Companies & Sectors
Goa mining ban: a conditional relaxation can revive the economy!

Revival of mining activity in Goa would bring great relief to people who are suffering now and also give impetus for export


It may be recalled that the Supreme Court imposed a mining ban on both Goa and Karnataka due to illegal activities; later on, in the last quarter of 2013, the ban on Karnataka iron ore mines were conditionally withdrawn, resulting in revival, in a small measure, as a start, of the iron and steel industry. The steel industry in the state is still not out of the woods, and this time, for a totally different reason, that of non-availability of iron ore due to exorbitant prices!


To understand what is happening in Goa, first, let us take a look at what has happened in Karnataka, after the ban was lifted! National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC), a Government of India undertaking, is the only one, which appears to be offering iron ore fines having 61% iron content, from April 2013 till date, with a price movement of Rs2,000 to Rs2,200 a tonne. As against this, private mine owners were pricing their supplies between Rs2,250 and Rs2,435 per tonne till September 2013. But the price has literally sky-rocketed to Rs5,000 per tonne, which was never heard of before, even when the international price touched $200 per tonne (now around Rs12,600).


So, on the base price of Rs5,000, if the buyer had to add the cost of royalty, transportation, local taxes etc are included, the 61% fine ore would cost Rs7,000 per tonne!


Steel makers, in Karnataka, allege that private mine owners have formed a cartel to intentionally jack up the prices! As a result, they have now moved the Supreme Court, alleging price distortions in e-auctions and seeking a regulator for fixing the base price of iron ore. The Court will hear the case on 17th February, a few days from now. They further allege that only NMDC are playing fair and therefore seek the appointment of a retired High Court or Supreme Court judge as the Regulator for base price fixation till the iron ore short-supply situation ends.


In the meanwhile, due to inadequate supply of iron ore, and the artificially increased prices, as many as 40 out of the 70 sponge iron makers have shut shop, and the rest are operating at a 30%-40% of the installed capacity. NMDC, unfortunately, cannot increase its production and supplies, overnight!


With this not too happy situation in Karnataka, the conditions in Goa have actually worsened due to several factors. Mining ban continues with miners hoping for an early resumption, even if conditional, by the Supreme Court, so that mining work can commence. There are two immediate problems faced in the state. First are the mountains of top soil, estimated to be around 750 million tonnes or more, lying in heaps and mounts, all over the place, and becoming an environmental threat, unless these are disposed off. Regrettably, they cannot be put back in the mines, and have to be removed elsewhere. And the only country who would gladly consume is China, which wants to import iron-rich soil. As a first step, why not the Supreme Court make a ruling that the heaps of top soil lying all over the state be either auctioned or shipped out of the country, and the proceeds simply credited to the Government of Goa? Only those that have permanently identified the lots as their own, be credited, with the sale proceeds. Rest belongs to the State. Period.


Second, we refer to the Supreme Court clearance for shipments of some 11 million tonnes of iron ore fines that have been extracted and lying, literally, here and there. Ownership and legality of holdings of these lots are subject to claims and counterclaims, and cannot be easily ascertained overnight! On top of this, there are four million tonnes of illegal iron ore lying at various plots, confiscated by the Directorate of Mines and Geology that also need to be cleared. According to Harish Melwani, a mine owner, these can be authorised for export by the Supreme Court, and the proceeds kept in an escrow account, if need be; otherwise, the realisation simply belongs to the State!


Meantime, the Supreme Court has appointed U V Singh to head a Committee that will monitor the online e-auction sale of these materials in the next 10 days or so, for which more details are expected shortly.


With the mounting pressure of lack of mining activity, and the uncertainty associated with the Supreme Court ruling that may come anytime, in regard to relaxation of mining ban, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is in a fix. In a recent interview with a leading newspaper, he is reported to have said that "governance is the government responsibility" and economic issues should not be decided by courts. "For the illegality part, the Court can issue directions to agencies to implement them, but the policy matters have to be with the government"


Parrikar's agony in Goa is understandable. More than 100,000 to 125,000 people were employed in the mining industry; 30,000 to 50,000 people were employed in the transportation area in addition to thousands of others in other machinery and equipment handling jobs. All these people have been affected due to the ban. The loss of revenue for the Goa exchequer has been estimated to be more than Rs2,500 crore, and mine owners who have outstanding loans (estimated to be over Rs1,800 crore) are unpaid, because they cannot "sell" anything!


Parrikar has been hoping that the Supreme Court would kindly review its decision and, relax, even if conditionally, so that work can commence and Goa can come out of its doldrums.


