Co-operatives make up for one-sixth of Maharashtra’s economy; they are also abodes of chronic corruption. No wonder, many are yet to digest the fact that co-operatives have now come under the RTI Act and so public disclosures of their functioning is mandatory
Vijay Kumbhar, a leading RTI (Right to Information) activist from Pune, has been researching on the aspect of co-operatives coming under the RTI Act after the enactment of the 97th amendment to the Constitution of India in March 2012. Now, “co-operative societies” have not only become a part of Article 19 of the Constitution of India making them one of the fundamental rights of a citizen, but have now also been given the status of local self-government in Part IX of the Constitution. This makes them accountable under the RTI Act. However, many a vested interest is trying to hoodwink this fact. A tete-a-tete with Kumbhar.
Why do you say that co-operative societies which were until recently out of the gambit of RTI Act, now come under it?
Vijay Kumbhar: With the enactment of the 97th amendment to the Constitution of India and its inclusion in Article 19 of the Constitution, formation of cooperative societies has become one of the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen. Besides, they have been given the status of local self-government like rural and urban municipal bodies in Part 9 of the Constitution. Cooperative societies have thus come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
So, under what section of the RTI Act do co-operative societies come under?
Kumbhar: As per Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act, “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted—
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by the State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government, and now as per Section 2
(h) (a) of RTI Act, any cooperative society has become an ‘authority’ or ‘body’ or “institution of self-government” established or constituted by or under the Constitution and hence it comes under the ambit of the RTI Act.
Could you elaborate on how co-operative societies came to be included in Article 19 of the 97th Amendment of the Constitution of India?
Kumbhar: Article 19 of the Constitution of India protects certain fundamental rights of the citizens. All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression; to assemble peacefully and without arms; to form associations or unions; to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. Now forming a cooperative society is also a fundamental right. (Moreover, as per Article 43B of Part IV it is now the duty of the states to promote voluntary formation, autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of cooperative societies to encourage economic activities of cooperatives which in turn would facilitate progress of rural India.)
Part IX of the Constitution comprise local self-governments; Part IX pertains to Panchayats; Part IX B is about municipalities and now with the insertion of Part IX C, co-operative societies have acquired the status of local self-governments. Correspondingly, cooperative societies have come under the RTI Act.
What are the institutions that come under the co-operative societies?
Kumbhar: Cooperative societies normally include co-operative banks, credit societies, sugar factories, handloom-power loom factories, distilleries, milk producing societies, water supply societies and so on. Henceforth, all such institutions will have to appoint Public Information Officers, Appellate Authorities and comply with all the provisions of the RTI Act. This is the most revolutionary event in the history of our country in the recent past.
So, weren’t co-operative societies accountable to the government and people before the 97th Amendment? What has changed?
Kumbhar: Normally there are three sectors of industries; public, private and cooperative. The first one is wholly owned by a state or the central government and the governments have complete control over its investments and management and it is accountable to the governments as well as to the public. Although the private sector abides by the laws, rules and regulations of the governments it is not answerable or accountable to the governments or the public for the losses/profits or management. It is accountable only to its owners or shareholders as per the law of the land. The cooperative sector was a blend of the public and private sectors. So far, it was enjoying the facilities available to the public sector such as loans, share capital from the state, etc but was not accountable to the state or the public. With the Part IX inclusion in the 97th amendment, the scenario has changed and the cooperative sector is now accountable to the state and the public.
Why is it that so far there was no clarity about the applicability of the RTI Act to cooperative societies?
Kumbhar: Several information commissions and courts had given contradictory verdicts on this matter. Cooperative societies were out of the ambit of the RTI Act because it was not an ‘authority’ or ‘body’ or an ‘institution’ of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution. Hence, attempts to bring a cooperative society under the RTI Act, claiming it to be an ‘institute’, a “body owned, controlled or substantially financed by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government” failed. In addition, authorities of these institutes always took the stand that they did not come under the RTI act. Now, they cannot escape as it has become the fundamental right of a citizen.
What about the fact that some experts say that the RTI Act for co-operative societies applies only to those that are established after the Constitutional amendment in Article 19 and Part 9?
Kumbhar: This is just an eye-wash because this is not a new Co-operative Act that has been implemented but an amendment to the Act as per the amendment to the Constitution of India which already exists. Hence, every co-operative society no matter how old or new comes under the RTI Act.
