (GST). “GSTN SPV will provide IT infrastructure and services to various stakeholders including the sentre and the states,” Sibal said.

The SPV would have an equity capital of Rs 10 crore, with the Centre and States having equal stakes of 24.5% each.

Non-government institutions would hold 51% equity in the SPV and no single instiution, barring one, would be able to hold more than 10%. The GSTN SPV would be set up as a Section 25 (not-for-profit), non-government, private limited company in which the government will retain strategic control.

The GST would subsume levies like excise, service tax and states tax like value-added tax, entry tax and purchase tax.

The cabinet also approved a proposal to extend support to the Swavalamban scheme for the unorganized sector workers under the New Pension System to five years from three years now. All subscribers enrolled during 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 will be able enjoy the benefit for the extended period.

The government has also relaxed the exit norms of the scheme to enable subscribers under scheme to exit at the age of 50 years instead of 60 years, or a minimum tenure of 20 years, which ever is later. An additional funding support of 2,065 crore has been provided upto 2016-17.

 

13 April 2012,  Economic Times

State returned central aid for key schemes

In Bureaucratic Delays, Centre-State Relations, Education, Gujarat on April 6, 2012 at 5:59 am

While the state government often accuses the Centre of withholding financial assistance for various programmes, it turns out that 67% of the central grants for 2010-11 allocated for Kanya Kelavni, the prestigious annual girl child education campaign by the state government, was returned to Delhi because they could not be used, says the CAG report recently tabled in the state Assembly.

Kanya Kelavni is one of the several schemes that figures in a elaborate list of 86 “substantial surrenders”, where 75% of the total central grants worth 1,500 crore meant for various schemes were surrendered due to their non-implementation or slow implementation.

Kanya Kelavni was launched 2003 and it is inaugurated every year in June by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, after which his team of officers travel to remote villages to encourage parents to enrol girl children in schools.

The government’s official publication claimed that because of the Kanya Kelavni and Shala Praveshotsav, drop-out rate in 1-5 grade came down to 2.09% in 2010-11 compared to 20.93% in 2000-01.

Most of these cases where grants were partially or fully surrendered relate to education projects like Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikshan Abhiyan scheme, computer literacy studies in schools, Gujarat Teachers Education University, Saraswati Yatra, Gujarat Technology University and development of engineering colleges.

These figures have come to light in the audit report of appropriation accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which notes that there has been 100% surrenders of grants in 22 of the 86 cases of “substantial surrenders” (involving more than 50 per cent of the total provision or more than Rs 1 crore) during the financial year 2010-11.

“Out of the total provision amounting to Rs 1,543 crore, almost Rs 1,168 crore was surrendered, which included 100 per cent surrenders in 22 cases amounting to Rs 138 crore,” says the CAG report.

Apart from education projects, grants for improvement of justice delivery in the state, cyclone mitigation and setting up emergency response centres were also returned.

The entire Rs 20-crore grant for the state government’s disease control programme for foot-and-mouth diseases was returned since the vaccination campaign could not be carried out for want of vaccines.

 

6 April 2012, Indian Express

Electricity surplus Gujarat not so ‘power full’, reveals census

In Energy, Gujarat, Poverty Eradication on April 6, 2012 at 5:55 am

For a state government that pats itself for having turned Gujarat into a power surplus region by connecting all the urban and rural areas to the electricity grid, the census data of 2011 — that shows over 11 lakh households not having electricity as main source of illumination — could come as a shock.

The housing data of the census points out that there are over 11 lakh residences that do not use electricity in a state that has a power generation capacity of over 14,000 MW (mega watt) and claims to have 2,000 MW of surplus power.

Of these 11 lakh homes, a significant nine lakh homes are in rural areas, where the government claims to have finished implementing the Jyotigram Yojana (rural electrification programme) through which it has linked all the 18,065 villages of the state to the electricity grid (in just 30 months), providing round-the-clock, three phase electricity.

Gujarat became the first state in the country to claim all its villages had electricity. Former president Dr A P J Abdul Kalam dedicated the Jyotigram Yojna to the nation in November 2006 in an elaborate event in Champaner of the Panchmahals district.

