October 31, 2011

life in general: another example of tax-payers' money being spent on wrong things

Many newspapers and other media channels are flooded today with advertisements issued by various ministries in the central government and a few state governments themselves marking the 27th death anniversary of former Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi. 

While reading the general newspaper, The Times of India, today morning I saw several half-page such ads. The ministers heading the ministries which have issued these ads are obviously not paying for the ads from theirs, or their party's (Congress'), pockets. It is coming from the government funds which is mainly tax money received from public, companies and other businesses.

Clearly, this is a obnoxious use of government funds. 

This particular blog focussed on Indian media has even gone into the details, provided some more examples from recent past, and made an estimate of the amount involved in the ads. Here is what that blog is saying:


Indira: 64 ads, 32 pages vs Patel: 9 ads, 3 pages

31 October 2011 
PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: After the advertising blitzkrieg to mark Rajiv Gandhi‘s birth and death anniversaries, and the death anniversary of his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru earlier this year, Union ministries and Congress-led State governments and departments have once again splurged heavily to mark Indira Gandhi‘s death anniversary today.
In the 12 newspapers surveyed, there are 64 advertisements of various sizes, amounting to approximately 31½ published pages to mark the assassination of the former prime minister on this day, 27 years ago.
In contrast, Vallabhbhai Patel, the late Union home minister, whose birth anniverary too falls on October 31, gets 9 advertisements in the same 12 newspapers, amounting to 3 published pages. While there are multiple advertisements for Indira Gandhi, no paper has more than one ad for Patel.
The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads are as under:
Hindustan Times: 22-page main issue; 9 Indira Gandhi ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages
The Times of India: 30-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 6¼ broadsheet pages
Indian Express: 22-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages
Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¾ compact pages
The Hindu: 24-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages
The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3¼ broadsheet pages
The Statesman: 16-page issue; 4 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages
The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages
The Economic Times: 26-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages
Business Standard: 14-page issue; 2 ads amouning to 1 page
Financial Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to half a page
Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads
This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.
Among the 13 advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commer and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resources development, development of north east region, and social justice and empowerment.
The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, most newspapers carry an advertisement inserted by the Congress party.
All told, so far, this year, tax payers money have been spent in buying 265 advertisements amounting to 132 published pages in the 12 newspapers.
Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:
“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

October 24, 2011

life in journalism: shameless availing of diwali gifts

It is the week of the Hindu festival, Diwali. Three years back, on 24 October 2008, I had written a blog post on the obnoxious practise of availing of diwali gifts by journalists in the Indian media. I reproduce the post below. It is still relevant except that the amounts I had mentioned as the worth of the gifts would be much more, 50% to 100% more.

Here is what I had written in that blog post:
There is large-scale corruption among journalists and editors in India during Diwali festival (this year's is on right now) when companies and press relations companies send Diwali gifts. These gifts could range from a box of dryfruits/chocolates (that would otherwise cost about Rs 500 in the market) to a physical article costing between Rs 1,000-Rs 10,000.
The way I look at it is that a journalist or an editor should not accept any of these -- not even the box of dryfruits/chocolates costing Rs 500 or more. But I have seen, over the years, senior-level journalists and editors shamelessly accepting these and setting an ugly example for other journalists in their offices. They may not take all these boxes home and instead distribute the contents of some of these boxes internally, even among the peons and office assistants, but I still think this is a pernicious practise that needs to be strongly condemned by all right-thinking individuals.
If the editors and senior journalists do not care about ethics on their own it is high time that readers remind them to start caring. If you are a reader of a newspaper or a magazine, or a viewer of a TV news channel, fetch their email address (Letters to Editor or some other) and email them saying you would not approve if their journalists/editors are availing of Diwali gifts or gifts during any other time either.
As a journalist, myself, I am too sent such boxes. I have given a standing instruction to my office reception to whom the courier deliveries come to refuse to accept any boxes that look like they would be Diwali boxes. But sometimes the corporate communication officials or the PR company officials visit offices directly and leave boxes at the reception. Like, for instance, earlier this year, sometime in March I think, during the Holi festival, 2-3 corporation communication officials of Multi-Commodity Exchange of India had come to my office to distribute Holi sweets. They had got boxes for 3-4 journalists in my office including me. Now, without telling me anything about the box they just left it behind. I was furious. It becomes a time-consuming exercise to trace these guys back and tell them to take back their boxes. Last year (2007) during Diwali, Vaishnavi Communication, the PR company for the Tata Group, had sent me a dryfruit box on behalf of one of the Tata group of companies (I forget the name). It was left at the reception and I was not in office on that particular day. Later, I had to call them and ask them to send their person to take it back.
If all journalists and editors return all the gifts it will send a strong stinging message to the companies and PR companies not to take us for granted.

