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Former power secretary EAS Sarma flays budget proposal to scrap customs duty on imported coal

EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary in his letter to the prime minister accuses significant concessions being given to power companies at the expense of consumers

EAS Sarma, former power and finance secretary has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh pointing out the dangerous and unprofitable fallout of the proposed waiving of the 5% customs duty on imported coal. Defining the move as “a post-tender dole-out to benefit large private power companies”, he has urged the government to consider and inform the people of the serious implications of the Budget decision.

“I wish to caution the government on this. The finance minister should announce that the entire benefit that flows from this generous customs duty exemption will be passed on to the consumers,” he wrote. He says that this is “another scam in the making”, and explained, “Unless the government makes it mandatory for those companies to pass on the consequential benefit to the consumers over and above the fixed tariffs quoted by them on their own, it would amount to a fairly significant post-tender largesse being passed on to those companies on a silver platter. The amount involved on that account would run into thousands of crores of rupees and all that would flow out of the pockets of the Indian taxpayers into the pockets of the private power developers”.

This is not the first time that Mr Sarma has written to the government on the issue of private power developers. He has sent many letters earlier and has alleged that the process of signing power purchase agreements (PPAs) is opaque and fraudulent, and that the ministers concerned are all party to it. Mr Sarma said that most private power companies have got environmental clearances for their projects via dummy coal linkage.

Most of these private thermal power companies, Mr Sarma says, have invested illegally in coal mines and shipping contracts abroad and they send the money through dubious routes to fund their domestic operations. Mr Sarma had written to the Cabinet secretary earlier urging an inter-departmental team to investigate the issue. Read more at Former top bureaucrat alleges fraud in grant of environment clearances for private power projects
Referring to his earlier correspondence with the Centre, Mr Sarma wrote, “I referred specifically to the ‘fixed’ tariffs quoted by several large private thermal project developers and cautioned the government not to reopen the PPAs already finalized on that basis.”

In an earlier letter, written in January, Mr Sarma had said, “Once power tariffs are decided on the basis of a competitive bidding procedure, to reduce the import duty on coal or allowing the bidders to migrate to a lower tariff regime would amount to a huge amount of unearned concession handed over to the private players. The UPA government which is already muddled in several scandals will surely get involved in yet another scam of a similar magnitude.”


Budget may weaken govt’s credit profile: Moody’s

Dependence on corporate tax revenue and vulnerability to commodity prices and exchange rates weakens the government’s credit profile and lack of specific policies in the Union Budget to address these weaknesses is “credit negative”, Moody’s said in a research note

New Delhi: India’s Budget for 2012-13 lacks new solutions to address the fiscal constraints the government is facing and may weaken its credit profile, reports PTI quoting global credit rating agency Moody’s.

Dependence on corporate tax revenue and vulnerability to commodity prices and exchange rates weakens the government’s credit profile and lack of specific policies in the Union Budget to address these weaknesses is “credit negative”, Moody’s said in a research note.

The revised fiscal deficit target of 5.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for the year confirms “significant fiscal slippage” and is a credit negative for India, it said.

Moody’s currently has a credit rating of ‘BAA3’ on India with a stable outlook.

Economists are also of the view that the 5.1% fiscal deficit target for the next fiscal is an uphill task considering the absence of a clear fiscal road map and the still uncertain global environment.

“In the absence of new policy initiatives, during the year, a combination of improved GDP growth and corporate profitability, lower global commodity prices as well as exchange rate stability to improve fiscal performance and meet the fiscal 2012-13 deficit target of 5.1% of GDP,” Moody’s said.

The general perception of the Budget is that it lacked new ideas for the stalled economic reform agenda and failed to address the bloated fiscal deficit condition.

Moody’s said the government did not note specific measures to achieve this goal and unless subsidy cuts and fuel price increases are introduced in the next few months, expenditure targets are likely to exceed yet again in 2012-13.

Further, the budget proposal to expand the number of services that are taxed will yield new revenue sources, but will not make a meaningful effect on overall revenues as service taxes contributes only 5% of current tax revenues.

The budget is a mixed bag of credit implications for corporates, the ratings agency said.


