The Pune Municipal Corporation, in gross violation of the BPMC Act under which it functions, was unabashedly giving generous donations to social organisations from taxpayers’ money until RTI activists discovered the financial irregularities and put a stop to this economic crime. In such cases, the government’s Lokpal Bill has no provisions to punish the guilty whereas the Jan Lokpal Bill has. Here’s how
One of the crucial differences between the government's Lokpal Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill is that the former covers only 'A' group government officers, leaving the lower ladder free from investigations and action needed to be taken against corruption. This means out of about 2.5 crore government employees in our country, only 65,000 are under this net. Whereas, in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the entire government machinery would come under Lokpal; thus keeping vigil on the lowest rung of the patwari to the highest rung of the chief secretary. The chunk of the corruption takes place in the lower cadres and the example of money being frittered away by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for cultural and social programmes of private organisations is a stark example, unearthed through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Pune's mayor Mohansingh Rajpal, the first-ever Sikh mayor of the city, decided in 2010 that the city should celebrate the Baisakhi festival in a big way with renowned singer Daler Mehndi as the star attraction. Hence, he dug into the coffers of the PMC treasure chest to magnanimously donate Rs30 lakh to a social organisation called Sangat Seva Foundation and make the municipal corporation the co-sponsor. The first instalment of Rs15 lakh was given by way of cash.
When newspapers carried the news about this donation, Vijay Kumbhar, RTI activist and founder of Surajya Sangharsha Samiti and Sandeep Khardekar, social activist and founder of Creative Foundation, decided to investigate into the legality of such a donation. An RTI application revealed that the mayor had given the money as per the provision provided in the PMC annual budget of 2010-11, specifically for the Baisakhi festival. However, both the activists studied the BPMC (the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation) Act, which clearly stated that the PMC cannot co-sponsor such events and it is a crime even under the Indian Penal Code to donate money in cash. They dashed off a letter demanding inspection of files under Section (4) of the RTI Act. The letter stated, "PMC has co-sponsored Baisakhi event of Sangat Seva Foundation by violating various sections of the BPMC Act. Now it is also confirmed that money given as first instalment to the said social organisation has been given in cash. This is a serious offence under various sections of the BPMC Act and the Indian Penal Code. So please officially declare the facts at the earliest. Otherwise we will be compelled to draw the conclusion that you are also involved in this scam. So please supply us information on: whether Sangat Seva Foundation is registered? Has money provided to the said foundation given in cash? On whose name was the money withdrawn? Who actually received the money? Can PMC give money in cash? And if so, what is the limit for that?
Why was money not given by account payee cheque? Declaring all this information under section 4 (1) (c) and (d) of RTI (Act) is compulsory for you as a head of public authority.''
Revelations were scandalous as it was found that the Sangat Seva Foundation was not even a registered social organisation; that PMC under the BPMC Act cannot give donation in cash beyond Rs2,000; that no singular social organisation can be given a grant of more than Rs3,00,000; the PMC cannot be a co-sponsor to any such events; the annual limit of donations is Rs15 lakh and; any PMC-organised event cannot be charged (tickets)-it has to be free but the Sangat Seva Foundation had issued tickets for sale. The point of this controversy is that it may not be as large as the 2G Scam or the Commonwealth Games Scam, but it showed that misappropriation of public funds begins from the grassroots and in a large way-so what is the point of having an anti-corruption law which leaves out this vital area?
With the donation issue kicking up into a major controversy, the then PMC Commissioner Mahesh Zagade called for an inquiry report from his senior officer, which Kumbhar procured under the RTI Act.
The findings of the report revealed that the additional municipal commissioner (special) had overlooked the BPMC Act and despite the deputy commissioner insisting on getting this donation approved by the state government and formulating a specific policy to allow such donations at the local level of the PMC, the money was unabashedly provided to the mayor:
However, the above inquiry report in its conclusion stated that the Sikh community is an important part of Pune's community, thus trying to qualify the illegal donation. It also quoted that large amounts had been given to the Pune International Marathon (Suresh Kalmadi's baby), Pune International Film Festival (again Kalmadi's baby), Marathi Sahitya Sammelan and Shaniwar Wada Cultural Festival (organised by opponents of Kalmadi) and so on. However, embarrassed by the controversy that the Baisakhi festival had kicked up, mayor Mohansingh Rajpal quietly put back the Rs15 lakh amount into the PMC's account. Says Mr Kumbhar, "How can the mayor take out and put back the money as per his whims and fancies? Isn't there any sanctity to this public fund?''
