One of the biggest-ever defence contract for 126 fighter jets worth a huge $11 billion will be closely watched for any signs of corruption in the deal. Mr Antony and Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi better watch out as at the first sign of corruption, the whistles will be out and blowing loudly across the land
India is finalising one of the country’s biggest-ever defence contracts. The order is for 126 fighter jets worth an immense $11 billion. These jets are meant to replace the country’s ageing fleet of MiG 21s, which make up one-third of the Indian Air Force’s jet fighters which have been crashing regularly for no other reason but that they are aged.
Originally six companies and consortia put in bids for the tenders which were announced in early 2011. The six were: Dassault of France which is offering its Rafale jet fighter; a consortium of the pan-European EADS, BAE Systems of the UK and Finmeccania of Italy. This grouping is offering the plane called the Eurofighter Typhoon; Lockheed Martin of the US bid with its F-16 fighter aircraft; Boeing of the US which placed on the table its bid to supply the F-18 Super Hornet; Saab of Sweden offered its Gripen fighter and Russia which wanted to sell its MiG 35.
India made a shortlist of two in April this year: Dassault’s Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon of the pan-European consortium. The bids for the shortlisted two fighters were opened last Friday. No details have been released as to what the bids offer.
The defence ministry, it is understood, will evaluate the bids on the basis of three criteria: The cost of acquisition and what is known as the “life-cycle cost of the aircraft” and “military offset considerations.” The last criterion covers the extent of technology transfer and the investment the bidders will put into the country’s defence industries if they are chosen.
According to informed sources, the two US companies lost out because they did not offer their latest and technologically most advanced jet fighters. The controls imposed by the US government on transfer of technology to India also came in the way of these two companies.
India’s jet fighter order is stated to be of vital importance to the shortlisted bidders. Both are looking for export markets since defence budgets are shrinking in the developed world.
The Eurofighter Typhoon has four main customers: the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy. Austria and Saudi Arabia also operate the jet. But military sources say there are no other firm export orders for the Typhoon at present.
The stakes are said to be higher for the Dassault. The Rafale came out as France’s decision to pull out of the pan-European project with Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy to share the development costs of a new fighter that ultimately became the Typhoon. The Rafale has no customers outside France. Dassault is hoping to sell the Rafale to Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.
All this is fine and till now everything is going by the book. But the future could be worrying. The financial well-being of both the shortlisted bidders depends heavily on securing our order. Therefore, the cynic would be justified in warning that there could be ‘pressures’ a la Bofors on the politicians, bureaucrats and Air Force bigwigs deciding the deal.
And then, $11 billion is a huge, humongous amount of money. When such money changes hands, it is but human nature that some of it will adhere to sticky fingers and become unstuck in a ‘safe’ banking haven in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands or Bermuda.
Luckily, perhaps, we have a supposed incorruptible in AK Antony, the defence minister. And we hope that he will continue to maintain his reputation while dealing with this order.
Still, we at Moneylife and in the huge Indian press as well feel constrained to issue a warning.
We will be watching this deal very closely. We assure Mr Antony and Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi that we will be able to sniff out the first odour of corruption in this deal. The press has its sources of information.
So the trio had better take care. At the first sign of corruption, the whistles will be out and blowing loudly across the land.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected]).
Yet again, another RTI activist was brutally murdered. This time it was Ahmedabad-based Nadeem Sayeed. Will this trend soon become a run-of-the-mill crime story or is there hope? The ball is actually in the government's court - all it has to do is enforce Section 4 of RTI Act in right earnest - which mandates suo moto disclosure by all its departments
Ahmedabad-based Nadeem Sayeed is the latest Right to Information (RTI) activist to have been brutally killed in broad daylight. Last year too he was seriously assaulted but continued his campaign to expose bad governance by filing RTIs related to illegal cow slaughterhouses, bad sanitation and asking uncomfortable queries to two police officers and a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader against whom charge sheet was not filed despite him being declared accused in an extortion case.
Silencing of whistleblowers with knives and guns seems to have become an untoward trend, thanks to culprits roaming free due to pathetic police investigations and government's hollow assurances on giving police protection to RTI activists and bringing in a strong Whistleblowers Protection Law. After Pune-based RTI activist Satish Shetty's murder in January 2010, the state government, prompted by a High Court directive, issued a circular assuring immediate lodging of non-cognisable first information report (FIR) by the police and speedy investigations, besides protection. Read entire circular here: (http://www.box.net/shared/451mngegta).
Recently, speaking at the Central Information Convention in Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "I would like to mention here our initiative to enact legislation for the protection of Whistleblowers which would further strengthen the Right to Information. We expect this law to be enacted in the next few months and it would, among other things, help in prevention of violence against those who seek to expose wrongdoings in our public administration.''
However, the irony is that, the government need not look here and there for protecting activists - it is just one step away from ensuring minimum threats to RTI activists as the RTI Act itself has provisions for maximum transparency. The reference is to Section 4 of the RTI Act, which makes it mandatory for every government department to disclose most of its functions. In fact, every 'Public Authority' had to make this information accessible to public within 120 days of the enactment of the RTI Act, which was back in 2005 and regularly update the information thereafter. However, six years down the line, official secrecy is rampant if you consider that most of the 'Public Authorities' have been reticent in updating their websites in providing maximum information about its activities.
