It might be surprising to know what our babus can do to stop corruption. The second part of a three-part article highlights three instances of honesty and bravery of IAS officers
"Corruption is not just about money. It is also about ethics in public life. Anything that violates it can trigger public anger."
—Venu Srinivasan, managing director, TVS Motors
Let me ask you a question. Which homogenous section of citizens in India can, and must be the first bulwark to hold off the tidal waves of corruption that have been sweeping our land for three decades and more?
Don't laugh. My answer is, the bureaucracy, particularly the Indian Administrative Service.
Do you know apart from the judgments of the Supreme Court which are the opinions that are most difficult to overturn? These are the jottings of senior bureaucrats (of the level of joint secretaries and above) in files dealing with matters involving large sums of money. I make this statement confidently after reporting on the affairs of government for four decades.
For example, a senior bureaucrat vets a file containing a proposal to buy equipment for a public sector company. The amount involved runs into a couple of hundred crores. The bureaucrat senses something fishy in the proposal; he feels that somebody, probably a minister, will get kickbacks. He notes his objection diplomatically: the amount is too high and the proposal can be passed if the cost is cut by, say, Rs50 crore. Any possibility of a kickback is thus thrown out of the window.
No minister, unless he or she is foolishly brave, or courageous as Sir Humphrey Appleby put it in "Yes, Minister", will risk overturning this opinion. The facts could come out any day, the bureaucrat may leak the story to a friendly newspaperman, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India may pounce on it, the vigilance guys may sniff something. It's too dangerous. The minister decides to either drop the matter or move it through another bureaucrat who may be more accommodating.
This is not an imaginary situation. It happens a lot of the time when the bureaucrat is honest and unafraid. Here are three examples about which I have personal knowledge.
In the mid-80s, an international tender was put out for building the HBJ pipeline from Hazira in Gujarat to Jagdishpur in Uttar Pradesh. There were four bidders and two frontrunners emerged: Spie Capag of France and Snam Progetti of Italy. The representative of Snam Progetti was Ottavio Quattarochi, the infamous friend of Sonia Gandhi.
Snam's bid was $100 million costlier than that of Spie Capag. Banking on his well-known friendship with the prime minister's family, Mr Quattarochi tried to use muscle. He is even reported to have personally threatened the then petroleum secretary, GV Ramakrishna. The difference of $100 million in the bids was too much for Mr Ramakrishna to accept. He stood firm in the decision to award the contract to Spie Capag. Even Rajiv Gandhi did not dare interfere. Mr Quottarochi lost and the country saved $100 million.
Next, during Jayalalitha's previous stint as chief minister, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board put forward a proposal to import high quality coal costing hundreds of crores. One IAS officer, by the name of Mr Sundaram, who was the secretary to the Tamil Nadu government in charge of coal imports, smelt a rat. The coal was too costly; surely a kickback was involved. Mr Sundaram wrote in the file his refusal to clear the import. There was a kickback-this became public knowledge later-and even even Jayalalitha had to back down. Of course, she made life miserable for Mr Sundaram and within a year he resigned from the IAS.
The third instance involves the issue of shares by Southern Petrochemicals Industries Corporation (SPIC), a joint venture with the Tamil Nadu government through the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO). The chairman of TIDCO was Ms Chandralekha. She found that the share issue would result in heavy losses to the Tamil Nadu government and objected strongly. Jayalalitha backed off for a while.
Some weeks later, Ms Chandralekha was travelling in a car, in heavy traffic, when some goonda put his hand through the window of the vehicle and threw acid on her face. She was horribly burned. Ms Chandralekha resigned from the IAS. There was absolutely no reason for the attack, but the public drew its own conclusions. Ms Chandralekha later joined the Janata Party and became a close associate of Subramaniam Swamy.
If only there were 5,000 IAS officers who are prepared to act as honestly and bravely! If a few IAS officers can block high-level corruption, what is there that cannot be achieved by a band of motivated people?
(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].)
The telecom regulator has sent letters to all the companies which have recently hiked tariffs seeking justifications for the reasons as to why they have hiked the tariffs and the reasons for the same. However, telcos cited inflationary pressure in the country as being responsible for the tariff hike
New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked leading telecom service providers, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, to justify their decision to hike mobile tariffs by up to 20%, reports PTI.
"We have sent letters to all the companies which have recently hiked tariffs seeking justifications for the reasons as to why they have hiked the tariffs and the reasons for the same. The last one (letter) gone to Reliance Communications," TRAI chairman JS Sarma said on the sidelines of an event.
Recently, companies like Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone and Reliance Communications raised tariffs for their services by about 20% in most operating circles.
Most of the companies cited inflationary pressure in the country as being responsible for the tariff hike.
Airtel had raised the tariffs for its 'Advantage' and 'Freedom' pre-paid tariff packages, which are based on per minute billing, to 60 paise per minute for local and STD mobile-to-mobile calls. Earlier, it was 50 paise per minute in this category.
"Telecom is probably the only industry where, despite increasing inflation, tariffs have been falling unabated.
Continuously declining margins, high third generation (3G) and broadband and wireless access (BWA) auction prices, constrained spectrum and rural roll-out aspirations leave us with little choice but to make some price corrections," Bharti Airtel had said in a statement.
RS Reddy has 34 years of experience as a banker in multifarious assignments
India Factoring & Finance Solutions Pvt Ltd, a joint venture of the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) along with Malta based FIM Bank Group, Italy based Banca IFIS and Blend Financial Services Ltd, Mumbai, has appointed RS Reddy as independent director on the board of the company. Prior to this appointment Mr Reddy was a chairman and managing director at Andhra Bank.
Mr Reddy took charge as CMD of Andhra Bank in August 2008. He has 34 years of experience as a banker in multifarious assignments. He was also the chief executive of Bank of India's American Operations in New York for three and half years.
Sudeb Sarbadhikary, CEO and MD of India Factoring said, "We are delighted to welcome RS Reddy on the Board of India Factoring. I am confident that his vast experience, knowledge and unique insights into the lending to small and medium enterprise and cross border trade products in india and overseas would be an invaluable asset to India Factoring. We would be looking forward to his guidance to enable us to build a consistent, sustainable and growing long term business."
Mr Reddy said "India Factoring has a vision to provide financial services to the SME sector which despite being a significant contributor to the Indian economy suffers from lack of support from the financial institutions. I am delighted to be a part of the team wherein I can fruitfully use my knowledge of SME financing to assist in the development of a platform to support them by way of factoring & trade finance products."