Vinod Rai writes about the major scams that shook the nation
Vinod Rai, the 11th and most assertive comptroller and auditor general (CAG) that India has seen, is the man behind uncovering major scams over the past few years: the 2G scam, coal block allocations, the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam, Air India scam and so on. Rai, in his book Not Just an Accountant, asserts that after several red flags were raised, the government had a chance to alter its direction and avoid obvious malfeasance. However, it turned a blind eye and continued along the same path.
According to Rai, the scams showed astonishing mis-governance with a clean man at the top. In the chapter on the 2G saga, he points out, “Unbelievably, the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) chose to ignore the red flags of deviation from policy, and questionable facts and figures offered by the minister (A Raja, the then telecommunications minister).” Commenting on Dr Singh’s statement in January 2014 that “spectrum allocation should be transparent,” Mr Rai writes that had the PM stood by his beliefs, the fate of the UPA-2 would have been different. However, Dr Singh “engaged in a routine and ‘distanced’ handling of the entire process, in spite of the fact that the A Raja had indicated, in writing, the action he proposed to take,” Rai writes.
The PM was aware of Raja’s intentions as far back as November/December 2007, but he only ‘acknowledged’ the ‘developments’ and did not question the minister’s intentions. Rai states that, if only Dr Singh had responded differently and asked the minister not to take any action ‘till they or the GoM have discussed this’, it would have changed the course of the UPA-2.
This case was “the first in the unfolding of a series of misguided actions of a government that seemed to have forgotten its oath to preserve and protect the interests of the nation,” laments Rai.
While the government initially claimed that there was no malfeasance and the CAG had erred, Rai states, “This is a story of the misguided belief that the underlying objective of all action is to remain in power, and keep a coalition secure—the nation and its people be damned.”
Similarly, in the CWG scam, despite the detailed and obvious highlighting of flaws and irregularities, there was no credible attempt to establish accountability. “The big fish get away and only some lowly engineers and officers land up in the CBI net,” remarks Rai.
On the coal scam, Rai comments that “those entrusted with safeguarding the nation’s natural resources… allowed it to be frittered away to agencies who were neither capable of exploiting the resources or had the intent to do so.”
Another area of scam was public-private partnerships (PPPs) which are not transparent and are skewed in favour of the private party. Such deals do “not assure us that the nation’s resources are indeed being exploited in the best interest of the nation,” Rai argues.
Further, he writes about the tragic tale of civil aviation which was once the pride of the nation. In the Air India deal, he questions why Boeing (B 777) aircrafts, that were meant to fly for the next 25 years, were sold within five years of the delivery of the aircraft at one-fifth the price. This was done despite the policy-makers being aware of the fact that such a purchase would create a financial crisis for Air India.
He also laments the incapability of joint parliamentary committee (JPC) and the public accounts committee (PAC), which were to probe the suspected irregularities of the government, but could not prepare a unanimous report and present it to Parliament.
Rai is the first of Indian CAGs who will be remembered for showing us that the government and politicians can be made accountable, if statutory bodies simply do their job. In a powerful speech, at Moneylife Foundation’s third anniversary function on 15 February 2013, Rai reminded the citizens about the responsibility of ensuring good governance saying that too much is at stake for this duty to be ignored. While private institutions as well as individuals need to be accountable, Rai said that more is required of the government. He said, “Accountability becomes more important when public funds are involved. This is because public funds come from taxes, which we have to pay.
Because there is compulsion to pay, we need to know how the money is spent. This is why governments have higher accountability to its citizens.”
Watchdog group files suit over Bayer's claims about vitamins' ability to improve health
Bayer markets its One A Day vitamins with a variety of health claims including that the vitamins support heart health, immunity, and energy levels. The company markets a variety of the vitamins to different ages, gender and consumers with specific health concerns. But do the One A Day vitamins really help in the ways the pharmaceutical giant claims?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says no. The vitamins will not prevent consumers from getting sick, make them feel more energetic, or prevent heart disease, CSPI contends.
The non-profit watchdog group filed a federal class-action lawsuit Oct.15 taking aim at the packaging and marketing of a wide variety of Bayer’s One a Day vitamins. The suit, filed in federal court in California, alleges that Bayer deceived consumers by bombarding them with messages of purported health benefits and using scare tactics to convince them that they needed these vitamins, the suit alleges. CSPI is seeking an injunction against the false claims as well as refunds for consumers who purchased the vitamins expecting the benefits.
