Investigating agency explains to the court how the first-come-first-served policy was manipulated by former telecom minister
New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has said that the first-come-first-served policy was manipulated by former telecom minister A Raja and others to such an extent that physically fit persons got away with the most valuable 2G licences.
“Physical fitness of the applicants became the deciding factor in the grant of licences,” senior advocate and CBI prosecutor UU Lalit told Special Judge OP Saini on Tuesday, while opposing the bail plea by Swan Telecom promoter Shahid Usman Balwa.
Mr Balwa, who is in jail since his arrest in Mumbai on 8th February, moved the bail application saying he has been “unfairly” targeted by the CBI and that he had committed no offence, PTI reports.
Mr Lalit told the court that the idea behind setting up four counters at Sanchar Bhawan on 10 January 2008, for grant of letters of intent to firms including Swan Telecom, negated the first-come-first-served policy adopted for the grant of UAS (unified access service) licences.
“What determined seniority was not the date of application but your agility. It was about how agile, energetic and fit enough you are to reach the counters (at Sanchar Bhawan) first,” Mr Lalit said. “This particular device was adopted to favour Swan and Unitech. If they were to go by seniority, the Delhi circle licence would have gone to anybody. People were clamouring for lucrative regions. Nobody was interested in regions like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. If I want the best of the lot, the cherry, I need to go to the counter first.”
“To sum up, so far as Shahid Balwa is concerned, he and Vinod Goenka were in charge and responsible for the affairs of Swan Telecom, which received favours due to all these gimmicks. An advantage of Rs3,600 crore is enormous. Propensity of this person (Shahid Balwa) and reverse money trail itself is indicative that he is not entitled to benefit of his release on bail,” Mr Lalit said.
The prosecutor also referred to the chargesheet to support his statements that Swan telecom, promoted by Mr Balwa, was nothing but a front company of Reliance ADAG to circumvent the then telecom policy that debarred the usage of dual technology by existing players.
Mr Balwa and Mr Goenka came on the board of Swan Telecom after Reliance got back its money, put in as subscription for preference shares in the company. “The sum and substance is that a company which, to start with, was not eligible to make an application for spectrum licence, was thus transferred to Mr Balwa and Mr Goenka,” the prosecutor said.
The CBI has charged Mr Raja with entering into a conspiracy with others to favour various firms, including Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless (Tamil Nadu) Private Ltd.
The court posted the matter for hearing on 18th May, when counsel for Mr Balwa would advance arguments on the bail plea.
New rates will affect all new as well as existing borrowers
The State Bank of India, the country's largest lender, on Tuesday announced a hike in its lending rates by 75 basis points (bps), which will also make housing and auto loans costlier for both new and existing borrowers. Simultaneously, the Bank has hiked interest rates on fixed deposits of short-term maturities by up to 225 bps.
SBI said in a statement late yesterday that its new base rate, or minimum lending rate, would be 9.25%. The hike is effective from Thursday, 12 May 2011.
The Bank has also increased its benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) by 75 bps which means that existing borrowers will also have to pay more on their loans. With this hike, SBI’s BPLR goes up to 14%. Consequently, equated monthly installments for existing loans will become dearer by at least 75 bps.
Since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raised key short-term rates on 3rd May, the banks have been raising their rates in a rush. Over a dozen banks, among them Punjab National Bank, ICICI Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Corporation Bank, have raised interest rates in the past week. But while most of these banks hiked lending rates by 50 bps, SBI has taken a more aggressive step with a 75 bps increase.
For fixed deposits, interest rates have been hiked for maturities up to 180 days to align these with the hike in interest rate for savings bank accounts. On 3rd May, the RBI also announced an increase in the interest rate on savings bank accounts to 4% from 3.5%.
SBI’s new interest rate for term deposits with a maturity of 7-14 days will be 6.25% (up from the existing 4%), while deposits for a 15-45 days period will also earn 6.25%. Term deposits of 46-90 days maturity, will earn an interest of 6.25% (up from the existing 5.5%), whereas deposits of 91-180 days will get 7% (an increase from the existing 6%). The new deposit rates will also be effective from 12th May.
The State Bank of Mysore has also announced an increase in its base rate and BPLR by 50 bps, effective Thursday. While the new base rate of State Bank of Mysore will be 9.5%, the BPLR will be 14.25%.