The census, however, belies this claim and points out that Gujarat has 11 lakh households that have absolutely no source to light up their homes. About 15% of these homes are in the urban areas.

There are about nine lakh houses that use kerosene lamps to light their homes. Of this, over eight lakh houses are in the rural areas, while the remaining one lakh are in the urban centres.

So of the total 1.2 crore households in the state, 1.1 crore use electricity to light up their dwellings.

In 2010, Gujarat had declared itself a “power surplus” state when GUVNL’s (a state run power generation, distribution and transmission company) access to generation capacity crossed the 10,000-MW mark and touched 11,500 MW against the peak demand of 10,000 MW.

The state, which was power deficient barely a decade ago, now says it has surplus of 2,114 MW. In the next few months, Gujarat will be adding 3,000 MW of power taking the total power generation capacity to 17,000 MW through six new projects.

In the recent past, the state has sold the surplus power to states like Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

The census also found that there are 16,000 houses in the state that uses solar power as the main source of illuminating their homes. Of this, a majority 13,000 are in the rural Gujarat.

Only 46 lakh houses use LPG, PNG

Also, eye-opening are the census figures about fuel used in kitchens of the state.

For a state that claims to be the ‘energy’ hub of the country, the census data reveals there are only 46 lakh homes who either use Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) or Piped-Natural Gas (PNG) as fuel for cooking.

There is still a majority 63 lakh homes that either use age-old sources of fuel like crop residue (leftovers of crops), cow-dung cake or fire wood as fuel for cooking. Surprisingly, about eight lakh of such homes are in the urban areas.

Similarly, an additional nine lakh homes use kerosene to light their stoves; seven lakh of which are in urban centres.

There are over 46,000 homes that do not cook mostly due to exigencies of work. Of these, 26,000 are urban homes. There are also one lakh homes that use bio-gas as fuel in their homes (65,000 are rural homes).

 

5 April 2012, Indian Express

‘Annual Action Plans had unrealistic targets’

In Agriculture, Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Gujarat, Poverty Eradication, Property Rights on April 5, 2012 at 10:39 am

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has noted a shortfall of 8 to 100% in the implementation of Annual Action Plan (AAP) for 2010-11 and said its targets were not realistic.

It also noted that the government had acquired only 75% of the surplus land under the Gujarat Land Ceiling Act, and was not able to distribute all of it to the poor agricultural labourers.

CAG, in its annual civil performance report for the state, observed, “The AAP was being prepared setting out financial and physical targets for various activities to be undertaken. Audit analysis have revealed that the AAP prepared by the settlement commissioner and director of land records was not realistic and there were persistent shortfalls (eight to 100 %) in achievement of physical targets fixed.”

The report added: “As per Gujarat Land Ceiling Act, 1960, government shall take possession of land beyond ceiling limit from land owners and distribute it among agricultural workers or to needy agricultural labourers of SC/ST (categories) and other weaker sections as per yearly targets. We observed from the records of commissioner of land reforms that as on November 2009, as against declaration of 2,38,339 acres of land as surplus, possession of only 1,79,327 acres of land was taken by the government, of which 15,587 acres were yet to be distributed (March 2011) among the beneficiaries.”

It further noted the entitled groups were either agricultural workers/ labourers belonging to SC and ST categories, who needed financial assistance. But “all of them were not provided financial assistance”. It added that nothing was found on record to show that the beneficiaries were motivated to file applications for financial assistance and to avail the benefits of the scheme.

 

31 Mar 2012, Indian Express

CAG slams Gujarat govt for pollution of water bodies

In Climate Change, Corruption, Gujarat on April 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

Ahmedabad: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has raised serious concerns over the high levels of pollution in Gujarat’s rivers and lakes.

Gujarat has taken the lead among other states in setting up a dedicated climate change department, but the apex audit body, which also looks into the efficiency of government programmes, says in its latest report that the Narendra Modi government has not formulated any water policy specific to the state.

“Government of Gujarat had not formulated any policy based on the local conditions for prevention of pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water. While treatment of industrial effluents before its discharge is compulsory, no programme had been introduced to prevent such pollution from agriculture,” CAG says in the report, which was released on Friday.

