Citizens' Issues
Former finance secretary asks new environment minister to correct human rights violations

EAS Sarma names POSCO, Vedanta projects, an irrigation project in AP and the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra, as examples of violations of tribal safeguards

A lot is expected from the new environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, whose predecessor gave mining corporations and developers a tough time. Some of the issues that have become a major concern have been listed by former finance secretary EAS Sarma in a quick note to the minister.  

While congratulating Ms Natarajan on her appointment as the minister, Mr Sarma has asked her to investigate the allegations of environmental and human rights violation in areas where massive mining and industrial projects have been sanctioned.

"The POSCO iron and steel project and Vedanta's bauxite mining project, both in Orissa, the bauxite and iron ore mining projects and their downstream activities in Andhra Pradesh, the Polavaram irrigation project also in Andhra Pradesh, power projects in Nellore and the Areva-driven Jaitapur project in Maharashtra. These projects make a good case study of how the central and state governments have themselves abetted violation of the tribal safeguards of the Fifth Schedule, forest rights law, the Forest (Conservation) Act, PESA, Environment (Protection) Act and so on. You should get these cases examined carefully and take decisions acceptable to the local communities and consistent with the relevant laws," Mr Sarma wrote.

Welcoming the setting up of the Green Tribunal, he suggested the constitution of regional benches and urged the government to lower the expenses. "The cost has become a barrier to the efforts of civil society. An ordinary villager with modest means, if aggrieved by orders of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, has perforce to travel to Delhi to represent his/her case before the tribunal," he said.

Mr Sarma also mentioned the huge (and in his view, unnecessary) thermal power plants near Jaitapur and Nellore, which he has dubbed as a 'coal scam' that is at par with the 2G scam. (Read, "Prime minister ignores former bureaucrat's plea on Jaitapur nuclear power project".)

He has also described numerous CRZ violations by the government and instances of ineptitude of the Pollution Control Board.

Mr Sarma believes that there must be an overhaul of the environment impact assessment (EIA) process. "Delinking the EIA consultants from project promoters is the need of the hour. EIA consultants should be properly accredited and their selection for individual projects done randomly. A system of blacklisting the errant consultants should be put in place," he said. Currently, EIA consultants are accredited by the Quality Council of India, which is not accountable to the public.

Mr Sarma had raised these issues with the former environment minister Jairam Ramesh and prime minister Manmohan Singh several times, but there has been no significant change in these matters.

"The National Environment Policy (NEP) approved by the Union Cabinet, provides the framework within which your ministry should function. I hope that you will guide the regulatory work of your ministry in accordance with the statute and the avowed policy of the government, rather than being swayed by external pressures that are exerted by industry and their spokespersons within the government," Mr Sarma concluded.

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Final IPO norms for life insurance cos by July-end: IRDA

Last month, IRDA had released a set of draft guidelines for insurance companies to raise funds through public offers. As per the draft norms, only insurance companies that have completed 10 years of operation and have strong financials will be allowed to access the capital market

New Delhi: Insurance watchdog Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) today said the final guidelines to allow life insurance companies to raise funds from the capital market will be out by this month-end, reports PTI.

"With regard to life companies, the work on initial public offer (IPO) guidelines is more or less complete and we would be going for gazetting the same as regulation very shortly, perhaps toward the end of this month," IRDA chairman J Hari Narayan told reporters on the sidelines of a FICCI event here.

For life companies, the clause mandating a three-year track record of profitability as a precondition for tapping the capital markets has been removed in the draft guidelines, he said.

As per existing Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) norms, any company which proposes to come out with a public offer should have a three-year track record of profits.

"As regards non-life companies, there is little more work to be done and that may take 2-3 months," he said.

Last month, IRDA had released a set of draft guidelines for insurance companies to raise funds through public offers. As per the draft norms, only insurance companies that have completed 10 years of operation and have strong financials will be allowed to access the capital market.

Insurance firms planning public offers have to seek 'formal approval' from IRDA and then approach SEBI for final approval, the draft norms had said.

As part of the eligibility criteria, the insurance company should have maintained the prescribed regulatory solvency margin during the preceding six quarters, it had said.

In addition, the insurance company should have embedded the value of at least twice its paid-up equity capital, the guidelines had said, adding that the insurance company should be fully compliant with the corporate governance guidelines issued by IRDA.

Mr Hari Narayan said IRDA will come out with a standard definition of critical illness for health insurance purposes within the next 2-3 months.

Asked if the insurer can invest in Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs), he said, "An IDR is essentially investment abroad and according to the Insurance Act, money should be invested in India. There is a legal matter which we are examining."

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Sistema Shyam TeleServices expands board of directors

New board composition as per the Indian telecom licensing norms

Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd (SSTL) that nationally operates its telecom services under the MTS brand with over 12 million wireless customers today announced appointment of Feliks Evtushenkov and Alexey Buyanov as director on the SSTL board. Additionally, the company also appointed Vikram Kaushik, former MD & CEO, Tata Sky and Bharat Patel, chairman, Indian Society of Advertisers as Independent Directors on the SSTL board. With these appointments, SSTL board strength now includes 13 members.

Ron Sommer, chairman of the SSTL Board said, "I am delighted to welcome Feliks Evtushenkov, Alexey Buyanov, Vikram Kaushik and Bharat Patel on the SSTL board. They bring with them a wealth of business experience. I am confident that their appointment will further enrich the process of providing strategic guidance to the company. We look forward to their valuable contribution".

In compliance with the Indian telecom licensing norms the SSTL board now has seven Indian and six foreign nationals.

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