What about the fact that there are some Supreme Court and high court judgments which have ruled that co-operative societies do not come under the RTI Act?
Kumbhar: Constitution of India is over and above any high court or Supreme Court judgment so now with the constitutional amendments, these judgments are irrelevant.
What would be the impact of co-operative societies coming under the RTI Act, particularly in Maharashtra?
Kumbhar: In reality, considerable part of the country’s economy is occupied by the cooperative sector. It is said that about 1/6th of Maharashtra’s economy comprises co-operative societies. A major part of Maharashtra politics is also influenced by the cooperative sector. The scale of illegalities, scams and corruption in this sector is also high. The cooperative sector including co-operative banks and credit co-operative societies block substantial government funds running into hundreds of crores. As of 2012, the unaccounted for amount is close to Rs15,000 crore.
The statistics of the department of cooperative societies of Maharashtra in 2009-10 show that there were 2,18,320 cooperative societies in Maharashtra and the total membership of these societies was 5.52 crore. One estimate of the number of societies is at about 2,30,000 with a membership of about 6.5 crore. For the entire country, this number could go up to 6.5 lakh societies with 30 crore members.
A giant sector such as this was uncontrolled and unaccountable till now. One can hope that this sector will move in a positive direction after the 97th amendment to the constitution.
So, has this amendment already been enacted?
Kumbhar: After the amendment was enacted in 2012, a period of one year was given to the states to amend as well as repeal existing provisions of law to bring in line with the new provisions in the Constitution. Usually, state assemblies approve such amendment. However, as the assembly was not in session, the Government of Maharashtra introduced an ordinance on 15 February 2013 and thus these amendments have now become law.
What are the highlights of Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act after the amendments?
Kumbhar: The highlights of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act and Rules after amendments are:
(i) Incorporation of cooperative societies on the principles of voluntary formation, democratic member control, member economic participation and autonomous functions;
(ii) Conduct of election of a cooperative society by an independent electoral authority;
(iii) A fixed term of five years for the office bearers of the cooperative society;
(iv) Supersession of the board of a cooperative society for a period of not exceeding six months;
(v) Independent professional audit of the cooperative societies;
(vi) Convening of the general body meeting of every cooperative society within a period of six months of the close of the financial year;
(vii) Access to every member of the society to the books, information and the accounts of the cooperative society;
(viii) Filing of the returns by every cooperative society within six months of the close of every financial year;
(ix) Free, fair, impartial and timely elections of cooperative societies by independent body;
(x) Audit of the cooperative societies to be carried by the auditors from the government approved panel of auditors or firms;
(xi) Maximum number of 21 directors to be applicable to all cooperative societies irrespective of their size with two seats reserved for women; and
(xii) Co-opted members not to be eligible to be elected as office-bearers of the board.
Also there are provisions of penalty for consistent defaults, acting against the interest of the institution, deadlock in the board of directors, not ordering elections within specified time, corruption, irregularities in duty, deliberately giving false information, disobeying orders of authorities, etc.
Is Article 19 of the 97th Amendment to the Constitution similar to the 74th Amendment which gave status of local government to Panchayats/municipalities/municipal corporations?
Kumbhar: Before 1992, panchayats and municipalities were also not bodies established by or under the Constitution. However, that did not mean that there were no panchayats or municipalities. However, due to their autonomous status, their functioning was arbitrary. They did not acquire the status and dignity of viable and responsive people's bodies due to varied reasons including absence of regular elections, prolonged supersession, insufficient representation of the weaker sections, etc.
Hence, to give certainty, continuity, and strength to Panchayat Raj with 73rd amendment, Part IX was inserted in the Constitution. Later as Urban Local Bodies were not able to perform effectively as vibrant democratic units of self-government, with the 74thAmendment, Part IX B was inserted to give municipalities a status. Now with the 97th Amendment, Part IX B has been inserted to give cooperative societies a status of local self-government.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Nifty will have to make a higher low and close above today’s high for the gains to continue
The market snapped its five-day losing streak and closed higher on gains in technology, banking and capital goods sectors in late trade today. The Nifty will have to make a higher low and close above the day’s high to continue making gains. The National Stock Exchange (NSE) reported a volume of 59.93 crore shares and advance-decline ratio of 689:628.