CAG adds that Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, unlike Gujarat, have water policies in place, but doesn’t make specific observations on the pollution control efforts of these states.

The National River Conservation Plan, it said, “was implemented, but without conducting study on the level of pollution at the point of discharge. Out of 170 urban local bodies, 158 had not established sewage treatment plants. Four major rivers were not selected for cleaning.”

The CAG in its scope of limitation for the audit also made a remark that no information was provided by the Ahmedabad municipal corporation or the state government for the audit of the National Green Volunteers or the Sabarmati River Conservation Project.

CAG said there was an increase in the incidence of water-borne diseases due to heavily polluted water sources.

It cited south Gujarat as the worst case, blaming industrial clusters like Vapi, Ankleshwar and Nandesari near Vadodara for violating pollution control norms and discharging untreated waste.

About 32% of Gujarat’s drinking water sources were found to be contaminated in a pre-monsoon survey, but the villagers were not alerted, according to CAG.

“Sampled pollution control programme of Sabarmati River at Ahmedabad though seemingly working, did not succeed in bringing down pollution levels to the prescribed norms. Present status of Sabarmati shows the presence of fecal-related disease causing pathogens as well as organic pollution at the outskirts of the city limits,” the report says.

CAG criticized state government bodies including the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) for ignoring the effects of pollution on human health.

The report is also critical of the common effluent treatment plants (CETP) at Vapi, Ankleshwar, Sanand and Veraval. In Ankleshwar, an industrial area, CETPs were discharging “treated” industrial waste water that was many time above prescribed norms, CAG said.

In Hazira, CAG noted that due to the presence of high levels of hydrocarbons in the waste water discharged by industries in the area, “large-scale death of aqua stock in the river was reported in the recent past.”

The pollution levels in Gujarat’s rivers and lakes have actually fallen over the past few years, said Hardik Shah, member secretary, GPCB. “If you take into account the rapid level of industrialization in Gujarat in the past two years and if you compare with the pollution levels four-five years ago, you will see that the pollution level has gone down immensely and the Centre has taken note of this,” Shah said.

 

2 April 2012, MINT

Report rues govt apathy towards sports

In Bureaucratic Delays, Corruption, Gujarat on April 5, 2012 at 10:32 am

Slamming the state government for the “low priority” accorded to sports and sportsmen in the state, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has criticised the state for not framing a sports policy.

“The state government had not framed any sports policy… and there is no system of sponsoring and grooming players,” stated the apex auditing body about the state that has been widely promoting and sponsoring Khel Mahakumbh for the last two years.

“From a meager budget outlay of Rs 1.1 crore allotted over a period of five years for purchase of sports equipment, the Sports Authority of Gujarat (SAG) managed to save 60% of the allotted amount for the year 2006-11. This underline the low priority accorded by the Government of Gujarat for promotion of sports in the state,” stated CAG in its observation on sports and sportsmen in Gujarat.

The CAG also pointed out that in Gujarat coaches were deployed for administrative duties. Of the 63 sanctioned posts of coaches, 33 per cent were vacant. Further, there were 131 posts of contractual coaches of which 53 per cent were vacant. Moreover, of the 70 contractual coaches who were hired in August 2011, 14 were older than the permitted age of 35 years.

“Sports hostels were either not operational or intake was much less than their capacity,” stated the report

“Even at the school level, the Sports Authority of Gujarat did not take any action to impart training or send sportsmen to competitive events during the period 2008-10, which adversely affected the performance of the state in the National School Games,” the report added. In the 2010-11 National School Games, Gujarat stood at seventh position.

The report pointed out that the land meant for sports complexes in Gujarat have not been allotted in five places. “The Roads and Buildings department obtained grants for construction of sports complexes and expenditure incurred and user department had no control over it. The service of the architect engaged for construction of sports complexes were deficient; several extra/new items were introduced and excess quantities executed,” stated the report.