If you can’t resist indulging at wayside eateries, or may be even swanky restaurants, you might not know it, but you could be paying for a bout of indigestion or something more serious like hepatitis-B. It’s because we don’t take food safety and hygiene seriously. Section 4 of the RTI Act can help you find out critical details about your favourite food places, so you can be more careful
Last weekend, I was invited to a birthday lunch at a Gujarati thali restaurant where 'aamras' was being served unlimited! While the guests savoured the delicious feast, I was wondering about the hands that must have squeezed out the pulp!
Ever since an inspection of files at the health department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) revealed that even posh restaurants, some of them in five-star hotels, did not adhere to necessary food safety and kitchen and staff hygiene norms, I am cautious when eating out, and I try to spread the word about why one should avoid throwing so much money for poor service that could likely affect one's health, and probably threaten one's life also.
It all began last year, when we published a report on the increasing cases of gastroenteritis and stomach-related cases in Pune, and a couple of prominent doctors pointed to unhygienic eateries as the culprit. I asked Partha Sarathi Biswas, a young journalist and the bureau chief of Intelligent Pune, the news weekly that I was managing then, to inspect documents pertaining to food inspection reports by food inspectors of the health department who monitor food quality and staff hygiene at restaurants, twice a year.
Partha invoked Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act five times, and collected inspection reports of nearly 300 restaurants located in different localities of Pune. Food inspectors of the health department, whose sole purpose is to check whether restaurants adhere to food safety and health standards, carry with them a form that is filled during an inspection. It contains a list of 29 items that the restaurant is expected to adhere to strictly under the BPMC (Bombay Provisional Municipal Corporation) Act.
To our surprise, such big names like Hotel Blue Diamond, Mainland China, Madhouse Grill, Green Plaza (in upper crust Koregaon Park) and Wadeshwar (an extremely popular udipi place on Fergusson College Road that is patronised by youngsters), were among the restaurants which were sent notices for the "area of the kitchen where food was prepared/cooked or sold and the area where utensils were washed-(found to be) not clean.'' (Note: These are inspection reports for various months in 2010. If any of these restaurants have improved their cleanliness, after receiving notices from the PMC, we welcome it.)
Most shockingly, none of the restaurants (which were inspected) had conducted medical examination of their staff even once, let alone on a regular basis. When asked, most of the restaurant managers had the audacity to say that they could not afford to do it. This means that we could be eating food served by, or even prepared by someone who is suffering from skin disease-let your imagination run if you care to understand the vulnerability of a customer paying good money for probable illnesses.
Parameters used for inspection
When the food inspector goes on inspection, he checks on all the 29 parameters. After the inspection, the food inspector also jots down his own observations on the form. Then the establishment is sent a notice, to rectify the shortcomings that could be hazardous for customers who consume the food.
If it is found on a second inspection that the eatery is continuing to defy norms, the municipal commissioner can suspend the licence for a specific period, or even order the closure of the restaurant in serious cases of food safety violations.
Here are some jottings that Partha found on the inspector's forms:
> "Cobwebs noticed on the walls of the kitchen." - This observation was made by the food inspectors who checked the Green Plaza hotel on Baner Road.
> "Prepared food not covered properly before serving." - Taj Blue Diamond, Mainland China on DP Road and Shingri at Koregaon Park were ticked off for this by food inspectors.
> "Proper care is not taken to prevent the contamination of food by dust, insects, etc, where food is prepared." - Taj Blue Diamond, Shingri on Boat Club Road, Green Plaza in Koregaon Park and Mainland China on DP Road.
> "The kitchen and storeroom used for storing raw materials is not located at a safe distance from bathrooms, gutter or urinals, to avoid contamination of food." - Not through inspector's documents, but through word of mouth, Partha stumbled upon two big restaurants, Khyber and Mayur Thali on Jangli Maharaj Road, where the exhaust fans of the toilets opened out into the kitchen. Notices were served to these establishments and they promised to rectify this. (Note that this observation was made in the last quarter of 2010. If they have amended the placement of the exhaust fans, we welcome it.)
What did we do?
While surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon an online form (image of the page is reproduced below) called the 'Food Illness Report Page' of the Los Angeles Public Health Department which citizens can fill online, if they believe that they have become sick from eating or drinking something, somewhere, and the department will inquire into the matter.
We approached the Municipal Commissioner of Pune, Mahesh Zhagde, and requested him to adopt a similar online process on the PMC's website. Mr Zhagde told us that "this is the best form of social audit" and he included it in the PMC's budget for 2010-2011. The online facility has not yet seen the light of day. Mr Zhagde was unceremoniously transferred, recently, for his stern action against illegal encroachments. We must pursue this matter with the new municipal commissioner, Mahesh Pathak.
You too can replicate this in your city, so that the local government is pressurised to check such practices and take corrective action.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)