United Breweries produces its Kingfisher and London Pilsner brand beers in Maharashtra for which water is used as raw material. However, the Vijay Mallya company was refusing to pay water charges to its supplier, the MIDC
Mumbai: In a jolt to Vijay Mallya-owned United Breweries Ltd, the Bombay High Court has directed the beer manufacturing company to pay water bills pending since 2001 to till date to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), reports PTI.
A division bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and PD Kode was hearing a petition filed by United Breweries challenging a circular issued by MIDC in October last year along with water bills raised by the corporation against the company.
MIDC had issued the circular along with the increased water bills pursuant to a notification issued by the Maharashtra government in 2001 raising water rates by 1000% for industries that are classified as "industries using water as raw material".
The court today, however, refused to grant any relief and directed the company to pay water bills at the revised rate from 2001 till date.
According to the petition, United Breweries, engaged in manufacturing beer under brand names such as Kingfisher and London Pilsner, had set up three manufacturing units in Taloja and Nerul in Navi Mumbai.
MIDC and the company had entered into water supply agreements, by which, the corporation can fix charges for water from time to time at its discretion. "However, any change in water rate will have to be informed to the company one month in advance. MIDC did not give any notice regarding change in water rates," the petition states.
The court, however, did not find any merit in the argument and dismissed the petition. The bench has stayed its order for four weeks to permit the company to approach the apex court. It has however directed the company to deposit 50% of the due amount as security.
The fuel supply agreements signed between Coal India and power producers envisages a penalty ranging from 5% to 40% if CIL fails to deliver less than 80% of the annual contracted supply. However, chances are that the penalty clause will undergo many changes to become fair and equitable to one and all
We are at the fag end of the monsoon season and actual shortfall in rainfall appears to have gone down to about 7%, much better than the originally projected 15%-19% earlier. Some areas had absolute dry spells while in the north-eastern sector heavy rains brought landslides and floods, resulting in loss of life and damage to crops.
On the coal production front, Coal India (CIL) is estimated to have lost about 5 million tonnes (MT), due to heavy rains, as against 26 MT during 2011-12 period. CIL, in the first half of the current year, has recorded an 8.5% growth and it expects to increase production by 230 MT during 2012-13 with various projects on hand.
According to the annual report released by CIL, it had started with 147 projects on hand, at the end of the Eleventh Plan period, as at the end of 2011-12, but only 80 had received both environmental and forest clearances. Permit delays continue to be stumbling blocks and this year, heavy rains also played havoc in production.
In the meantime, the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) is expected to recommence its work and will start examining 29 government coal block holders from the list of 59, to whom show-cause notices had been issued by the coal ministry earlier.
Although 289 companies had been allocated coal blocks between 1993 and 2011, only 30 of them have been able to commence production with others stuck with issues relating to clearances.
The proposal by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) for Coal India to supply about 20 MT of imported coal at subsidized rates to independent power producers has not been found acceptable to the seven independent directors of Coal India, who felt that this would lead to inherent loss in the transaction at the cost of the exchequer. They had rightfully stated that CIL must act as a profit-oriented enterprise.
It may be recalled that the question of FSAs (Fuel Supply Agreements) has been a hotly debated subject. Under this, at the trigger point of 80% of annual contracted quantity, CIL will pay penalty for non-delivery ranging from 5% to 40%.
To read a summary report on Coalgate being a big loss for shareholders of coal companies, click here.
The “magnificent seven” independent directors of CIL have reiterated that this mechanism will go against the spirit of the Presidential directive to protect the commercial interests of CIL and have warned both—the coal ministry and CIL—that the CEA’s proposal would be at the cost of the exchequer. Although 29 FSAs have been signed, it appears most likely when this issue is finally settled, chances are that the penalty clause for non-delivery of the ‘contracted’ quantity will undergo many changes to become fair and equitable to one and all, and protect the ultimate consumer—the “aam aadmi!”
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was 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. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
An amendment in the RTI Act is inevitable, as application for review of the said judgment is unlikely to be entertained by the Supreme Court, which is determined to clip the wings of Information Commissions that exposed corruption in the judiciary
There is a discernible change in the attitude of the judiciary ever since the Central Information Commission (CIC) delivered the decision in respect of disclosure of information relating to property details of judges. While the civil society and media have been upbeat about the possibility of containing the scourge of corruption in the judiciary, as elsewhere, the functionaries of courts have been at unease ever since.
At least two recent decisions of the Supreme Court (SC) belies people’s expectations, as the court in the garb of finding faults in the appointment of Information Commissioners (ICs) and the manner in which the matters relating to disclosure of information are decided, have sought reservation of seats on the Commissions’ panel. In doing so, the SC has attempted not only to retard the process of disclosure of information but also to protect its interests by ensuring a judiciary member on the panel. An unsolicited advice or direction has been given in the said order.