The RTI information also revealed that although the PMC cannot give a donation more than Rs3 lakh per social organisation and cannot give an annual donation of this nature more than Rs15 lakh per year, records show otherwise. They are as follows:
* Sarvoday Pratishthan: Rs20 lakh
* Literary Association, (Warje): Rs10 lakh
* Janseva Pratishthan, (Gultekdi): Rs10 lakh
*Pune International Film Festival: Rs17 lakh
* Mangribaba Seva Pratishthan: Rs10 lakh
* Samaj Vyaspeeth: Rs3 lakh
* Literary Association, (Warje): Rs10 lakh
* Prabhodhan Vichardhar: Rs10 lakh
* Prabhodhan Vichardhar: Rs10 lakh
* Pune International Film Festival: Rs17 lakh
Says Mr Kumbhar, "While Pune suffers from inferior civic amenities-be it roads or inefficient sewage treatment or solid waste management-the PMC indulges in illegal donations to please a privileged few and therefore I decided to find out the truth behind these donations.''
So what has been the impact of this crusade? The PMC rejected funding for the Pune International Film Festival and Pune Festival in Kashmir.
The moral of the article: RTI had helped in digging out scams but who will punish the officers responsible for such financial misappropriations? In this case, two municipal officers were denied the annual salary hike for just one year. Says Mr Kumbhar, "If the government's Lokpal Bill is implemented, such irregularities would be out of its purview. However, such issues would be investigated and action taken under the Jan Lokpal Bill. In the case of NCPRI's (National Campaign for People's Right to Information) Lokpal Bill recommendations, this issue would be outside the purview as she (Aruna Roy) suggests that an independent body be made to examine cases of other cadres of government employees except 'A' grade which has been included in the government's Lokpal Bill.''
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)
There could be severe ramifications due to power generation from coal, considering the sheer scale of the capacity addition; the geographic concentration of the proposed plants; their predominantly private sector ownership and the severe environmental consequences along with implications for resources like coal and water
A massive expansion in thermal power generation capacity in India is on the anvil. Environmental clearances have already been granted to about 200,000MW (megawatts) of thermal power projects and capacity totalling to another 500,000MW is in various stages of securing environmental clearance. The country has an existing thermal power generation capacity of 113,500MW.
Apart from the sheer scale of the capacity addition, the geographic concentration of the proposed plants, their predominantly private sector ownership, the severe environmental consequences and the implications for resources like coal and water are important issues highlighted in a Prayas Energy Group report (authored by Shripad Dharmadhikary and Shantanu Dixit) on the planned thermal power plants.
A course correction is required from both the power planning perspective and from the social and environmental perspective, to restore balance and basic good governance processes in the development of thermal power in the country.
As of May 2011, the capacity addition will be predominantly in coal-based thermal generation (84%) followed by gas (15%). The geographic concentration in capacity addition will be more than 50% in 30 districts, of which 11 districts will have more than 15,000MW each. The districts with the highest proposed capacity addition include Janjgir Champa (30,500MW) and Raigarh (24,500MW) in Chattisgarh, and Nellore (22,500MW) in Andhra Pradesh. Almost 73% (5,14,000MW) of the in-pipeline capacity will be in the private sector. Ten corporate groups are proposing a production capacity of 1,60,000MW. Many thermal power plants are coming up in critically polluted areas, which include Angul (Orissa), Bharuch (Gujarat), Singarauli (Madhya Pradesh), Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu), Jharsuguda (Orissa), Chandrapur (Maharashtra), Korba (Chattisgarh) and Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh).
The environmental problems include: sulphur dioxide removal mandated only in 8 plants of 5,448 MW; ash disposal in ponds or dumps continues to create serious pollution and health problems for local communities; and other pollutants (like mercury) are likely to be a concern, especially in areas with high concentration of thermal power plants. The MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) now requires 100% utilisation of coal ash within four years of plant commissioning, but the capacity to do so remains doubtful and the monitoring weak.
The resource issues include:
(a) Fresh water—over 70% of environment clearance granted to thermal power plants are located inland and there is a need to watch for potential conflicts and over-allocation of water. Some basins of concern are Wainganga, Wardha, Irai, Mahanadi and Brahmani. It is estimated that the consumptive water needs of just the plants with Environmental Clearance Granted will be close to4.6 billion cubic meters per year.
(b) Coal requirement of plants in-pipeline (based on domestic coal) will be about 2 billion tonnes per annum. While India is said to have abundant coal, the country has not been able to achieve the required production from these reserves, and a steep rise in imports is forecast for the end of the 12th Plan.
