If only the Election Commission shows some concern, stops blaming the citizens and start taking responsibilities, we can improve the system of voter records. Court cases and roadshows are no solutions
It is sad that the chief electoral officer of Karnataka (CEO-KA) has published a low voter turnout percentage and armchair political pundits are busy blaming voters for their apathy toward election. Please do not trust the numbers from CEO-KA because the calculation is based on a bloated voter list with fake and duplicate entries.
While taking charge as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on 11 June 2012, VS Sampath stated, “A clean electoral roll and hassle free registration are among our highest priorities. Every eligible person shall be on the roll and name of every ineligible person shall be removed. We will engage all outreach methods, voters’ education and technology to achieve these objectives.”
The CEC voiced importance of an efficient and high quality Electoral Roll Management System (ERMS). Unfortunately, this concern remained restricted to his speech alone. His actions (inactions), and those under him, speak differently.
Electoral Rolls of 13 states and union territories (UTs) are published in English, partly or fully. Others are published only in local languages. Due to my limited capability, I have analysed only the rolls published in English, which cover about 10% of Indian voters – a good sample. Most of my comments in this paper are about the state of electoral rolls of 28 constituencies of Bangalore.
Clean electoral rolls
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has defined the schema for electoral rolls. CEO-KA has shown least regards to the data standards. Little care is taken to validate entries by software or by verification process recommended by ECI. As a result, critical personal data in many voter records are wrong – leading to confusion and disenfranchisement. See some examples:
• Polling booth officer did not permit Elsie S Velu (EPIC BCW6606073) to vote. Her sex was recorded as male. Her husband was shown as her father. My neighbour’s deceased father-in-law is shown as her husband.
• Dr Balasubramaniam married Dr Bindu 20 years ago. Her age now is 18 on the rolls!
• We had thousands of people aged 0. After repeated complaints, majority of them became 36 year old one fine day. There are hundreds of voters above 100 years of age.
• It is very common to find errors in names, making it difficult to search at CEO website.
• Data on EPIC do not match the records in electoral rolls.
• Members of a house are distributed across different polling booths.
All such errors lead to confusion and lower voter participation.
Eligible people on the roll
In Karnataka, genuine voters are regularly deleted from the rolls without due diligence required as per ECI regulations.
• CEOs delete lakhs of records without verifying and then expecting the voters to object. • In 2012, CEO Karnataka deleted 13.5 lakh records out of 65 lakh in Bangalore. Reason: these records did not have voters’ photographs because the authorities lost them. In 2013, CEO Maharashtra deleted 50 lakh voters across the state as reported in media. He has defended the action without giving any reason or logic.
• When booths are rationalised (increasing or reducing the number of booths in a constituency and shuffling the voters) lakhs of voters are lost. Last year, Delhi rolls (70 constituencies) lost 14 lakh voters and Andhra Pradesh (AP) rolls (294 constituencies) lost 20 lakh. Both the CEOs have not responded to mails asking if the deletions were verified. Sample survey in Hyderabad has shown that about 25% of these deletions were incorrect. Other would have been correct by chance.
• In Karnataka, due to faulty software and neglect of verification process, thousands of voters are deleted each time a new version of rolls is published – which is about four times a year.
No authority is held accountable for this injustice to citizens.
Ineligible people removed
• Electoral rolls have names of those who have shifted their houses or are dead. In Bengaluru, at HMT Layout, RT Nagar, matadara mitra, an organisation recognised by CEO-KA, submitted 170 names for deletion out of about 600 voters list. No actions. Before the assembly elections in May 2013, once again matadara mitra submitted forms for additional 110 deletions and three additions. No action. The people who reported say that they are frustrated and have stopped interacting with CEO-KA.
• Like in the above example, majority of the voter lists of Bangalore bloat with invalid records.
• Voters are found with addresses of non-existing houses and in commercial properties. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), which maintains the voter lists for Bangalore, also has access to the details of properties because they collect property tax. They can easily validate many addresses.
• In the list of 78 lakh voters in Bangalore, we find more than 5.5 lakh sets of duplicate records, suggesting verification of 17.5 lakh records, which form these sets. Sample checks in a ward has proved that photographs of suspected duplicates match.
• Delhi has 10.7 sets of duplicate record, requiring verification of 35.4 lakh voters.
• Refreshingly, Kolkata rolls are far superior in all aspects. That city also would have the difficulties of moving population like Delhi and Bangalore have.
A year ago, I shared with the ECI a software that identifies suspected duplicates and can then compare the photographs of the suspected records. This would significantly reduce field work to de-duplicate the rolls. However, a common citizen does not have access to photographs of voters. Though ECI asked CEO-KA and CEO-DL to share with me database dump with photographs of one district each for a pilot project, they both have not shared the data. They have not responded to repeated requests for the data.
Ironically, CEO Karnataka told a news reporter of Citizen Matters that people with duplicate voter records could be imprisoned for two years, but he has not taken any action on them! Surely you are joking, Mr. CEO-KA.
BS Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, had suggested making it compulsory to vote. There are many who repeat that idea even today. When a person has several voter records, whom will you punish? When the addresses in the record are non-existent, how will you reach the ‘guilty’ non-voter? Many of the voters in the list are dead. How will you get them back from graves?