The market opened in the positive on support from its Asian peers which were higher in morning trades on optimism from Japan. US markets closed marginally high on Tuesday in the absence of fresh triggers.
The Nifty opened 41 points higher at 5,536 and the Sensex started off at 18,355, rising 129 points over its previous close. Buying in realty, technology and banking sectors aided the initial gains.
The benchmarks pared some of those gains and were seen hovering near their previous closing levels for the entire first half of trade. Selling in auto stocks on the back of the 23% decline in domestic passenger car sales in March 2013 pushed the indices in the negative to the day’s lows in noon trade. The Nifty fell to 5,477 and the Sensex slipped to 18,173 at their respective lows.
The market soon recovered from its lows on buying in banking and IT stocks. A firm opening of the key European markets also supported the upmove. The indices hit their highs in the last hour with the Nifty rising to 5,569 and the Sensex climbing to 18,461.
Snapping the five-day decline, the indices closed in the positive, marginally off the highs of the day. The Nifty gained 64 points (1.16%) to 5,559 and the Sensex climbed 188 points (1.03%) to close the session at 18,414.
The broader indices underperformed the Sensex today. The BSE Mid-cap index advanced 0.53% and the BSE Small-cap index added 0.01% in trade today.
With the exception of BSE Fast Moving Consumer Goods (down 0.40%), all other sectoral indices ended higher. The top gainers were BSE TECk (up 2.10%); BSE IT (up 2.05%); BSE Bankex (up 1.73%); BSE Capital Goods (up 1.40%) and BSE Realty (up 1.30%).
Twenty-one of the 30 stocks on the Sensex closed in the positive. The chief gainers were HDFC (3.64%); Larsen & Toubro (up 2.25%); TCS (up 2.19%); Wipro (up 2.17%) and Tata Motors (up 1.86%). The top losers were Sun Pharmaceutical Industries (down 1.24%); Jindal Steel & Power (down 1.01%); ITC (down 0.91%); Hindustan Unilever (down 0.91%) and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (down 0.55%).
The top two A Group gainers on the BSE were—Reliance Communications (up 13.49%) and J&K Bank (up 4.73%).
The top two A Group losers on the BSE were—MMTC (down 3.64%) and Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services (down 3.08%).
The top two B Group gainers on the BSE were—Facor Steels (up 20%) and Delta Corp (up 19.84%).
The top two B Group losers on the BSE were—Megasoft (down 16.05%) and Dolat Investment (down 13.19%).
Of the 50 stocks on the Nifty, 38 ended in the green. The key gainers were Reliance Infrastructure (up 4.62%); HCL Technologies (up 3.73%); Jaiprakash Associates (up 3.67%); Axis Bank (up 3.06%) and Kotak Mahindra Bank (up 2.95%).The major losers were Sun Pharma (down 1.45%); JSPL (down 1.37%); ITC (down 1.20%); HUL (down 1.16%) and Dr Reddy’s (down 0.86%).
Markets in Asia closed mostly higher on news that Chinese imports rose 14.1%, indicating a pick-up in demand in the Asia’s largest economy. Fitch ratings agency which cut China's long-term local currency credit rating to A-plus from AA-minus on Tuesday with a stable outlook, also weighed on investor sentiment. Meanwhile, political tensions between North and South Korea intensified further with North Korea moving ne or more long-range missiles in readiness for a possible launch.
The Shanghai Composite added 0.02%; the Hang Seng advanced 0.75%); the KLSE Composite rose 0.35%; the Nikkei 225 climbed 0.73%, the Seoul Composite surged 0.77% and the Taiwan Weighted settled 0.31% higher. On the other hand, the Jakarta Composite fell 0.45% and the Straits Times slipped 0.10%.
At the time of writing, the key European markets were up between 0.77% and 1.25% and the US stock futures were trading with modest gains.
Back home, foreign institutional investors were net sellers of shares totalling Rs64.90 crore on Tuesday while domestic institutional investors were net buyers of stocks amounting to Rs987.81 crore.
Siemens, a flagship company of Siemens AG, today said it has bagged a Rs104.4 crore contract from the Bangladesh Steels Re-Rolling Mills (BSRM) to build a gas insulated switchgear substation. The project is expected to be commissioned in 15 months. The stock rose 1.03% to close at Rs478 on the NSE.