October 19, 2011

life in general & financial markets: industrialists & politicians get together manipulate good environmental laws

Below is an article written by Centre for Science and Environment's Sunita Narain which talks about an isssue which is yet another revelation of how industrialists, companies and politicians get together to violate good environmental laws


The bogey of green clearances

Sunita Narain
Issue: Oct 31, 2011
imageThe environment is holding up growth and economic development. This is the common refrain in circles that matter. So when the Group of Ministers tasked to resolve the issue of coal mining in forests asked for a report on what needs to be done, it was told that the best would be to dismantle green conditions, almost completely.
The B K Chaturvedi committee recommends that all coal mining projects should be given automatic clearance, with exceptions only for projects in “dense” areas. There is no definition of “dense”, of course, or an understanding of the importance of forests for water and livelihood. Then the committee wants all those provisions that seek to protect the rights of people or the environment to be relaxed. It recommends that the gram sabha, required to give consent to the project, should be held without a quorum. In other words, democracy should be sidelined. Similarly, public hearings should be done away with when it comes to expansion of the current mines. It also recommends that even in areas identified critically polluted new projects should be allowed without check. It has no time to waste on such minor considerations as the health of the people who live in these regions. The horrendous cumulative impacts of these massive projects must be ignored, because we are a nation in a hurry, it says.
This report reflects the general mood. It is for this reason the proposed manufacturing policy, which seeks to create massive areas as national investment manufacturing zones, wants none of these inconvenient green checks. It wants to take away all powers of the environment and forest clearances from the Centre and state agencies and hand them over to the project proponent.
But are green clearances holding up projects? My colleagues spent days poring over the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests’ publicly available database to seek answers. What they found should make us wonder why there is such a hue and cry about the environment as an impediment to growth. In fact, the reverse is true: green clearances are certainly failing to safeguard the environment. This is what should concern us. Make us angry.
First, it should be understood that the scale and pace of green clearances have been unprecedented in the past five years. In fact, the pace doubled, with 203,576 hectares (ha) of forestland diverted for mining and industrial projects in the past five years. Coal mining accounted for more than half the forestland diverted, and as many as 113 coal mining projects were cleared—the highest in a five-year plan since 1981.
Secondly, clearances when added together overshoot the current and future targets. Take power projects. The 11th Five Year Plan targets 50,000 MW of additional thermal power capacity to be created till 2012. In the 12th plan the proposal is to add another 100,000 MW. This is what needs to be built and set up till 2017. Now consider this: in the past five years, till August 2011, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has granted clearances for an astounding 210,000 MW of thermal power capacity, that is 60,000 MW more than what has been proposed till 2017. Now also consider the fact that the thermal power capacity built in the past five years was a mere 32,394 MW. What is going on? Why are new projects asking for clearances when the old, cleared projects are still not being built? Is this a land-water-coal scam, given that each project sits on valuable natural resources? Or is it all about getting the licence to pollute?
Take the cement industry. At the end of the 10th plan, India’s installed capacity was 179 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). During the 11th plan, green clearances have been given to an additional 190 million tonnes per annum, which takes the combined capacity to 369 MTPA, far beyond what is operational or what is proposed as the target for this period. This is true for virtually all the industrial sectors we analysed.
There is another layer of misinformation. Coal shortage is being cited as the reason for underperformance of the energy sector, which, in turn, is leading to a strident call to open up more forested regions for digging. The fact is Coal India Limited (CIL) produces over 90 per cent of India’s coal; it controls over 200,000 ha of mine lease, including 55,000 ha of forest area. The estimated coal reserves with CIL are 64 billion tonnes, and the company produces 500 million tonnes per annum. Who is then responsible for the shortage of coal in the country?
What is clear, instead, is that in this haste to give clearances, it is the environment that is being short-changed. Most mining districts of the country have become a living hell. More are emerging as the hotbeds of thermal, mining and industrial projects, and nobody wants to fix the horrendous environmental fallout of this growth.
What needs to be done? In my view, environmental regulations should be strengthened, not weakened. Growth managers must look for other reasons they are failing in pushing up industry numbers. More importantly, environmentalists must see how the regulatory regime can be worked better. This is the agenda that matters.