Fighting for women’s rights in Goa

Lawyer and human right activist from Goa, advocate Albertina Almeida, was recently honoured by Moneylife Foundation for her work at the recently held financial literacy seminar the state. She speaks to Alekh Angre about her work and issues women face in Goa

Eminent lawyer and human right activist from Goa advocate Albertina Almeida, has been associated with many advocacy groups fighting for human rights, rights of women and children and issues related to self-governance, environment, development and tourism. She is the founder-member of “Bailancho Saad”, a women’s collective organization working on gender concerns, founding and managing trustee of “Saad Aangan”, a gender resource group and governing body member of “Sandarsh”, which is involved in research and training initiatives and co-convenor of “Citizens’ Initiatives for Communal Harmony”-Goa. Moneylife Foundation honoured adv Almeida for her work at the recently held financial literacy seminar the state.

In an interview with Moneylife, she talks about issues in Goa, her demands from the newly elected state government and her experience in dealing with cases of crime against women.

Alekh Angre, Moneylife (ML): Goa presents two contradictory pictures. One is of a happy tourist destination while issues like illegal mining and human trafficking are crippling the state. As an activist, how can one change this image?

Adv Albertina Almeida (AA): For that, one has to have a bottom-up model of governance. It needs to give people a platform to vocalise their aspirations, their understanding of realities, and their knowledge. And from that a development pattern has to emerge, rather than saying that I think this is good for you and hence you should have it. To put it in a nutshell, we need an inclusive system of development evolving out of the people themselves. It should be inclusive from the point of participation in designing the model of development rather than just at the point of making someone a beneficiary.

ML: And do you think it is happening now?

AA: No, there is just no way it is happening. Many efforts were made by people’s organisations, even during the course of drawing up the draft Regional Plan 2021 for Goa. There was a Goa Regional Plan 2000, which we asked to be revoked as it was not participatory. Now there is this Regional Plan 2021 but the participatory process did not materialise as envisaged and demanded by us. A participatory process is possible but requires political will, which has been lacking in successive governments.

ML: What would be your expectations from the newly-elected government?

AA: I won’t say expectations; it would be our rightful demands. The present government has come to power because people are dissatisfied with the impact of mining, its environmental hazards and with the so-called ‘development’ projects. The government, referring to their victory, had said that it is a vote against. So they have to prove this and actually put in place this participatory model. Now that they (the BJP government) are in power, they better go by what people like. We demand a periodic feedback mechanism and not just at the beginning and end of their term in office. The participatory process also needs to have a special provision to enlist the voices of the people on the margins including women and people must be enabled to take informed decisions.

ML: Last year there was an anti-corruption wave across India. How was the experience in Goa which also faces issues like illegal mining?
AA: Of course there was the wave here as well. But I had my own reservations about the Lokayukta Bill in Parliament. The whole focus is on the Lokayukta law, though in my opinion I don’t think it addresses the real issue of corruption. There are no appropriate yardsticks to judge whether someone is corrupt. For instance if I apply for a ration card complying with all the procedures and there is provision to give that ration card in 15 days, can I hold the official responsible if he fails to give it to me in the stipulated time? If there is no time frame, how will I tag him as corrupt, since he is not bound to observe a time-frame. The official can always say he was held up in some other work or some other reason.

It is time we looked into the details for holding corrupt persons accountable. The devil always lies in the details. The details tend to get swept away during the waves.

ML: You lobbied for domestic violence laws in the Goan context. Could you please throw some light on it?
AA: In Goa, there are different sets of family laws. For instance, sons and daughters have equal rights to parental property. In terms of matrimonial property, whether it is the husband’s property or the wife’s, before or after marriage, purchased, inherited, etc, it all becomes a part of a common pool. That’s the law here. And because of this system that was in existence they did not extend the Dowry Prohibition Act to Goa and was often claimed that since we have such system, we don’t have problems in Goa. But in reality problems for women including domestic violence very much exist.

We did a study to show that despite these seemingly equal laws, the issue of domestic violence is very prevalent. We had to demand and lobby to extend the Dowry Prohibition Act to Goa. Similarly there were murmurs that a domestic violence law is not required for Goa. But we kept emphasising that family laws, no matter how equitable, do not automatically translate into absence of domestic violence. It is a larger question of who controls the property. Hence when the consultation processes for drawing up the Domestic Violence Act were in progress, we participated actively—we brought in the concerns that came from Goa, during discussions and before it was enacted. We also made sure that the earlier stance of not making laws like this applicable to Goa, because of family laws, was not followed.
ML: In your activism, you have dealt with many cases of crimes against women including sexual harassment at the work place. Many times women don’t want to come out and complain due to fear of losing jobs, social stigma, etc. What has been you experience in dealing with such cases?