In Namit Sharma Vs Union of India (13 September 2012) case, the SC has directed the Government to: i) review section 12(5) of the RTI Act, which provides for appointment of “eminent persons in public life” as ICs; ii) appoint judges as chief ICs and law graduates with twenty years experience as ICs; iii) frame rules within six months to constitute benches of two ICs, one of which should have legal background; and iv) initiate the process of appointment on new ICs before three months of occurrence of vacancies.
The SC has restrained the Commissions from enforcing the provisions of the Act in the manner in which they have been doing thus far and directed them to conduct hearings ‘henceforth’ in double benches, comprising one IC of legal background. As most Commissions don’t have required number of ICs with legal background, they have stopped functioning for the fear of contempt of court.
Earlier, the Delhi High Court (HC), WP (C) 12714/2009 dated 21 May 2010, had quashed CIC’s Management Regulations adopted under section 12(4) of the Act, as per which the CIC has been discharging its obligations of promoting transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. In effect, the procedure followed by the CIC for disposal of appeals was declared illegal, the implications of which were that a single or division bench could not decide an appeal petition before the Commission. However, the Patna HC had delivered a judgment in the Rizvi Vs CIC, Bihar Case, 2010, on the same issue, which was contrary to the Delhi HC order. The Commissions therefore did not take cognizance of the court orders, which contradicted each other and lacked consistency.
But the renewed attempt of the SC, in the Namit Sharma Vs Union of India case, to question the criteria of selection of ICs, procedure of appointment and conduct of hearing, has created more confusion than to clarify the issues relating to functioning of the Commissions, as evident from the following:
• First, the constitution of double benches would unduly reduce disposal of complaints and appeals to the extent of 50%. An already high pendency of cases would be bulging even faster, which would adversely affect transparency in government departments.
• Second, more than 80% of appeals and complaints filed with the Commissions are considered to be frivolous and vexatious. And, costs of servicing an RTI application ranges between Rs30,000-Rs40,000. The SC direction would therefore unduly increase cost burden on the taxpayers.
• Third, the retirement age of SC Judges and ICs is 65 years. It is therefore not clear as to where from chief ICs would be picked up.
• Fourth, the reason cited by SC for inclusion of ICs of legal background in the double benches is mainly the practices of a few developed countries, rather than infirmities in delivery of decisions by the ICs having no legal background at all. This goes to show that the rationale of both the constitution of double benches and having ICs of legal background is flawed.
In effect, not only the autonomy in functioning of ICs has thus been impinged upon but also the future course of action, in respect of protecting the rights of information seekers, has been jeopardized. In a fast-changing society and economy, driven by information and new knowledge, the utility of any information, if given after considerable loss of time would be of little significance.
The RTI Act and the rules framed there under by the appropriate government, under Section 27 of the Act, are totally silent about the constitution of benches by the Commission for disposal of cases. Under Section 18(3) of the Act, the CIC has “the same power as are vested in a Civil Court”. And, under section 12 (4) of the Act, the CIC is empowered to autonomously exercise all its powers without being subjected to directions by any other authorities under this Act. Accordingly, the CIC Management Regulations has been adopted, which provides inter alia for constitution of benches, comprising single, double or more ICs. Thus, the Commission observes almost similar practice as the Courts.
In fact, it seems impractical to implement the directions of the SC in a cost-effective manner. First, the Commissions do not have the requisite physical infrastructure, comparable to the courts. Second, in view of large number of petitions filed by the information seekers, the disposal of cases would be tardy and unduly slowed down, resulting in piling of huge pendency, which will be a blot on the idea of free and faster flow of information. Third, grounds for 50% reservation of post of ICs for persons of law background and constitution of benches are indeed illogical. On how to use the existing RTI Act of India to query the private sector, click here.
Though the intent of lawmakers and the RTI Act has never been to insist on the constitution of benches and appointment of 50% of ICs with legal background, the said judgment from the apex court has indeed created a major crisis. The options are limited. The amendment in the Act is inevitable, as application for review of the said judgment is unlikely to be entertained by the SC, which is determined to clip the wings of Commissions that expose corruption. The Parliament being the supreme lawmaking body should resist the motivated efforts of vested interests so that the gains of improvements in delivery of services to the aam aadmi (common man) are assured.
To read another Moneylife article about the good, the bad and the ugly of the new RTI rules, click here.
(Professor MM Ansari, an Economist and Education Specialist, was Central Information Commissioner at the Central Information Commission under the RTI Act. He has served on the staff of several institutions in senior positions and provided research and consultancy services to international organizations. He has made significant contributions to growth of knowledge, particularly in the areas of human resources development. He holds a PhD degree in Economics, Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Finance, MA in Economics from the Universities of Buckingham (England) and Aligarh)