October 16, 2011

life in general: prashant bhushan, anna hazare, kashmir and plebiscite

Today is Sunday. Three Sundays back, on 25 Sep 2011, Prashan Bhushan [an active lawyer, advocate at the Supreme Court of India and an active member of what is referred to as Team Anna (the group of people behind Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign)] was speaking at a "Meet the Press" program organised by Kashi Patrakar Sangh at Varanasi. Whether he was speaking on behalf of Team Anna at that press conference I am not sure (this Times of India newsreport dated 25 September is all that I could find on the web and it is not clear on this aspect).

Anyway, someone must have asked him a question on Kashmir to which his response, most likely in his personal capacity and not as a representative of Team Anna, among other articulations included his point about a plebiscite that could be held in Kashmir to ascertain the people of Kashmir's thinking about whether they wanted to stay as a part of India or to become an independent country.

Last week, on Wednesday, 12 October, Bhushan was physically attacked by three persons of an extremist group called Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, as a protest over his 25 September remarks on Kashmir plebiscite.

The next day, on Thursday, 13 October, a few public supporters of Anna Hazare, were brutally beaten up by other activists of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena on the road outside a court where the bail application of Bhushan's attacker was being heard.

Yesterday, on Saturday, 15 October, Anna Hazare says he strongly disagreed with Bhushan's views on Kashmir and so he and other core committee members of Team Anna, excluding Bhushan, will decide on whether Bhushan will continue to be considered a part of Team Anna or be excluded. See newsreports here and here.

The above is the background.

Now my views:

I not only agree with Bhushan on a plebiscite in Kashmir but I think there should be an official plebiscite policy whereby once every 50 years there should be a plebiscite in every state of India to determine whether the people of a state wanted to continue to be a part of India or become an independent country (no third option of joining any other country should be given and it should be made illegal to become a part of any other country afterwards in case a choice of independence is made). For the plebiscite to be valid, a minimum voting turnout of 75% has to take place and of the votes given at least 75% has to be for becoming an independent country (if less than 75% of votes given is for independence then that state continues being a part of India). In case, a state chooses to become indpendent, it should be legally bound to hold a reverse plesbicite after 50 years whether its people want to revert back to India or remain independent.

I would prefer seeing every country in the world (including Pakistan) have a similar plebiscite policy with regard to their different states/districts, and if any country does not have such a formal policy the United Nations should exclude them from its membership.

But it is perfectly fine for anyone to think that Kashmir is an integral part of India and that there should be no question of a plebiscite. Bhushan has a view. I have mine. They have theirs. There is no need for violence. Bhushan's views or mine are not seditious because he, and me, are not telling Kashmiris to take up arms to have a plebiscite. We are sharing our thoughts on what we think is fair and we certainly do not want to incite anyone to violence to implement our thoughts. So, there is no question of sedition. I, for one, as a voter registered in Bombay in Maharashtra, will in any plebiscite held in Maharashtra, will vote for it to continue to be in India and not become an independent country.

Coming to Anna Hazare's threat of expelling Bhushan from Team Anna, I find it to be representative of Hazare's support for authoritarianism and his tendencies to be un-democratic. Bhushan would not lose anything in not being a part of Team Anna, but Anna Hazare would lose a honest and hard-working supporter in his campaign against corruption.

October 11, 2011

life in financial markets: (part 2) indian telecom 2g spectrum scam cases have complexities

(part 1 of this series was posted yesterday, on 10 October 2011)

One major telecom-scam-cases-related news yesterday was a 2-judge Supreme Court bench (hearing Subramanian Swamy's application before it asking for investigation of P Chidambaram's role and also hearing Prashant Bhushan's application before it asking for appointment of independent observers to supervise the CBI probe) reserved its order. The 2-judge bench comprises of Justice G. S. Singhvi and Justice A. K. Ganguly.

Just before this news broke out among the media sites yesterday, I had stumbled upon a website called legallyindia.com which had a 4 October-dated report (unsubstantiated though) on a party thrown by Congress Party spokesperson and senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi in Delhi where lawyers and judges were invited. The report mentions, among other things, the attendance of Supreme Court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly in the party. The report stated that this judge was the junior member of the bench hearing the 2G case and that India's Law Minister, Salman Khursheed, was seen interacting with this judge in the party.

As per this Supreme Court website page on individual judges, among other things stated was given the information that Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly is due to retire on February 3, 2012. This date is less than four months away.