AA: This is exactly the reason why we not only focus on awareness building, but also on sensitisation and empowerment. For instance, if there is a session for women to educate them on various laws and how they can use, it does help. But one has to also identify the problems of women in actually accessing that law. Either it may be in terms of physically accessing those laws, or the machinery of that law or it may that there is a problem with the law itself. This is where advocacy comes in. We have been a part of lobbying for bringing in the legislation and part of the movement which said that sexual harassment at the work place needs a special mechanism to deal with it. Women tend to run the risk of losing their jobs when they speak up, especially if the harassment is by someone superior or a prominent person in the business. Having such mechanism in place with an external member and continuous monitoring is therefore a positive step.{break}

ML: The landmark Vishaka judgement of the Supreme Court, recognized harassment and set out detailed guideline to address this issue. You were part of many committees to form a policy. What has been the response from employers/corporates in encouraging women that they are working in a safe environment?

AA: It is taking a long time to come. So much is said about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This, along with the other issues of human rights, doesn’t seem to be in the ambit of CSR. We are now hoping to impress upon Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry and also Confederation of Indian Industry (Goa unit) and their components to ensure that they have monitoring mechanism to prevent sexual harassment at the work place. Even in the judgment there is a component on preventive measures. But many employers have not set up the complaints committee for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace, as required by the directives in the Vishaka judgement. To put it positively, these committees need to look at creating healthy work environment for all.

ML: A Bill on sexual harassment at the work place is pending with Standing Committee of the Parliament. Recently it suggested including domestic workers and workers from the non-organised sector. What are your views and expectations from the Bill?

AA: The Bill needs to set out clear procedures. This will give due opportunity to the complainant and the accused to represent their case in a fair and just manner. Clear procedures will ensure that the case won’t be at the whims and fancies of anyone and there won’t be a feeling of bias on either side. However, I don’t mean it has to be neutral, given the imbalance we have in our society, which even the Supreme Court realised in the Vishaka judgment, we need procedures which will enable women to speak up and actually share what she has gone through. The will also help the committee to take affirmative action.

ML: There was uproar over the statement of the chairman of National Commission of Women that “it’s okay to call a woman sexy”. What is your view on the whole incident?
AA: Everything has to be seen in a context. For instance, I remember when I was in first standard there was a classmate who used to say ‘shut up’ and other words. During those days these were considered bad words. But today we casually say it in a conversation. One has to look at such factors. But if a woman is uncomfortable with such expressions then the person should stop using it. It is important to note that a word like sexy is often also used to make a woman uncomfortable. We cannot have a blanket statement that calling a woman sexy amounts to sexual harassment or it does not. It has to be seen in the context of the particular case. This also applies to whole lot of other things. One cannot always go by our yardstick only; we need to understand the situation and also the person’s background—urban or rural.
ML: After the rape and killing of foreign tourists, there were issues and concern on the safety of tourists. What has been the role of government in addressing such issues, since then?
AA: When the Scarlett (a British national) killing happened, there was uproar in the national media mainly on the concern and safety of tourists and whenever there is a crises situation they (government) make some announcement. Most of the times, these announcements are not followed. It’s like they don’t put money where their mouth is. What is the use of announcing when they don’t provide a budgetary backup allocation for the measures proposed to be taken and it is poorly implemented? Things then continue the same way.
ML: With so many issues, what has been the role of local media?
AA: By and large, the media plays to power and the incentives that come from that power. This is true for the media here as well. Goan media is no different.
ML: Constant efforts are made to stonewall information; whistleblowers and RTI activists are beaten up and even killed. How do you continue to fight in such a scenario?

AA: In my personal assessment, there are RTI activists and RTI activists—many shades of them. There are those who want to come into the limelight and that proves to be the root of the problem. If you isolate yourself in process, you become an easy target, whereas if right to information is sought to be exercised collectively, encouraging people to file applications, it becomes easier and there are fewer chances of you being targeted. They know that if they kill one RTI activist, there are so many others to follow the same path as the slain activist and so targeting doesn’t prove useful. Therefore there is all the more a need for collective activism.



Charles Lobo

5 years ago

I was deligted to read about your efforts regarding issues women face in Goa.
I am settled in U.K. My mother was born in Goa, migrated to Karachi and is now in Goa. She's been there for the 4th year. She is about 82 years. We were informed that she has to be in Goa for 7 years after which she can get an Indian Passport. My request for the Indian Authorities to kindly consider is that for a lady of her age to wait for 7 years is quite a long time. It would be nice if the period of stay could be 5 years.


5 years ago

Thank you for what you do.
Please keep up the good work

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