Shasun Pharmaceuticals has entered into a licensing agreement with Switzerland- based Debiopharm for manufacturing and commercialisation of Huperzine-A, a drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Shasun closed 12.17% at Rs73.25 on the NSE.
BSE Sensex today hit lowest levels since the finance minister announced his reform measures on the 14th September 2012. What exactly happened between September 2012 and now?
Today the Bombay Stock Exchange’s (BSE) 30-share Sensex hit a low of 18173. On 14 September 2012 when finance minister P Chidambaram announced his big bang reforms, the Sensex stood at 18,464. The reform measures included reduction in diesel subsidies, allowing foreign direct investment (FDI). These announcements were welcomed by many, including foreign institutional investors (FIIs). Believing the finance minister, they pumped in a lot of money into the markets taking it to new high in January 2013. However, since then markets have tumbled to below 14 September 2012 level, wiping out all the gains accrued since then.
Take a look at the chart below:
The BSE Sensex started at 18,464 on 14 September 2012, when P Chidambaram announced a slew of so- called economic reforms. Some of these measures include 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, hiking diesel prices and putting a cap on the supply of subsidised LPG cylinders to households. The market obviously reacted very positively in the following months after announcement and soon breached 20,000. Some of the biggest investors were foreign institutional investors (FIIs).
Eventually, on 25 January 2013, the market reached its peak at 20,103. It had moved up 8.8% within just over four months. However, over next two and half months the markets wiped off those gains completely. The second half of the graph clearly shows this.
Just when Chidambaram introduced the slew of economic reforms, the most excited were foreign institution investors (FIIs). They played a key role in pushing the markets higher and higher by pumping in cheap foreign money. FIIs poured as much as $8.4 billion into Indian equities in the third quarter and much of it into banking and financial sectors, hoping that the reforms and low interest rates (which RBI would soon cut) would be key catalysts. Analysts from foreign investment banks were pumped up as well. For instance, leading brokerage firm Goldman Sachs pegged Indian growth to touch 6.5% in 2013 and further to 7.2% in 2014. Many foreign investors were expecting India’s economy to pick up on the back of such economic reforms.
However, at the same time, domestic institution investors (DIIs) were moving in the opposite direction. They were bearish and selling equities. Several times, they turned out to be correct, according to an analysis undertaken by Moneylife. In fact, DIIs were betting very selectively, selling as much as $3.5 billion worth of equities during the December 2012 quarter. It is not surprising because DIIs know more about Indian economy (and reform measures) than foreigners.
The BSE Sensex peaked in January in the hope that the RBI will cut rates aggressively. As inflation moderated, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cut rates a bit. Meanwhile, prior to the Budget, the finance minister and his entourage went on a global tour, trying to sell the India story to investors. He went to Hong Kong and Singapore to assure and pressed for the case of investing in India when he told them that India’s fiscal deficit would be brought down to 3% in 2016-17. However, the Budget proved to be a dampener and many, including FIIs and DIIs, were left disappointed. The markets crashed by more than 1.50% on the day of the budget. We had written in detail about this in the Fortnightly Column, ‘An affair to forget’.
Foreign brokers and investors were losing patience and they realized that the budget was aimed at the vast electorate instead of economic reforms. There was no mention of big reforms in the Budget as initiated earlier in September 2012. We had written a piece on this. Soon, investment banks were trimming forecasts. Nomura cut India’s GDP forecast to 5.6% , while Moody’s has stated that if India grows over 7% without economic reforms, inflation will be a big concern.
“Some government policymakers, most notably RBI governor D Subbarao, have begun pushing for a return to double-digit growth. This is wildly optimistic and, without significant structural reform, a dangerous view to take,” Moody’s Analytics, an arm of ratings agency Moody’s, said.
Finally, once again, the Indian reality of more talk and less action, policy paralysis and deeply vested interests, asserted themselves. The market merely reflects this. (read An India Reality) . We are not surprised. We have pointed several times ever since the market started getting euphoric beyond a Sensex level of 19,500. (Read Reality strikes and High Risk Low Reward ) This should be an object lesson to investors who make investments decisions based on a government that cannot put through anything other than cosmetic changes.