We need to revive our export of iron ore and let not our competitors take advantage of our internal situation and push us out of the market.


Revival of Goa mining activity would bring great relief to the people who are suffering now and also give impetus for export.


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


RTI Judgement Series: Tourism secretary asked to inquire into a ‘mysterious’ project report

The PIO could not find the report while the appellant submitted a copy of the same. The CIC then directed the Secretary of Tourism to inquire into the matter. This is the 197th in a series of important RTI judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi

The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Public Information Officer (PIO) as well as secretary of Department of Women and Child Welfare at Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) to upload details of people who received pension from the government on its website.


While giving the judgement on 17 April 2012, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner, said, "This could be either a matter where the PIO or some other officer is hiding the information or a matter in which the report being submitted is forged or a collusive conspiracy by which the report and all associated papers are taken away from the Government."


Ahmedabad resident, Vishwas Bhamburkar, on 14 May 2011, sought from the PIO information regarding project report for Development of Ayurvedic Health Resort and Herbal Garden. Here is the information he sought and the reply provided by the PIO...


Provide an authenticated photocopy along with the file notings of the Project Report for Development of Ayurvedic Health Resort and Herbal Garden at Vagamon, which was submitted by the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala in December, 2005 and was bearing file number 426/D(CN) dated 20.02.2006. 

PIO's Reply- Mentioned project has not been received in the Ministry of Tourism.


Citing PIO not provided the sought information, Bhamburkar filed his first appeal.


In his order, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) said, "The noting initials on the cover page of the Project Report produced by Shri Bhamburkar suggest that the Report was received in MOT. However, since it is only a photocopy, its authenticity cannot be taken for granted. CPIO & Asstt. DG (PSW) is directed to make a thorough search for the said Project Report and records pertaining to its receipt and movement in the Ministry. If the Report is traced, its authenticated copy will be supplied by the CPIO to the applicant. If the Report is not traceable, but records are found which confirm that the Report was received in the MOT, a report may be lodged with Police regarding the missing documents. An intimation to this effect may then be conveyed to the applicant by the CPIO. In case neither the Project Report nor any records of its receipt in Ministry are available, the applicant may be so informed by the CPIO. Action has to be taken within 15 days."


Bhamburkar, citing information provided is false and inadequate, approached the CIC with his second appeal.


During the hearing before the Bench of Mr Gandhi, the PIO stated that following the order from FAA, she on 30 January 2011 informed Bhamburkar that though a thorough search for the said project reports and records pertaining to its receipt and movement were made it could not be found anywhere.


Bhamburkar produced before the Bench, a photocopy of a fairly bulky report which appears to be of about 144 pages purportedly sent by the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala in December 2005.


Mr Gandhi observed that the Report has signatures of various officials and on the cover also there are signatures, which appear to be from 2006.


The PIO confirmed that these were signatures of the then Joint Secretary Amitabh Kant and Director Leena Nandan. However, she stated "there is no trace of this report in the Ministry nor any other relevant papers which would indicate the presence of such a report."


Mr Gandhi said, "Prima-facie the statements suggest a possibility that the report, if genuine, and all other relevant records and communications may have been removed by one or more persons."


He then directed the Secretary, Ministry of Tourism to inquire into this and send his report to the appellant and the CIC before 15 June 2012.


While allowing the appeal, the Bench handed over the copy of the Report submitted by Bhamburkar to the PIO and directed the Secretary of the Ministry to treat it as evidence in the inquiry.




Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2012/000607/18434

Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2012/000607


Appellant                                            : Vishwas Bhamburkar

                                                                 Vastrapur, Ahmedabad- 380015


Respondent                                        : Tuntuni Chowdhury

                                                                Public Information Officer & Asstt. Director General

                                                                Ministry of Tourism

                                                                PSW Division

                                                                Transport Bhawan,

                                                                1, Parliament Street,

                                                                New Delhi-110011


Payments to CEO raise new conflicts at top health quality group

The National Quality Forum says it approved allowing Dr Christine Cassel collect six-figure compensation to serve on the boards of health care companies affected by the group's work


The top executive at the country’s pre-eminent health care quality organization is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by two large medical companies that have a stake in the group’s work.

The payments to Dr Christine Cassel raise new conflict-of-interest concerns at the National Quality Forum, which endorses benchmarks that Medicare uses to compensate hospitals based on performance.

As ProPublica recently reported, the Quality Forum is reviewing its conflict-of-interest policies after being stung by allegations that the former co-chair of one of its endorsement committees had accepted kickbacks to help a drugmaker win favorable treatment.