(c) Land will be a major issue.
Thus, valuable and scarce natural resources of land, water, gas and coal will be allocated to projects that are not required.
With the de-licensing of thermal power generation, it is now assumed that the market will weed out excess and inefficient capacity. However, key inputs like coal, gas, land and water are all allotted on the basis of non-market criteria, mostly with huge concessions and subsidies. These inputs involve critical common property resources and have significant externalities. A market based weeding-out process will be littered with many incomplete projects which would have displaced people, impacted the environment and locked up huge amounts of financial resources, creating stranded assets of plant and transmission facilities. The costs of such weeding will be borne by a significant extent by the common people, the country and the environment. Thus, it would be a mistake to let the market play the arbitrator.
It is therefore, recommended by Shripad Dharmadhikary and Shantanu Dixit that there should be an immediate moratorium on any further environmental clearance to new power plants. Further, from the 2,00,000MW that has already been given environmental clearance, projects with very high social and environmental impacts, projects that do not have broad local acceptance, and projects leading to sub-optimal use of transmission, fuel, land and water should be put on hold.
There is a need for a complete revamp of the environmental clearance procedures of power plants, so as to minimise social and environmental impacts of power projects. Also, it is required that the government reassesses the long term demand for power and initiates measures to meet this demand in an optimal manner, including energy efficiency as well as renewable energy, so as to improve energy security.
The earlier SBI chairman OP Bhatt had vehemently argued with RBI that his special loan scheme was not teaser loan and refused to give into demand to call it off. But within a month of his retirement in March end, the new management headed by Mr Chaudhuri decided to discontinue the scheme
Mumbai: State Bank of India (SBI), the country's largest lender on Tuesday said it has no plan to relaunch the dual/fixed rate home loan products, popularly called teaser loans, as was done by its private sector rival ICICI Bank last week, reports PTI.
"Right now there is no plan for that," SBI chairman Pratip Chaudhuri told reporters on the sidelines of a Ficci-IBA conference here.
On SBI's recent experience with the regulator, when the bank had argued that its dual rate loan was not a risky teaser loan as was being made out by the RBI, Mr Chaudhuri said, "the loan that we had earlier, in spite of lots of our persuasion with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), they called it a teaser loan."
He added, "Today our home loan products are widely accepted and there is no shortage of demand for them. Our home loan portfolio is growing in the same way as was earlier.
Borrowers are aware that these are the times of floating rates and that the rates will go up sometime and then will go down."
Mr Chaudhuri said, "Even our competitors have launched the fixed rate product only for two to three years after which the loan becomes floating. As of now, we have no plans to launch a dual rate loan."
On 19th August, the second largest lender ICICI Bank had launched two new home loan products with interest rates fixed for one and two years and floating from the third year.
In the one-year fixed rate home loan scheme, the bank is offering loans up to Rs 25lakh at 10.50%, Rs25-75 lakh at 11% and those above Rs75 lakh at 11.50%.
Under the two-year fixed rate scheme, loans up to Rs25 lakh are priced at 10.75%, Rs25-Rs75 lakh at 11.25% and those over Rs75 lakh at 11.75%.
The floating rate from the third year will be linked to the base rate plus margin decided at the time of the sanction.
Such fixed-cum-floating housing loan schemes disappeared from the market this April after the RBI expressed concerns that these products may affect banks' asset quality.
The last one to call off such loans was SBI in late April soon after the current chairman took over.
The earlier SBI chairman OP Bhatt had vehemently argued with RBI that his special loan scheme was not teaser loan and refused to give into demand to call it off. But within a month of his retirement in March end, the new management headed by Mr Chaudhuri decided to discontinue the scheme.
SBI launched the teaser loan scheme in late 2009, when it was sitting over a cash pile of nearly Rs1 trillion, following the slowdown in the credit market amid ripple effects of the global financial meltdown of September 2008.
Soon, other banks followed suit as SBI dislodged HDFC as the largest home loan lender.
The central bank defines teaser loan schemes as those offered at low interest in the first few years, after which they are reset at higher rates.
On whether SBI plan not to relaunch the scheme is because of the regulatory concerns, Mr Chaudhuri said, "It is much simpler for the sales force to explain. We would like to keep the whole offering simpler."
He said the bank is sitting on a cash surplus of Rs30,000 crore and added that even at 20% credit growth, it can hold out this year, in case the government does not give permission to SBI's rights issue-expected to be Rs21,000 crore-during FY11-12.