2G scam: SC dissatisfied over tardy tax evasion probe

While the I-T department defended its ongoing probe saying that the investigation has entered the "fifth layer", the court shot back saying, "We are not concerned about layers but results"

New Delhi: The Supreme Court today expressed displeasure over the tardy pace of probe by the Income Tax (I-T) department into the tax evasion cases linked to second generation (2G) spectrum allocation case, saying it wanted "results".

A bench of justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly directed the department to file a detailed report on action taken by it during the last three years when it got a complaint in this regard and began tapping corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's telephone, reports PTI.

"The I-T department must be quicker. This is not a normal case of tax evasion. It (probe) should have been done fast. These are not ordinary cases to be handled in ordinary way," the bench said.

The department, however, defended its ongoing probe saying that the investigation has entered the "fifth layer" and the approach towards the case has not been tardy.

The court, however, was not satisfied and said, "We are not concerned about layers but results."

The bench allowed the I-T department to approach the special judge trying the 2G case to interrogate company officials who are in judicial custody for their alleged role in the scam.

The bench also agreed to hear a plea by petitioner, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, for appointment of two independent persons to assist the court in monitoring the probe by various government agencies in the scam. The CPIL had made the plea alleging that "big players are being let off".

The court also assured the petitioners, CPIL and others, that all the persons involved in the scam will be brought to justice irrespective of their wealth, position and power.

"You (petitioner) rest assured that no person, irrespective of their chair and wealth, could get immunity in any way," the bench said, adding "investigation in the case has made some progress which would not have been possible in normal circumstances."

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), meanwhile, contended that no person would be let off as investigation is still going on against Reliance and Tatas for their involvement in the scam.

The investigating agency also submitted that it will file fresh status report on the ongoing investigation in 2G scam after the summer vacation.

The court after hearing all sides posted the matter for further hearing on 13th May, when it would delve into the plea for appointment of independent person to assist the court in monitoring the probe.


Food inflation falls to 8.53% for the week ended 23rd April

The high rate of price rise of food items was one of the reasons for inflationary pressure in the last fiscal. However, the government had exuded confidence that food inflation would moderate in the months to come on account of the record crop of wheat and pulses during the 2010-11 crop year

New Delhi: Food inflation fell to 8.53% for the week ended 23rd April from 8.76% in the previous week, on the back of fall in prices of pulses, reversing the upward trend seen in the previous fortnight, reports PTI.

The latest numbers are likely to come as a relief to the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), especially at a time when the central bank’s monetary policy for the fiscal, released earlier this week, was almost exclusively focused on fighting price rise.

Food inflation stood at 20.91% during the corresponding week last year.

During the week under review, wholesale prices of pulses declined by 7.39% on a year-on-year basis. However, all other commodities witnessed a rise in prices.

Cereals became dearer by 4.42% year-on-year, with rice and wheat becoming more expensive by 2.08% and 0.06%, respectively.

Vegetables prices were overall up by 3.44%.

Potatoes became dearer by 0.27% on an annual basis and onions were up by 16.09%.

Fruits and protein-based items continued to be more costly.

Fruits became dearer by 32.69% year-on-year, while milk was up by 5.16% and eggs, meat and fish by 5.13%.

The rate of price rise of non-food primary articles was 27.84%.

Fibres became more expensive by 85.58% year-on-year, while fuel and power was up by 13.53% and petrol by 21.81%.

The high rate of price rise of food items was one of the reasons for inflationary pressure in the last fiscal. However, the government had exuded confidence that food inflation would moderate in the months to come on account of the record crop of wheat and pulses during the 2010-11 crop year (July-June).

Headline inflation was 8.98% in March and has been above the 8% mark since January 2010.

In its monetary policy report released earlier this week, the RBI said inflationary pressure would remain a concern during the first fiscal, with core inflation (which does not take into account the rise in food prices) heating up on account of spiralling oil and commodity prices in the international market.

The RBI said inflation would remain at an average of 9% during the first half of 2011-12, before falling to around 6% by March 2012.


Auto sales moderate in April, but two-wheelers buck the trend, with Hero Honda leading the pack

The sector has witnessed two years of healthy growth, but inflation, higher interest rates and rising prices of fuel may muddy the waters for the automobile industry

The start of the fiscal year has traditionally been a weak period for the Indian automobile industry. According to a report released by PINC Research today, most of the major auto manufacturers have reported a moderate growth in sales volumes.

In the commercial vehicles category, buyers tend to pick up their vehicles in March to avail of tax benefits. Ashok Leyland was the worst performer in this category, with its sales dropping by 14.7% on a year-on-year (Y-o-Y) basis to 5,543 units in April 2011. Tata Motors managed 18.7% Y-o-Y growth and sold 39,928 units in April. According to the report, Ashok Leyland has said that the elections in Tamil Nadu, a major market for the manufacturer, has caused the drop in sales.

However, the two-wheeler segment reported healthy sales, with market leader Hero Honda reporting all-time high dispatches. On a Y-o-Y basis, Hero Honda clocked a healthy 39.1% growth—it sold 5,17,099 units in April 2011, compared to the 3,71,652 units that it had sold in the same month last year. Bajaj Auto reported a decent 16.7% growth to 3,22,235 units, mainly helped by the clearance of its export backlog. Suzuki has managed to register the highest Y-o-Y growth rate (41.40%), but that was because of a low base (it sold 20,771 units in April 2010).    

Among passenger vehicle manufacturers, Honda was the worst hit (43.8% Y-o-Y drop in sales to 2,012 units). Despite the international problems of vehicle recalls that Toyota has been facing, it managed to sell 9,681 units in April this year, compared to 6,003 units that it sold in April 2010, translating into a healthy 61.30% growth. New entrants seem to have found acceptance in the market—Volkswagen sold 7,000 units in April, a 370.10% Y-o-Y growth, albeit on a low base (1,489 units in April last year). But the biggest shocker has been the performance of market leader Maruti Suzuki (4.4% growth) and Hyundai (0.1%). PINC says that Maruti’s poor performance is due to a “sharp drop in dispatches in the compact car segment.” This would mean that Maruti might have to go back to the drawing board and rework its product mix. Tata Motors managed to inch along at a 3.8% growth and sold 24,455 units in April 2011. One reason for this sluggish performance from Tata Motors in this category is surely due to the subdued sales of its much-hyped Nano. The company had set itself a monthly sales figure of 15,000 Nano cars in 2011. But the car’s sales crossed the 10,000 mark only in April, after months of poor performance. On an overall basis, according to the report, dispatch figures for the month grew by 12.4% Y-o-Y in the passenger vehicles segment.  

Three-wheeler sales continue to chug along—market leader Bajaj Auto sold 45,074 units (20.7% up) in April 2011, but Mahindra & Mahindra is snapping at its heels, with 44.7% growth (although on a low base, it had sold only 3,048 units in April 2010). TVS Motor is still in the race, clocking 43.4% growth—it sold 3,561 units in April this year. 

As the report states, after two years of rapid growth, the auto sector might see a period of moderation. But the deadly troika of inflation, rising fuel rates and a higher interest rate regime might muddy the waters for the industry.


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