Cassel received about $235,000 in compensation and stock last year as a board member for Premier Inc., a North Carolina company that says it provides group purchasing and performance improvement consulting for an alliance of 2,900 hospitals and thousands of nursing facilities and other providers.

Cassel also was paid $189,000 as a board member for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Hospitals in 2012, Quality Forum officials confirmed to ProPublica. Kaiser’s tax forms are not available for 2013, but they show that in 2010 and 2011 Cassel received a total of $357,125.

Cassel, who declined to be interviewed, took over as chief executive officer last summer after a decade as president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine. She also sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and has been active with the Institute of Medicine.

Quality Forum officials would not say how much Cassel receives to run the Quality Forum, but her predecessor was paid about $525,000 in salary and other compensation in 2011, tax documents show.

The group's chairwoman, Helen Darling, said in an email that the board was “fully aware” of Cassel’s outside compensation when she was hired in December 2012. Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, initially agreed to an interview but did not respond to follow-up contacts.

Spokeswoman Ann Greiner said the board got a legal opinion and discussed it in depth before agreeing that Cassel could recuse herself “where her outside board service would be construed as an actual or perceived conflict of interest.” So far that hasn’t happened, Greiner said.

Two ethics experts interviewed by ProPublica said Cassel’s relationships with Kaiser and Premier present obvious conflicts given the Quality Forum’s broad involvement in health care.

The Quality Forum maintains a clearinghouse of more than 700 quality measures — covering everything from tracking hospital readmissions to setting information technology standards — that are established by expert committees and widely adopted by U.S. hospitals and other providers.

The ethics experts said they were uncertain how Cassel could recuse herself to anything related to Kaiser and Premier and still do her job.

“Would that mean every time somebody said the word ‘hospital’ she would have to say, ‘I can’t be in this conversation?’” said Eric Campbell, a Harvard School of Medicine professor who has published extensively on conflicts of interest.

“Conflict of interest is as much an appearance as it is an effect,” added Sheldon Krimsky, a medical ethics expert at Tufts University. He called Cassel’s conflicts “absolutely egregious.”

Campbell and Krimsky said the cleanest way to eliminate potential conflicts would be for Cassel to resign from the outside boards. Campbell also said Cassel could continue serve but without pay, which would at least remove possible concerns about the influence of money.

No one has suggested that Cassel has used her post to benefit Kaiser or Premier. But the disclosure of her outside compensation comes as quality is increasingly becoming a bottom-line issue for the industry.

Pay-For-Peformance Shift

Not so long ago, hospitals and other medical providers were paid the same fees by Medicare and other payers based on services they provided, regardless of whether outcomes were good or bad for patients. But as medical errors continued to cause harm and drive up costs, the federal government and others began experimenting with ways to link payments to performance.

That’s where the Quality Forum’s endorsements come in.

Established in 1999, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit invites hundreds of participants from across the health care spectrum — insurers, practitioners, researchers, health care systems and consumer groups — to become members and help pick the best quality benchmarks for endorsement by consensus.

Kaiser and Premier are among the group’s 375 dues-paying member organizations.

In 2009, Medicare awarded a $40 million contract to the Quality Forum to recommend measures it could adopt. President Obama’s health care reform law accelerated the move to pay-for-performance. Medicare already has begun penalizing and rewarding hospitals based on readmission rates, mortality and patient satisfaction measures. By 2017, it’s expected that 9 percent of Medicare payments will be based on performance.

Much of the Quality Forum’s work has been behind the scenes. But that changed last month when allegations arose that questioned the group’s vulnerability to commercial influence.

In settling federal whistleblower lawsuit, the Justice Department accused a well-known patient safety leader, Dr. Chuck Denham, of accepting $11.6 million in kickbacks from a drug company while he co-chaired a Quality Forum committee to endorse patient safety measures.

Denham said he had legitimate contracts with the drug company, but the payments were not disclosed to the Quality Forum. ProPublica found that the group’s final 2010 Safe Practices report endorsed the company’s surgical antiseptic, a decision that other committee members said was unintended.

In response to the Denham case, the Quality Forum launched a review of the committee’s work and the organization’s conflict-of-interest policies. The review is expected to be complete by Feb. 25.

The Quality Forum’s policy for committee members defines a “conflict of interest” as any financial or other interest that could actually, or be perceived to, impede a person’s objectivity or “create an unfair competitive advantage for you or an organization associated with you.”

Cassel’s outside board positions create conflicts, according to ethics experts, because Kaiser and Premier could be affected by Quality Forum endorsements.

Kaiser, an integrated system that’s been touted as modeling the future of health care, had hospital revenue of $18 billion and health insurance plan revenue of $37 billion in 2011. The organization operates in eight states and the District of Columbia at 37 hospitals and hundreds of medical buildings.

