Team Anna claimed that three issues still remain the sticking point as there were no agreement on the citizen's charter, inclusion of lower bureaucracy and setting up of Lokayukta in state through Lokpal
New Delhi: Social activist Anna Hazare is awaiting a written assurance from the government on the Lokpal Bill issue before ending his indefinite fast which entered the ninth day as his team said that developments unfolding today will be 'crucial', reports PTI.
The government and Team Anna held discussions for the first time last night and both sides agreed on a variety of issues leading to hopes of Mr Hazare ending the fast.
"Anna will read every word of the written agreement when it comes. Rest assured he is not going to take any chances at all. Today is crucial. His health as well as government giving a written commitment for tabling and passing in current session the Jan Lokpal is important," activist Kiran Bedi said.
Team Anna claimed that three issues still remain the sticking point as there were no agreement on the citizen's charter, inclusion of lower bureaucracy and setting up of Lokayukta in state through Lokpal.
There were indications that government might consider bringing the prime minister under the ambit of the anti-corruption ombudsman while differences persisted on other key issues during the inconclusive talks.
Last night's negotiations capped a day of fast-moving developments which saw prime minister Manmohan Singh appoint finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the negotiator and immediately thereafter three members of Mr Hazare's team met him.
After three hours of talks, Team Anna said they made it clear to the government that the official Lokpal Bill should either be withdrawn or allowed to lapse and the Jan Lokpal Bill should be introduced and passed in the current session of Parliament by extending it, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Mr Hazare refused to be put on an intravenous drip despite doctors advising him to do so once again this morning, his close associate said.
Hazare yesterday disregarded doctor's advice to be put on intravenous (IV) drip and refused to take any medicine while warning the government against trying to forcibly evict him from the protest site of Ramlila Maidan here.
Team Anna has also rejected the prime minister's offer to send the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. "We have told them that it is not acceptable," Arvind Kejriwal, a top associate of Mr Hazare, said yesterday.
The talks followed the prime minister's letter to Mr Hazare in which he appealed to him to end the fast saying he and the government have 'abiding interest' in his health.
The prime minister's initiative saw law minister Salman Khurshid meeting Mr Kejriwal at a flat near East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit's residence where it was conveyed that Mr Mukherjee would negotiate with Mr Hazare's team.
Mr Kejriwal said that during the discussions with Mr Mukherjee it was conveyed that the basic principles of the Jan Lokpal Bill should be preserved and the law ministry should vet the draft in two-three days and get back to them.
"The Congress, UPA and the government should give a commitment that it will support the Bill and get it passed in this session itself, if required by extending it by two-three days," Mr Kejriwal said.
Prashant Bhushan, another Hazare associate, said the government appeared to have no objection to bringing the prime minister under the ambit of Lokpal, while on judges, the government promised they will bring a separate law and 'show it to us'.
The civil society representatives claimed government has agreed that the anti-corruption wing of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will be under Lokpal and the corrupt acts of members of Parliament will be covered by the ombudsman even if it was in pursuance of a vote cast or speech made in Parliament which is now protected under Article 105.
There is a feeling among bankers that the acquisition of MFIs could strengthen the functioning of these institutions and enable the much-needed funds infusion. But any such takeover would first require an assessment of the portfolio of these MFIs
The proposed Microfinance Institutions (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011 states that its aim is, "to provide access to financial services for the rural and urban poor and certain disadvantaged sections of the people by promoting the growth and development of microfinance institutions as extended arms of banks and financial institutions and for the regulation of microfinance institutions and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto."i
If microfinance institutions (MFIs) are to be extended arms of the banking sector, then why not consider the idea of banks acquiring MFIs? This is especially relevant in the present Indian context and many stakeholders appear to be in favour of such a swayamvar.
Some bankers feel that this is the only way out as banks would be able to infuse capital, establish better governance, ensure that systems/processes function on the ground, and most importantly that banks will also be able to satisfy their mandate of financial inclusion. However, they also think that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) must take the initiative and prepare the stage for the bank-MFI swayamvar to take place. One of them remarked emphatically that, "this is the only way out of the present mess, as banks will then feel that they are in control of the situation in terms of growth plans, avoiding multiple-lending, over-indebtedness and the like. And, over time, this arrangement will also enable banks to deliver savings and risk management services through well-governed MFIs as business correspondents."
In my opinion, while this is a useful suggestion, there are problems here, including assessment of portfolio, merging of corporate cultures and the like, that need to be addressed. These would need to be addressed properly and banks would certainly like (and have) to be sure that—while there may be some risk in the microfinance portfolio—the portfolio does not have "lemons" (defined as non-performing assets) in significant measure.
