Moneylife Events
‘It is better not to let the authorities decide what our rights are’

Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey talk about the Grievance Redressal Bill

“We are not against the idea of a citizen’s charter, but we feel it is very restrictive. Instead, if we push for declaring the obligation of public authorities, not will it make them more accountable; but also provide more power to the people to haul them up when service is not delivered,” said eminent social activist Nikhil Dey. He was speaking at a seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation, where he presented a version of the Grievance Redressal Bill.

When asked why, Mr Dey said, “The idea of citizen’s charter is that it will just codify one or two pre-existing rights; and will restrict the citizen’s reach. Public authorities can flatly deny their obligations if citizens ask for something which is well within their rights, but are not mentioned in the citizen’s charter. Instead, if you list what the obligations of the public authorities are, it will be easy to take them to task whenever they fail to deliver their service.”

Along with National Campaign for People’s Right to Information chief Aruna Roy and other civil society members, Mr Dey has prepared a draft for the public grievance redressal Bill. Ms Roy prefaced its presentation by saying why it is necessary to have inputs from all sections of people on legislations, drawing from her experience with the government and Team Anna while drafting the Lokpal Bill.

She said, “It is not that we say our version is the best one, or that it pass on unchanged; but it is a must to involve people in drafting the legislation. When people raise questions and participate in discussions, that itself is a big achievement; because that is what participatory democracy is about.”

Mr Dey then outlined the grievance redressal mechanism they have envisioned: there would be three tiers. The first will be block-level people support centre; which will help people register their complaints and keep track of the same, then there will be a parallel authority called the block-level grievance redressal officer (GRO) for some places. On top of that, there will be a district GRO who will act as an appellate authority and have the powers to penalise his subordinates in case they fail to deliver service and provide compensation to the aggrieved citizens. And at the top will be state/central GROs, the highest appellate authorities.

“We are not very keen on keeping a central authority that supersedes the state GRO, because each state has its own laws, where the Centre shouldn’t interfere. Also, for many people, pursuing the appeal till the highest tier will be difficult,” Mr Dey said. He said that the GROs must opt more for compensation instead of penal action. “The compensation can be nominal, like Rs5, but once you start providing compensation to complainants, it will make the authorities more careful and they will be reluctant to leave grievances unchecked,” he added.
Mr Dey and Ms Roy said that it is better to have an RTI-like set-up, i.e, instead of hiring new officers, an existing officer within the set-up may be appointed a GRO. It will certainly make matters easy; and be less taxing. Mr Dey said that for salaries and other expenses, if only 1% of funds allotted to schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) or Right to Education (RTE) are spared, it will be more than enough to set up and run the entire grievance redressal system.

When asked about the definition of ‘grievance’ he said that the definition that has been included in many states’ public service guarantee Bill is the best. “Bihar and other states have come up with good Bills, where they define ‘grievance’ as ‘actionable offence’. This at once widens the scope; and also acts as a safeguard for unreasonable demands,’ he said.

Mr Dey mentioned that he had suggested to make the PIOs responsible for grievance redressal too and the CIC be empowered to deal with appeals in this case. However, Ms Roy and many other activists present thought it was a dangerous proposition. Ms Roy said, “RTI still hasn’t been implemented fully in many parts. At this stage, if we decide to add another layer to it, it will be dangerous.” RTI activist Krishnaraj Rao said, “At this point, if grievance redressal is mixed up with RTI, it will only disrupt and derail RTI.” Bhaskar Prabhu, RTI activist and independent candidate for the BMC polls, said, “We must also consider the huge backlog that has built up for RTI applications. If the PIOs are burdened further, the pace for RTI clearances will slow down further, while backlog will also build up for grievance redressal.”

When asked about the relation between the Consumer Protection Act and the Grievance Redressal Bill, Ms Roy said, “The scope of Consumer Protection Act is pretty limited. The Grievance Redressal Bill deals with governance, which is a much larger issue.” However, Ms Roy acknowledged that the Bill was lacking in including the corporate sector in its ambit.

Sucheta Dalal, trustee of Moneylife Foundation, pointed out that the corporate sector has many wrongdoings, which affect a lot of people, but people do not have any legislation or platform to take them to task. “Look at the Kingfisher issue. Vijay Mallya acts defiant against media criticism on his bailout plans, and can blackmail the country by cancelling flights en masse. How do you take action against him? For that matter, how do you take action against stock exchanges and other self-proclaimed private bodies that loot the people?” she asked.