Kaiser spent $1.6 million lobbying Congress, the Department of Health & Human Services and other agencies last year, according to the website A Kaiser executive, Jack Cochran, sits on the Quality Forum’s board.

In an email, Kaiser spokesman John Nelson said the health system was “incredibly fortunate” to have Cassel on its board for the past decade and that “any organization smart enough to engage with her will receive wise counsel and honorable service."

Premier reported revenues of $869 million in the fiscal year ending last June. It spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2013, according to In August and November, the company urged members of Congress to instruct Medicare to run any quality measures through the Quality Forum.

Premier featured Cassel’s status as a board member and future top executive of the Quality Forum in documents last May describing its initial public stock offering. In September Cassel acquired 3,704 shares of Premier stock that were then worth about $100,000.

The company’s business involves group purchasing and a consulting arm that uses data analysis to help providers perform better on various quality metrics. In October, a measure sponsored by Premier to track hospital care by the average length of stay was up for renewal by the Quality Forum.

Blair Childs, Premier’s spokesman, said the company is still evaluating the average length of stay metric and that it could be submitted for consideration as a Medicare pay-for-performance measure.

Childs said Cassel’s role on the Premier board doesn’t pose any conflict of interest, and that her relationship with Premier was vetted carefully by the Quality Forum’s board. Cassel was a good addition to the Premier board because of her commitment to improved care and lower costs, he said.

Defining the Strike Zone

Harvard’s Campbell said Cassel’s dual roles aren’t necessarily a problem if disclosed and carefully managed. But he offered a baseball analogy to show why they present a risk for the Quality Forum.

Imagine, Campbell said, training umpires to call balls and strikes — except the person doing the training is also being paid by the New York Yankees, and the strike zone favors the swing of Derek Jeter.

Campbell said he wasn’t being judgmental about Cassel’s conflicts of interest. But the Quality Forum is paid taxpayer dollars by Medicare to perform a public service in a quasi-regulatory role, he said. When the Quality Forum’s leader is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by hospital companies, Campbell said, it creates a potential incentive to shape the rules in their favor.

Krimsky, the Tufts ethics expert, was more critical of the arrangement. He said it’s not enough for Cassel to recuse herself from decisions or discussions related directly to Kaiser and Premier. She still could be involved in choosing who sits at the table to have discussions or make decisions, he said.

“When there’s a conflict of interest in the management group, that’s a serious problem,” Krimsky said.

Dr. Peter Pronovost, a well-known patient safety leader from Johns Hopkins Medicine, said he did not see how Cassel’s outside board roles would present a direct advantage for Kaiser and Premier. But he said conflicts of interest in the world of quality improvement are often indirect, and the industry hasn’t clearly defined how to navigate them.

“That doesn’t mean (the conflicts) are not real,” Pronovost said. “But they’re less risky. The field does need to articulate the boundaries for these indirect conflicts.”

Although Cassel’s relationships were known to the board, it does not appear that they were widely shared with the Quality Forum’s membership. Cassel’s biography on the Quality Forum website mentions about a dozen other affiliations but not Kaiser and Premier.

Some who are active on Quality Forum committees also said they were unaware.

Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, a coalition of employers that advocates for quality and transparency in health care, said she respects Cassel but would have liked to have known about her outside board roles.

“Maybe we need to understand from Chris how she recuses herself from any kind of decision making that might have an impact on those two organizations,” Binder said. “I think she would owe us an explanation of that.”

Lisa McGiffert, director of the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project, sits on a committee that’s recommending possible pay-for-performance metrics to Medicare. Recently a debate about a proposed hospital readmission measure pitted the consumer-minded members, who favored it, against the providers, who were against it. In the end, the consumer side didn’t get its way, she said.

“All of this is about relationships, and (Cassel) has a relationship with that hospital system,” she said. “That relationship means that Kaiser might weigh in with her on those hospital measures.”

McGiffert said all Quality Forum conflict-of-interest disclosure forms should be posted online so anyone can easily see various allegiances.

Rosemary Gibson, an author and senior adviser to The Hastings Center, a research group dedicated to bioethics in the public interest, said she wasn’t surprised at Cassel’s outside compensation. So much money permeates decision-making in Washington, she said, that participants have become oblivious.

“The insiders don’t see it,” Gibson said. “It’s like a fish in water.”


ProPublica is investigating health care quality and welcomes your input. Medical providers – help us by completing a brief Provider Questionnaire. Patients can complete ProPublica’s Patient Harm Questionnaire.




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