Anyway, I am giving below the legallyindia.com report on the party for legal fraternity thrown by Singhvi:


Supreme Court Insider: Manu Singhvi invites to party, Delhi bench, bar, politicos answer

Written by Supreme Court Insider  |  Tuesday, 04 October 2011 17:25

Congress Party spokesperson and senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi hosted a dinner for the upper echelons of the legal fraternity in Delhi on Saturday night. Found wining and dining at the seemingly non-descript but ultra-high profile occasion were judges of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, senior advocates and well-connected lawyers from the Delhi-Bombay Bar.

Significantly Jayant Bhushan, a senior lawyer in his own right, attended the dinner but the absence of his brother, Prashant and father Shanthi Bhushan (the former law minister) did not go unnoticed. Prashant and Shanti Bhushan are integral members of Team Anna of course, which is in stormy negotiations with a Parliamentary committee presiding over the Lokpal Bill headed by Congress’ Singhvi.

Law minister Salman Khursheed’s interaction with Supreme Court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly, who is the junior member of the bench hearing the 2G case, raised some eyebrows too.

2G or not 2G

Khursheed recently issued an opinion from his ministry on the definition of ‘associate’ companies - a move that bolsters the prospects of chargesheeted Reliance, Swan and their executives in the on-going criminal case before a trial court.

Ganguly along with his brother judge GS Singhvi had obliquely referred to the law ministry’s opinion last week during a hearing in the Supreme Court, saying that such interventions from government departments were “not appropriate”.

And so, with this as a backdrop on everybody’s mind, Khursheed and Ganguly sat together at a table and those assembled could only wonder what they spoke about.

Absent friends

All the other usual suspects were present, except of course members of the anti-Singhvi camp that includes the BJP's Arun Jaitley and Congress's Manish Tiwari.

Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati and Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman were absent, although the senior Nariman (Fali) made an early entry and exit. Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Harish Salve, Rajiv Nayar, Gopal Subramanium and C. S. Sundaram did not attend.


Discussions on the controversial issue of judicial appointments and the collegium system, which is so strongly defended by the higher judiciary, were heard from various corners of the room.

This is not surprising since AM Singhvi’s parliamentary committee is also presiding over the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which contains a recommendation to create a National Judicial Commission for the appointment of judges.

Another chapter in the constitutional war between Parliament and the Supreme Court might be in the offing if the government reclaims its right to preside over judicial appointments.

October 10, 2011

life in financial markets: (part 1) indian telecom 2g spectrum scam cases have complexities

This is the first part in a series on the Indian telecom sector's ongoing court cases in the 2G spectrum scam.

The article below is taken from a website called 2gscam.co.in and I am not immediately able to make up my mind about whether the contents are farily reliable or accurate. Nevertheless, the article taken from the website and presented below seems to prima-facie provide fairly insightful analysis of one aspect of the scam.

Here is the article:


The Indian Telecom Sector – Was it Ever 'Clean'?

Telecom scams are not new. In August 1996, the CBI registered an FIR against former telecom minister Sukh Ram after recovering 3.62 crore from his residences in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh .
Thirteen years later, in 2009, he was sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment for “criminal conspiracy” and spent time behind bars for a month before being released on bail.
A point to note here, is that unlike the case of Sukh Ram, who was released on bail, inspite of being sentenced, in the the current situation, the ‘accused’ are not being released on bail ,even though they have not been proven ‘guilty’.
During the BJP led NDA government, there was a major controversy when telecom companies were allowed to move from a licensing regime to a revenue-sharing one.
In July 1999, following the recommendation of a Group of Ministers headed by Jaswant Singh, the fixed licence fee regime was changed to a revenue share one. This was adversely commented on by the CAG.
According to Ratan Tata, if a hypothetical amount was to be calculated at that point of time, the loss to the exchequer would be about Rs. 50,000 crore.
Other ministers for communications during the NDA regime, including the late Pramod Mahajan, were accused of assisting Reliance Infocomm to become a nationwide operator offering “full mobility” in its cellular phone operations without paying the full licence fee. This decision of the DoTwas against TRAI recommendations and the resultant loss to the exchequer was said to be in the region of 1,100 crore.

Now : Over to the 2G Spectrum Scam. What is it in a nutshell?