However, Mr Dey assured that in their version of the Bill, and even in the state public service guarantee Acts, Public Private Partnerships have been included. “The state Acts have declared that even private bodies, which deal with public utilities like infrastructure or power projects, some under the ambit of this law.

We have said the same; because it is a must to keep track of PPPs,” he said.
The lively discussion ended with many activists offering their suggestions for the Bill in writing, followed by a thunderous applause.

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RBI allows Iranian central bank to open rupee accounts

The Iranian central bank would park funds in the two Indian banks to enable payments for oil imports by India as well as non-oil exports to Iran, a top official of UCO Bank said

Kolkata: In an effort to resolve a long-standing payment crisis, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has given permission to the Central Bank of Iran to open rupee accounts with two Indian banks, namely UCO and IDBI, reports PTI.

“Permission from the RBI has very recently come to open rupee accounts with two Indian banks, one of which is UCO,” a top official of city-based UCO Bank told PTI.

The other bank is IDBI Bank.

Both the accounts were opened in the respective banks’ Mumbai branches.

The official said since the closure of the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) in December, payments for oil imports from Iran and non-oil exports to that country have been severely affected.

The UCO official said there was some understanding between the RBI and the Iranian central bank about the mechanism of making payments.

He said that the Iranian central bank would park funds in the two Indian banks to enable payments for oil imports by India as well as non-oil exports to Iran.

To a query, he said it was not yet known whether the Iranian central bank had already parked funds in the two accounts.

The official said while payments for oil imports would initially be in rupees, it would be then converted into a separate currency, which was yet to be decided by the RBI.

Meanwhile, the tea industry is deeply worried about non-payment for shipments made to Iran since December last year.

Secretary of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), M Dasgupta, said since payment through the ACU ceased, no letters of credit could be opened by Iranian importers with any Indian commercial bank due to US sanctions.

He said unless the problem was resolved, orthodox tea producers would be hard-pressed, as they would have to hold on to their stocks.

The ITA official said Iran was an importer of high-value orthodox tea, which fetches an average price of Rs190 per kilogram, as compared to Rs145 per kilogram for other varieties of tea.

The other fear was that producers might lower production of orthodox tea to shift to other varieties like CTC.


Cabinet clears Companies Bill; to be taken up in Winter Session

Besides strengthening the provisions to check fraud, the Bill has introduced ideas like mandatory CSR, class action suits and a fixed term for independent directors. The Bill also seeks to prohibit any insider trading by company directors or key managerial personnel by treating such activities as a criminal offence

New Delhi: The Cabinet on Thursday approved the Companies Bill, 2011, which aims to update corporate laws in the country and introduce modern concepts like mandatory corporate social responsibility (CSR) and class action suits, reports PTI.

Intended to replace the existing half-a-century-old Companies Act, the Bill has undergone several modifications in view of the Rs14,000 crore Satyam accounting fraud.

Following Cabinet clearance, it is now likely to be taken up for consideration and passage in the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament.

“Cabinet has cleared the Companies Bill, 2011. It is likely to be tabled (for consideration and passage) in the ongoing Winter Session,” a corporate affairs ministry official said.

Besides strengthening the provisions to check fraud, the Bill has introduced ideas like mandatory CSR, class action suits and a fixed term for independent directors.

Among other things, it also proposes to tighten laws for raising money from the public. The Bill also seeks to prohibit any insider trading by company directors or key managerial personnel by treating such activities as a criminal offence.

Further, it has proposed that companies should earmark 2% of their average profits of the preceding three years for CSR activities and make a disclosure to shareholders about the policy adopted in the process.

Welcoming the Cabinet decision, industry body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said that on enactment, the Companies Bill will be a boon for business, corporates, investors and stakeholders at large.

“Industry anxiously awaits a new corporate law that would lay stress on responsible self-regulation. Needless to say, the new company law is expected to be more streamlined and facilitative,” CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee said

The new law would strengthen the concept of shareholders’ democracy and offer protection of the rights of minority stakeholders.

The law also proposes to introduce responsible self-regulation replete with disclosures and accountability.

It will also facilitate the transition of controls currently exercised by the government over internal corporate processes and decisions to shareholders.

In addition, the Bill seeks to give more teeth to the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) by providing it statutory recognition and endowing it with more powers.

The Bill, which was originally introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2008, lapsed because of the change of government. It was reintroduced in August 2009.


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