These harsh words from CAG come at a time when Chief Minister Narendra Modi has himself been spearheading the annual Khel Mahakhumb event where the government claimed that 14 lakh and 21 lakh athletes participated in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The chief minister had coined ‘Ramshe Gujarat, Jitshe Gujarat’ (Gujarat will participate and win) slogan for the Khel Mahakumbh event. He had claimed that Gujarat would rope in Chinese sports management experts to provide adequate physical infrastructure, training and coaching facilities.

 

31 Mar 2012, Indian Express

Irregularities worth Rs 16,700 cr by Guj govt: CAG report

In Business, Corruption, Gujarat on April 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

Gandhinagar: The Gujarat government on Friday tabled the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report in the Assembly amidst Opposiiton din. The report lists alleged irregularities worth Rs 16,700 crore and purchase and sale of gas by state enterprise GSPC and alleged undue favours to corporations.

The CAG report will now be referred to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) before it is referred back to the Assembly.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which was tabled in the state Assembly on Friday, said GSPC bought natural gas from the open market (spot market) and sold it to the Adanis at a price lower than the purchase price. CAG estimated that Adani Energy received undue benefit of Rs 70.54 crore in the process.

The firm passed on undue benefit of Rs 12.02 crore to Essar Steel Ltd by way of waiver of capacity charges contrary to the provision of gas transmission agreement.

CAG was severely critical of GSPC’s operations in the Krishna Godavari basin gas block where improper assessment of technical and financial issues led to drilling cost shooting up to $1.302 billion as against estimate of $102.23 million.

“The bidding process adopted by the company for acquisition of hydrocarbon block was found to be defective as in case of KG block. The bids of the company ignored the actual cost involved which exposed the company against high risk in exploration activities,” CAG report stated.

The main reasons for the incorrect estimation, CAG said, was adoption of deficient geological model prepared by its joint venture partnre, Geo Global Resources of Canada, which led to escalation in the cost of exploration phase from Rs 531.94 crore to Rs 6,265.68 crore.

Because of the adoption of the Geo Global Resources’s model, GSPC had to drill total 12 high-pressure-high-temperature wells instead of estimated four wells, CAG said, adding that admitting the Canadian firm into the KG block consortium without any financial risk, but only on the strength of their technical expertise did not yield the desired purpose.

GSPC had given Geo Global Resources a stake in the block without any financial contribution on the ground that it was a technical expert. As a result, GSPC had to incur the Canadian company’s share of $175.07 million towards the exploration cost besides losing Rs 104.14 crore in interest during 2007-11.

The functioning of the GSPC also came under severe criticism from the CAG right from bidding process, to explorations, development activities, trading of gas, management of finances and for lack of proper internal control and monitoring system.

Further, the CAG has said that the exploration and development activities undertaken by the company suffered with several deficiencies such as delay in acquisition of study data, excessive time in drilling work, delay in preparing field development plan and others which led to financial loss to the company.

The CAG has observed that GSPC suffered financial losses in trading activities on account of undue favours extended to buyers by way of non-recovery of Take or Pay (ToP) charges, sale of gas/oil at price below purchase cost.

During 2006-11, the total revenue from trading of gas was Rs 19,245.39 crore and the revenue from sale of its own production of gas and oil was Rs 1,563.63 crore which indicated that GSPC was focusing mainly on trading rather than production activity, it observed.

The CAG also found it “unreasonable” that a time of 14 to 106 months was taken (during 2006-11) for completing the environment impact studies (EIS) in eight out of nine domestic blocks where the company was operator.

Besides, against the estimated drilling rate per day of 27.76 meters, the actual rate was 22.49 meters in drilling 16 wells in KG offshore block between July 2004 and April 2010.

This resulted in avoidable expenditure of Rs 180.91 crore on drilling work, the report stated.

The company incurred total expenditure of Rs 104.29 crore on drilling wells without obtaining approval of Government of India for the field development plan (FDP). In absence of necessary approval, the said expenditure could not qualify for recovery, it observed.

The CAG has also observed that the management of finances by the company was not prudent and efficient as it financed the exploration/development activities through short term borrowing, which is against the accepted business practices.

 

31 Mar 2012, IBN Live