The accusation by CBI is that millions of dollars were paid in bribes to ensure favors for certain firms in 2007-08 when the Telecom Ministry issued 122 new licenses to offer mobile phone services in the world’s fastest growing telecom market.
Raja claimed he was following precedents as well as policy guidelines that had been put in place by the earlier Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and that he was adhering to the laws of the land.
Also, it is relevant to note that there is communication on record between him & the Prime Minister - Mr. Manmohan Singh, that proves that the Government was indeed aware & had also given him the go ahead to allocate licenses in a First Come First Serve manner. Even Mr. Chidambaram & Mr. Pranab Mukerjee were all aware of the same, as some communication material proves.
Shockingly, now, that this allocation basis of 2G spectrum has become controversial, the Congress is passing the buck to the DMK.
First Steps being taken towards Unearthing the Actual 2G Scam:
Five months into the preliminary inquiry (PE) relating to the allocation of 2G spectrum during 2001-07, finally, the Central Bureau of Investigation is now scrutinising documents, looking at the telecom policy and how the policy was implemented by successive Telecom Ministers during that time.
While 42 licences, including for basic services and Unified Access Service (UAS), were issued during 2001, as many as 51 licences were given during 2004-06. Telecom Ministers during 2001-07 were the late Pramod Mahajan and Arun Shourie during the NDA regime and Dayanidhi Maran and Mr. Raja were in charge of the Telecom portfolio from 2004 onwards when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance assumed power.

What are the charges levied by CAG on the Telecom Ministry?

The CAG has contended that
(a) by underpricing second generation (2G) spectrum,
(b) By allowing companies to use two competing technologies — the global system of mobile (GSM) communications and the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology — using the same license and
(c) By allocating more spectrum to companies than what their licenses specified, the total loss to the country could be as much as Rs. 30,984.55 crore.

A tabular listing of all the companies involved in the loss to the country of Rs 30,984.55 crore as per CAG & CBI:

Company Licenses Issued1 Share(Rs. in Crores) % Share Named in Charge-sheet
Tata 3 CDMA; 19 GSM (Dual)        4,930.66 15% NO
Unitech Wireless 22 GSM       4,441.05 14% Yes
Datacom 21 GSM        4,239.19 14% NO
Loop 21 GSM        4,239.19 14% NO
Reliance 14 GSM (Dual)        3,379.58 11% NO
Shyam 21 CDMA; 1 GSM (Dual)        2,650.03 9% NO
Swan 13 GSM        2,624.26 8% Yes
Idea 9 GSM        1,816.80 6% NO
S-Tel 6 GSM        1,211.20 4% NO
Spice 4 GSM           807.46 3% NO
Allianz 2 GSM           403.73 1% NO
HFCL 1 GSM (Dual)           241.40 1% NO
Total Amount (Rs./Crores)      30,984.552 100%   

1Source: As per CAG Report 2010, DoT issued 122 New Licenses and 35 Dual Technology Licenses in 2008. Number of licenses are also mentioned in CBI 1st Chargesheet of 2.4.2011 on Page 56 and Page 42.  
2Source: CBI 1st Chargesheet of 2.4.2011 (Page 60): New Licenses (Rs.22,535.6 crs) + Dual Technology Licenses (Rs.8,448.95 crs) = Total Amount (Rs.30,984.55 crs). CDMA license entitles 2.5MHz spectrum and GSM license entitles 4.4MHz spectrum. Amount of New Licenses (Rs.22,535.6 crs) and Dual Technology Licenses (Rs.8,448.95 crs) divided among companies in proportion of their spectrum entitlement based on number of licenses issued to them.
Unfortunately, due to the selective wheels of justice, it is a fact that:
Percentage share of Companies charge-sheeted – 22%
Percentage share of Companies not charge-sheeted – 78%
When will the rest of the companies get chargesheeted? Or, are they going to get away scot free now?

Icing on the Cake: Additional Spectrum Scam Involving the Existing Operators in 2007 which is being ignored Thus Far:

The CAG has also revealed that spectrum was provided in addition of the contracted 6.2 megahertz (MHZ) to nine existing operators in 2007 inspite of the fact that a number of applications were pending for new licenses.
These existing operators were Aircel, Bharti, BPL (Mumbai), the public sector undertakings Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), Idea, Reliance, Spice (Punjab) and Vodafone.
The biggest beneficiary of additional spectrum was BSNL (61.6 MHZ in 19 telecom circles) followed by Bharti (32.4 MHZ in 13 circles), Vodafone (19.6 MHZ in seven circles), Idea (12.6 MHZ in six circles), MTNL (124 MHZ in Delhi and Mumbai circles) and others.
Note: The total loss to the exchequer on account of allocation of additional spectrum at low prices: Rs. 36,993 crore!!!
So, when will these existing operator companies get chargesheeted by CBI?