The aspect of ghost clients, multiple-lending, greening of loans, use of third party agents and similar aspects are a cause for worry and these suggest that the portfolio of MFIs may not be as sound as portrayed to be. The Andhra Pradesh crisis and its impact have compounded these problems manifold, and what you have is a portfolio under great stress. Therefore, a whole lot of things need to be carefully ascertained before the match-making gets underway and is successful.
As one banker cautioned, "While the idea is indeed attractive and could be a practical way out of the present mess, the issue of corporate cultures is a critical one and should not be underestimated. Hence, acquiring banks must therefore be wary of the fact that managing the acquired MFIs will not be the same as managing banks and that there would be important differences in systems and the way things happen on a day-to-day basis. If the acquiring banks try to foist their corporate culture on MFIs, the acquisitions could fail. So, while acquisition of MFIs is a good idea in today's crisis-ridden environment, the management of MFIs (post acquisition) will have to be done in a hands-off manner by the banks concerned. This needs to be clearly understood prior to an acquisition and also followed in reality, post acquisition."
Commenting on the likely success of such acquisitions, an industry stakeholder remarked, "I am not sure if the acquisition will really work, as wherever such acquisitions have happened, the acquirers tend to force their systems and practices on the acquired institutions. This may not work and also, staff turnover could increase-in fact, it is already high in microfinance and that may prevent the new entity from settling down. I am most worried about how the clients would view such an event and the new entity and from my little experience; I think that they may not be as free with a banking institution as with a local MFI."
As a retired senior management executive of a public sector bank summed up the merit of this idea beautifully, "This is a very useful idea, but it should be operationalised carefully. Banks that have worked closely with specific MFIs should consider acquiring them. The rationale for this is that they would know the strengths and weaknesses of the concerned MFI and hence, would be able to manage the entity better, post the acquisition. The RBI must look at the large (NBFCs and other) MFIs that could be acquired, call for a meeting with them and get their concurrence before giving the go-ahead. If this happens, it would be one of the best things for microfinance as the industry will grow in a healthy manner because of better governance and higher transparency in banks, which I'm certain will rub off on the acquired NBFC MFIs."
The cautionary notes apart, what would be the advantages if banks were to acquire MFIs?
As evident, the initial reactions to the idea of banks acquiring MFIs have been positive. In my opinion, if some of the challenges mentioned in this connection are addressed suitably, the idea is workable in the context of the following outcomes:
(a) Post acquisition, MFIs should become more stable and mature financial intermediaries; and
(b) At the same time, the MFIs must retain their local charm and grassroots approach, which affords them considerable flexibility and scope for innovation.
Without question, enabling banks to acquire MFIs is worth exploring and could turn out to be the much-sought-after solution for the current problems of the microfinance industry… I sincerely hope that the Union Ministry of Finance and the RBI will look at this seriously, as a possible way out of the crisis.
iSource: The Micro Finance Institutions (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011. (As of 20 June 2011)
(The writer has over two decades of grassroots and institutional experience in rural finance, MSME development, agriculture and rural livelihood systems, rural/urban development and urban poverty alleviation/governance. He has worked extensively in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe with a wide range of stakeholders, from the private sector and academia to governments.)
Peter Theobald describes his experience at the protest in support of a strong anti-corruption law at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan
Day 2, Sunday, 21 August 2011, seemed to have begun right from where Day 1 left off.
It started with the re-appearance of 18-year-old Dipesh, who had collapsed on the stage the previous day, while addressing the audience on the fifth day of his fast. Helped by another supporter, he walked onto the stage. Guts of steel. This guy was not going to give up. A silent prayer crossed my lips.
A huge morcha of middle-aged and old women came right up to the stage. They were followed by the Mill Workers'Association. The president (an old hand at oratory and working with large audiences) announced that 70,000 members of the association had pledged their support to the movement. And that they would be willing to participate in the jail bharo (courting arrest).
A group of handicapped protestors in wheelchairs arrived to thunderous applause. They had undertaken a padyatra (a protest march) from the Gateway of India to the Azad Maidan, a distance of about two kilometres. Is there no one untouched by the movement?
The speeches and slogans continued. But I noticed three qualitative differences from the previous day. The first was that the protestor speakers were now getting to the core of the matter. That all change begins with the self. And ends in the self, the speaker added for good measure. We have to change ourselves, every day in the morning, promise that we will do no corrupt act, no act for which we will be ashamed. Only then the Jan Lokpal law will make a difference.