Specifically, regarding its heart health vitamins, Bayer claims that the products, which contain vitamin B6, B12, C, E and folic acid, can prevent cardiovascular disease. But the suit notes that studies have shown supplements with these vitamins do not prevent heart disease and that the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association also confirm that these vitamins don’t help reduce the risk or severity of heart disease.
“None of Bayer’s multivitamins can unclog arteries, prevent heart attacks, or otherwise ameliorate heart disease. And to the extent these claims prompt people to take vitamin pills instead of doctor-prescribed heart medicines, Bayer may be harming people’s health as well as their wallets,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner.
As for all the One A Day varieties that make other health claims, the suit alleges, “Bayer’s marketing and labeling also draws consumers attention away from the fact that very little difference exists between varieties of Bayer One a Day multivitamins.”
TINA.org reached out to Bayer for comment but hasn’t received a response. Bayer may be busy trying to tamp down other negative press it received recently when the Department of Justice announced it was seeking civil contempt charges against the company for allegedly violating a previous consent order by making unproven health claims to promote its Phillips’ Colon Health. In that earlier consent order, Bayer agreed to pay out $3.2 million to settle charges that it falsely marketed its One A Day WeightSmart vitamins as a weight-loss remedy.
More of TINA.org’s coverage of vitamins can be found here.
For nearly four decades, Mesco has worked to improve the quality of life of the financially weak through meaningful education
Modern Education Social & Cultural Organization (Mesco) was established in September 1968 with the vision of its founders, Dr AA Quereshi, SA Vohra and Dr MA Khatkhatay (currently its general secretary). It started as a small and humble effort—funds were raised by collecting old newspapers from donor families. The money generated was used to distribute textbooks and notebooks to needy students.
There has been no looking back for Mesco since those early days. Its annual budget has grown from just Rs3,000 to Rs8.5 crore and it reaches out to 80,000 poor families per year. The areas of operation are education, medical intervention and poverty alleviation. Mesco is accredited by Credibility Alliance and is empanelled with Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It is listed on the website of GiveIndia for donors to contribute.
According to Dr MA Khatkhatay, “Inability to meet school expenses for uniforms, books, shoes, etc, deprives the student from acquiring better education. These circumstances lead to school drop-outs.” School drop-outs are a problem all over India, especially girls. Mesco has intervened in Mumbai and its suburbs to make sure that there is continuity in education of the girl child in every family that it is involved with.
Mesco’s schemes under education include: educational aid, educational scholarships and enrolment in RC Mahim Municipal Urdu School which has about 2,000 students. Mesco has adopted the School since the last 18 years. Over the decades, this effort has gradually evolved into a programme that helps more than a thousand students every year for their educational needs by providing one-time aid to meet school expenses in the beginning of the academic year.
Educational adoption of students is done at Class VIII level and is based on the student’s performance in the previous three years. Full support is provided to the student until completion of his/her college education.
Scholarship is a ‘loan scholarship’ under which Rs50,000 to Rs70,000 per year is provided to students selected for professional courses. Repayment of the loan by the student commences after the student has completed his/ her studies and stabilised in employment.
Under its medical help programmes, Mesco runs three mobile clinics and two dispensaries in Mumbai. It also provides sustained dialysis support and medical aid, including that required for costly treatment or chronic medical issues. The sustained dialysis support scheme, started in 2012-13, provides lifetime support to those who need this critical help. In 2013-14 it helped 26 patients with this support at a total cost of Rs35 lakh. For some of its medical intervention programmes, Mesco has collaborated with AmeriCares India Foundation and Wockhardt Foundation which provide free medicines for distribution to needy patients.
Under its poverty relief programmes, Mesco provides sewing machines to needy women. Hoorbanu, a widow with two school-going children, is able to earn between Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 a month due to Mesco’s support. Mesco’s website says, “During 2013-14, we have assisted 3,626 school and college students, provided medical services to 391 patients under various schemes and to over 80,000 patients through our three mobile clinics and two fixed dispensaries; and provided poverty relief to 378 beneficiaries.”
Readers who wish to contribute to Mesco’s efforts with donation may contact Mesco at the address given alongside. Donors are eligible for income-tax exemption under Section 80 G of the Income Tax Act.
Modern Educational Social & Cultural Organization (Mesco)
110, Natalwala Building, VS Road, Mahim (W), Mumbai 400 016, Maharashtra
Phones: (+9122) 24441442 / (+9122) 24448637, Fax: (+9122) 24448637,