Citizens' Issues
All of us are mired in the same cesspool, but our thoughts and actions can pull us out of this morass

If only the spirit of cricket invested the actions of the leaders in politics, business, administration and law enforcement, what a wonderful world we would live in!

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars," said Oscar Wilde. "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" asked Robert Browning.

The cynics would say these quotes are Utopian nonsense; that these are pipedreams. Very well, let them. I believe that mankind has the right, indeed the duty, to dream that it is capable of thoughts and actions that lift it far above the morass. I believe that we must dream of a better life for all of mankind, to fantasise about cleaning the cesspool which forms the top social stratum, inhabited by the politicians, the moneybags, the manipulators and the white-kurta criminals.

We the common people of India are decent people, honest and kind (but sometimes sour) to our families and our neighbours. We work hard to give our families a comfortable life while walking the straight and narrow path of rectitude. But pressing down upon us is the dark, oily mass of the cesspool.

And so, when an ordinary man does something heroic, something that is heart-stoppingly statesmanlike and selfless, we stand up and cheer… and we dearly hope that the people in the cesspool at the top will behave with the grace and goodwill of that ordinary man whom we cheered.

Here is a quotation from one of the newspapers reporting what will in future be called the Trent Bridge miracle which epitomised the invincible spirit of Man.

"On the stroke of tea Bell became one of the central characters in a major controversy when he failed to realise the ball hadn't been called dead and was run out. The Indians appealed and after a lengthy inspection of the evidence the TV umpire gave Bell out, much to the disbelief of England. As the Indian players reappeared after the interval the home supporters booed MS Dhoni, but suddenly it turned to cheers when they saw Bell walking down the steps. Dhoni had reversed his decision and had immediately become a hero. At the afternoon drinks break the public address system asked the crowd to show their appreciation and they gave a standing ovation to the India captain."

We live in dark times. People at the very top of the political system have soiled hands that were dirtied by the 2G case and the Commonwealth Games affair (though they seem to have lily-white consciences). We had the Adarsh Housing society scandal. We have a mentally retarded young man labelled as a dreaded terrorist and shot in a fake encounter.

Around the world, London is burning. Europe is crumbling under the weight of its incredibly irresponsible handling of the sovereign debt of its constituent nations. Political gamesmanship by the Republican Party has forced the US President to agree to a humiliating compromise on the country's debt-deficit ceiling. The sovereign credit rating of the world's biggest economy has been downgraded by a rating agency whose reputation for manipulation in the interests of its clients is well known.

Take, for example, the organisation that employs our hero. Please consider this extract from a recent news agency report:

"The Parliamentary standing committee on finance has accused the Income-Tax Department of being 'very lenient' to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, saying the department had allowed the BCCI to "enrich its coffers at the expense of the exchequer".

"The Standing Committee told the I-T department, Reserve Bank of India and Corporate Affairs Ministry to expedite their investigations into the affairs of the BCCI and the Indian Premier League (IPL).

"The committee said: 'It is a matter of surprise that when the crass commercialisation of cricket was visible to the entire world, the Income-Tax Department chose to ignore it.'"

Crass commercialisation is such an old-fashioned word, but still evocative of corporate and individual greed at the expense of noble human endeavour. This is not cricket, is it? Nor does it reflect the spirit of cricket, following the principles on which we the common people grow up and live.

And what is the spirit of cricket? It is honesty, transparency, fairness in all actions towards everybody, the essence of fairplay, ethical behaviour towards all, the conviction that winning, even by foul means, is not everything, the conviction that at the end of the day a person must go to sleep with a clean conscience.

If only the spirit of cricket invested the actions of the leaders in politics, business, administration and law enforcement, what a wonderful world we would live in!

This again, the cynics will say is a pipe dream. Yes, all of us are in the gutter, but if our leaders looked at the stars? That would be a miracle.

 But my definition of a miracle is that it is only an event of very low probability. And so, we the common people of the world have to wait for this event of very low probability. But we can, and must, hope; because the probability exists.

(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected]).

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Reliance Industries to team up with EIH for developing hotels

RIL had last year picked up 14.8% stake in EIH that operates hotels and resorts under Oberoi and Trident brands to ward off a potential take over threat from ITC which currently holds 14.9% stake in EIH

Kolkata: Within a year of foraying into the high growth hospitality sector, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries (RIL) will team up with EIH to set up hotels in India at an estimated investment of Rs700 crore, reports PTI.

“In all probability we will develop the Bangalore and Goa projects in association with RIL,” EIH chairman and chief executive PRS Oberoi said on Tuesday on the sidelines of the company’s AGM here.