The second was that they exhorted people, who were just sitting at home and watching TV, to come out on the streets to join the protest. One used a particularly telling phrase to get people to change from being armchair critics to actively involved protestors. "Shivaji is not born only in someone else's house", implying that each one can become a revolutionary, and no one should expect only others to don the role.
"Give and take of course is corruption. But keeping silent also is." The speaker referred to Chanakya to justify his point. (Chanakya was the Indian philosopher and strategist in the court of the Mauryas in the 4th Century BC). "Dusht ke dushta se na daroon, sajjanta ki niskhriyatha se."(I am not afraid of the wickedness of the wicked, but more of the inaction of the decent people.) We speak of the woes of the silent majority; seems not much has changed in centuries!
They also started appealing to the minds of people, besides their emotions. Don't support this movement just because Anna Hazare is a good man. Support it because you understand the issues involved. They explained in detail the difference between the citizens' and the government's versions of the bill, and how the government draft was toothless. They distributed handouts and put up posters highlighting the differences and urged people to read them to understand the real issues. Check out http://kiranbedi.com/jlp.pdf for details.
The movement continues to be strictly apolitical and though politicians as a class have been berated, no personal attack against any one is tolerated. One speaker tried to attack a specific politician but the mike was quickly taken away from him, with the caution that "we are not against people, but against the system".
Free lunch was announced. Someone had volunteered to provide food to all the people at the venue; there were easily 5,000 or 10,000 of them!
Film stars Shreyas Talpade and Celina Jaitley came up on stage to express their support. Shreyas spoke in chaste Marathi, on the issues that others before him spoke about. One would not have known that he was a film star if he was not introduced on stage. Celina Jaitley took the mike next. What will this glamour doll say now, I wondered. Speaking in Hindi, she said, "I come here as the daughter of an army officer, from a family that has fought battles for the country. I come here to support the movement." I kicked myself. How deep my prejudices are!
Media persons standing around went crazy. They rushed to the stage to get a sound byte from the stars. They clashed with the organisers and there was a heated argument. I thought, 'Oh no, it is exactly something like this that will sabotage the movement, and give the authorities an excuse to step in and break up the agitation.' But I was worrying needlessly. These guys are made of stronger and smarter stuff. Naresh Thakur, a 26-year-old organiser, on the sixth day of his fast (these guys really walk the talk!) stood up and with folded hands requested everyone to maintain peace. That worked somewhat, and then he pulled out his trump card. Asked everyone to stand and sign the National Anthem. That restored sanity in two minutes flat.
To ensure that the tensions had completely melted away, Deepak, another protestor on the sixth day of his fast, gave a rock-star like performance of movie songs, modified to suit the movement. Another speaker, a mill worker from Dharavi, also on the sixth day of his fast, stood up to protest against the police who did not allow the fasters to sleep at the site and forced them to go to a dormitory to spend the night. I will walk to the dormitory today and walk back on the seventh day of my fast, he said. Wonder where they get their energy from?
I soon got my answer. I thought I had seen everything, but nothing prepared me for what came up next. A group of nine musicians came up to the stage with all their equipment-Roland synthesizers, octopads, amplifiers, speakers. There was only one small twist. They were all blind. And they called themselves 'Talent Band 20/20' (of course). For those who didn't get it, they were alluding to the fact that opticians call those who have perfect vision as 20/20 vision.
The compere of the group (himself blind, of course), was a master orator. A sample quote: "Anna is going on a seven-day fast to prevent the next seven generations from going hungry." The group then proceeded to belt out popular patriotic songs with such fervour that the crowd got completely charged.
Actually, that is an understatement. I never felt so much energy in one place in my whole life. Music and patriotism is a potent mix. Singing, cheering, yelling, chanting. The atmosphere was pulsating with energy that is difficult to describe in words. The people on the sixth day of their fast stood up and started dancing and clapping and cheering. The organiser, Thakur, who was tense after the altercation with the media, was smiling again. I took some videos that I shall upload on Facebook, but they do not do justice to the moment.
The music went up to a crescendo. My hairs stood on end. I actually felt stronger now than I felt in the morning, when I left home for Azad Maidan. I scanned myself, could feel no sign of weakness on the second day of my fast. It's really true. Man does not live by bread alone. I felt it to be my good fortune to be a part of this movement and to witness this first hand.
Amid the cheers, another man came up. I could not make out clearly, but it seems he had driven a bullock cart all the way from Ralegan Siddhi (Anna Hazare's hometown, several hundred kilometres away) to join the protest. It had taken him seven days. And he was fasting all the while.
I could not take any more. I picked up my bag to return home. I called my wife Rita to tell her that I was on my way back, only to hear her say that she was planning to join the protest march from Bandra to Juhu in the evening.