So, you may ask, how is this connected to curtailing threats and killings? The reason is simple - citizens invoke RTI to demand transparency in the small and large scale projects that the government undertakes, be in the land deals; in the concessions or grants it gives for various schemes; in the construction of civic utilities like roads, school buildings; in the funds it disburses for various purposes and so on. If all such information is readily available on the websites of the relevant government departments, there would not be any need for citizens and activists to file an RTI application and invoke ire from untoward elements.
Before that, let us see how the vicious circle of revenge and animosity can be brought to a full stop - a way that is not necessarily Utopian. The seed of threats and killings of activists, which hang like a Damocles' Sword is corruption, as commissions, kickbacks, financial irregularities and other scandalous issues surround projects meant for the public which largely funds them through the tax it pays.
If the government sternly enforces Section 4, then the first place of sin - of shady deals, bribes and financial irregularities, the bane of governance today, wherein the nexus of government officers at all levels, elected representatives and contractors that is all too well-known would be minimized. This is because both the lower and higher bureaucracy would be made accountable for their line of action as most of the information would be available in the public domain. Already, government officers are wary of the RTI Act. One of the senior police officers confessed sometime back to me that, “Earlier I used to casually put in remarks on files (called file noting which come under RTI Act) but now I am very careful as people have access to this information too.'' Hence, transparency can trigger off the need to come clean while executing projects and deals by the public authorities.
So, all that the government need to do is find ways by which strong directives to every department (which it can issue again at the backdrop of killings of RTI activists) to abide by Section 4 would be sternly enforced. This would compel government departments to put up information in the public domain made mandatory by Section 4 of the RTI Act. This would in turn make information accessible to the public at the click of the mouse. Result? More than 70% or more of RTI applications would be reduced, say experts. More importantly, threats and killings would slowly but steadily become redundant.
Under Section 4, every government department or Public Authority as it is termed in the RTI Act, is required to put up the following information, on its websites. This would reveal the extent of transparency that is mandatory on the part of the government and why uploading of such information from time to time would drastically reduce the number of RTI applications and also threats and killings of activists:
1. The particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
2. The powers and duties of its officers and employees;
3. The procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
4. The norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
5. The rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
6. A statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
7. The particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;
8. A statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public;
9. A directory of its officers and employees;
10. The monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
11. The budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
12. The manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
13. Particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
14. Details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
15. The particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
16. The names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers;
17. Such other information as may be prescribed and thereafter update these publications every year;
1. It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.
2. For the purposes of sub-section (1), every information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.
3. All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, available free or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.
Explanation For the purposes of sub-sections (3) and (4), "disseminated" means making known or communicated the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority.
Need we explain more? The question is: why is the government silent on this action? From time to time several Information Commissioners have been giving stern orders to abide by Section 4 to government departments when they receive complaints from RTI applicants. They have also been sending circulars to these departments to be transparent as per Section 4. However, if the government has the will and cares for the protection of whistleblowers, it can issue such a directive within a day.
TRAI in its recent communication to the Department of Telecom had said that it was separately initiating a consultation process on issues related to spectrum refarming, where it would consider limiting auction of 700 MHz spectrum band initially to those not holding spectrum in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands
New Delhi: Auctioning of spectrum in the valuable 700 MHz band to new telecom players who have not been allocated any radio waves, as proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), could cause loss to government exchequer, reports PTI quoting experts.
“Restricting the initial auction of 700 Mhz to few may not enable the government realise true market value of the valuable spectrum,” Ashish Basil, partner (telecom practice) at Ernst and Young, told PTI.
Mr Basil said that opening of 700 Mhz spectrum, however, will introduce new players and would benefit consumers.
TRAI in its recent communication to the Department of Telecom (DoT) had said that it was separately initiating a consultation process on issues related to spectrum refarming, where it would consider limiting auction of 700 MHz spectrum band initially to those not holding spectrum in the 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands.
The 700 Mhz frequency band is considered to be one of the most valuable slots for telecom services as most of the latest technology can be transmitted in this band.
Also, investment required to roll out infrastructure will be lower for telecom companies in 700 Mhz compared to telecom operators providing services using higher frequency.
In 2010, the government made around Rs68,000 crore from auction of 3G spectrum in 2100 Mhz spectrum band, but proposed model of TRAI may generate lower revenue for a band which is considered more valuable then third generation (3G) spectrum band, Executive director at PricewaterhouseCoopers India Mohammad Chowdhury said.
“This round is not likely to drive as much value for government, as the 3G licensing in 2010 since operators will be bidding on the economics of the spectrum as opposed to also for participation rights in the market (for 3G) as they did before,” Mr Chowdhury said.
Mr Basil sees this move may benefit telecom industry and consumers but will be a pain for incumbent players.
“The network costs for the incumbents in 800/900 Mhz may go up as they move into relatively less efficient 1,800/1,900 Mhz bands post refarming,” Mr Basil said.
He said that proposal may lead to players in 800 and 900 Mhz pay additional cost for the 700 Mhz spectrum band.
CDMA services are provided through 800 Mhz spectrum band while GSM services in the country are carried through 900 and 1,800-Mhz spectrum band.