RIL had last year picked up 14.8% stake in EIH that operates hotels and resorts under Oberoi and Trident brands to ward off a potential take over threat from ITC which currently holds 14.9% stake in EIH.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has however raised the threshold trigger for offers from 15% to 25%.

Addressing the company's shareholders, Mr Oberoi said: “I assure you ITC will not take over (EIH). We wanted a friendly investor and now Mr Ambani who is a friend of mine is an important and friendly shareholder.”

Reacting to the new takeover code, ITC chief YC Deveshwar at his company’s AGM last month had said the company was open to it (raising stake in EIH) if the opportunity was good.

Asked if RIL would raise its stake after the revision in the takeover code, Mr Oberoi replied, “We will be happy if they raise the stake.”

EIH is also open to offer a berth on its board to RIL but it was up to the latter to decide.

Providing details of the proposed joint hotel projects Mr Oberoi said the property in Bangalore would have 250 rooms, the one in Goa will have 100 rooms and both will be managed by EIH.

“We have land in both locations...We have 8.2 acres in Bangalore and 55 acres in Goa. Currently, each room costs Rs2 crore for Oberoi brand hotels without land,” Mr Oberoi said.

The combined investment for both properties is estimated to be around Rs700 crore.

Mr Oberoi neither provided details of the proposed shareholding of the two companies in the projects, nor did he comment on whether a separate company would be floated for the same.

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Govt permits QFIs to invest up to$13 billion in MFs

The aggregate investments by QFIs in equity schemes of the mutual funds under direct and indirect routes shall be subject to a ceiling of $10 billion. QFIs can invest up to an additional amount of $3 billion in the units of mutual fund schemes, which invest in infrastructure debt

New Delhi: The government on Tuesday allowed foreign investors, in its newly created Qualified Foreign Investor (QFI) category, to invest up to $13 billion in equity and debt schemes of mutual funds, a move aimed at enhancing depth in the capital market, reports PTI.

The announcement comes at a time when there are concerns over the flight of foreign capital and is expected to provide much needed succour to the markets.

“It has been decided that the aggregate investments by QFIs in equity schemes of the mutual funds under direct and indirect routes shall be subject to a ceiling of $10 billion,” a finance ministry statement said.

Similarly, QFIs can invest up to an additional amount of $3 billion in the units of mutual fund schemes, which invest in infrastructure debt of minimal residual maturity of five years in corporate bonds issued by infrastructure companies, it said.

QFI is an individual, group or association, resident in a foreign country that is compliant with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standard.

It is to be noted that QFIs do not include foreign institutional investors or sub-accounts as these are already permitted to invest in equity and debt markets in India.

This would enable QFIs to have direct access to the Indian mutual funds. It would widen the class of investors participating in the Indian capital market, help increase depth and reduce volatility in the market, it said.

Both Reserve Bank of India and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) issued enabling notifications in this regard.

Dividend payments on units held by QFIs would have to be directly remitted to the overseas accounts of the QFIs by the domestic mutual funds and dividend payments to QFIs would not be allowed as an eligible credit to the single rupee pool bank account, the RBI said in its notification.

SEBI in a separate notification said QFIs can buy units of equity or debt funds in the primary market, but cannot trade in the secondary market.

The capital market regulator also said that when the cumulative QFI investment reaches $8 billion in equity schemes, SEBI would auction the remaining limit to foreign investors who can then buy the units from funds of their choice.

A similar process will be followed when the investment in debt hits $2.5 billion.

The QFI limit for debt will be within the overall ceiling of $25 billion, including FIIs, set by the RBI in corporate debt issued by infrastructure companies.

According to the statement, the announcement incorporates the suggestion made by captains of India Inc during meeting with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on 1st August to allow investment from QFIs up to $3 billion in for debt schemes in the infrastructure sector.

As the scheme has now been expanded to include debt schemes investing in infrastructure sector, it is expected to give a new momentum to the debt instruments in this priority sector, it said.

The QFI scheme, it said, will make it easier for the overseas investors to participate in the infrastructure sector projects in India, and therefore would provide an additional source of overseas long term debt funding.

The move follows the announcement of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on the issue in the last Budget.

“Currently, only FIIs and the sub-account registered with SEBI and NRIs are allowed to invest in the mutual fund schemes.

To liberalise the portfolio investment route it has been decided to permit SEBI registered mutual funds to accept subscriptions from foreign investors who meet the KYC requirements for equity schemes,” Mr Mukherjee had said in the Budget speech.

“This would enable Indian mutual funds to have direct access to foreign investors and widen the class of foreign investors in India equity market,” the finance minister had said.

The average assets managed by the MF industry, consisting of 40 players, stood at Rs7.28 lakh crore as of July 2011.

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