Hassle free registration
Registration has not been smooth in Karnataka. Many applications do not close with inclusion of names in electoral rolls. The Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) do not communicate the application status with the applicant, though required as per ECI directive. Hardly any guideline of ECI is followed in registration or in other operations of EROs.
Online registration has been ineffective in Karnataka. Many people who register online do not get included in the rolls. ERO staff discourages registering online. As a contrast, in Kerala people can register only online. It is effective.
Each booth is expected have a Booth Level Officer (BLO), who should facilitate smooth registration and upkeep of the electoral roll. CEO-KA has recently published a list of BLOs at his website. When we call the phone numbers given in the list, we realise that the data in the document are fake. Many people in the list respond telling that they are not BLOs and do not know anything about the list.
ERMS software used in Karnataka is of very poor quality on several counts and violates basic software engineering guidelines and commonsense. Software requirements are simple and so is the model.
People in ERO staff do not use available computing facilities in their offices to manage the rolls. They work inefficiently and ineffectively with heaps of paper and complain about overwork.
CEOs do not take feedback and offers of help to improve the quality of the system and the processes. They do not respond to mails.
We can hope to improve the system only if the concerned authorities show concern, stop blaming the citizens and start taking responsibilities. They should be held accountable. Court cases and road shows are no solutions.
(Commander (Retd) PG Bhat is a retired naval officer, an educationist and a social worker.)
Forensic Audit cannot reveal anything new or substantial. It is no better than any audits that remain essentially a post mortem exercise, pure and simple. It carries an enormous price tag only because of its fancy name
A lot is being written in the economic media on “Forensic audit” of big ticket bank loan default by Deccan Chronicle, Lanco Infra and Kingfisher. Many more skeletons are sure to emerge out of the closets once the corporate debt restructuring (CDR) cases presently not declared ‘sub-standard’ also start defaulting by faltering on compliances.
What presently stands designated as non-performing assets (NPAs) are mere tips of massive icebergs of stressed lending by banks across India? According to the Economic Times editorial on 21st April entitled - “Domain regulators must probe frauds”, bad loans, for the calendar year 2013, before making provisions stood at Rs2.43 lakh crore, up 35% on a year-on-year basis.
Earlier on 18th April, the newspaper has a detailed report -“Big Loan defaulters to face RBI audit” that inter alia said, “The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has taken upon itself the task of investigating bank frauds after a series of inquiries by banks themselves in high profile cases involving Deccan Chronicle and Kingfisher Airlines yielded very little. The RBI’s Board for Financial Supervision, chaired by the Governor has, in fact, cleared a proposal that it will conduct an independent forensic audit of corporates declared fraudulent by banks…RBI will first get to the bottom of what went wrong with Deccan Chronicle. What is interesting is that the mandate has been given to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which was banned by the RBI for possible audit lapses of the Global Trust Bank… Senior bank officials with exposure to Deccan Chronicle told ET that they have received a letter from the RBI urging them to co-operate with PwC…Bank officials say this move reflects poorly on the banks and some promoters have developed cozy relationships [with politicians and MOF bureaucrats as well as Bank Boards] that has led to crores of bad loans.. A consortium of lenders led by Canara Bank had earlier appointed Ernst & Young to conduct a forensic audit on Deccan Chronicle, but it yielded very little. The report itself was inconclusive and the lenders did not act upon it.” (Italicized by me for greater emphasis.)
The extremely steep rise in bad loans certainly calls for strong measures to ensure that banks do not sweep them under the carpets as is presently being done by not classifying as ‘substandard’ and consequently NPAs the advances undergoing CDR consequently tantamount to virtual frauds because crores are sought to be written off without due process.
Deccan Chronicle promoters are reported to have borrowed over Rs4,000 crore from a consortium of 18 lenders who now allege that the company abused the banking system by borrowing from one set of lenders without keeping the others in the loop. The circumstances in the cases of Kingfisher Airlines and Lanco Infra are no worse.
The RBI mandates a failsafe warning mechanism to effectively monitor bad loans by putting in place appropriate flagging indicators. Already in place are a plethora of checks and balances from bottom to top for reporting on shortfalls in securities, exceeding drawing powers, day-to-day on-line reporting requirements, ratification requests, internal inspections, during the year concurrent, revenue, income and stock audits. Finally the annual statutory audits by independent firms of Chartered Accountants (CAs) who are also called upon to submit an additional “Long Form Audit Report-LAFR.” The demands of this report are so archaic that it is termed, in professional circles, as a “LAFDA Report”- a typical Bambiya lingo for anything and everything that’s not right!
All the present fraud cases (and more still to follow) essentially, follow very similar patterns:
• From day one when the unviable borrowing proposal is submitted to the lending banks,
• The proposals are subjected to extremely top-level tremendous pressures to disburse post haste.
• Overlooking due diligence,
• Go by to norms of viability, profitability, repayment capacity and
• Bypassing every known lending norm.
• Sometimes even defective documents that are unenforceable are signed, sealed and delivered, only later to be found to unenforceable when suits are to be filed, more particularly in cases of enforcing of third party guarantees.
• Immediately on sanction there are heavy large ticket withdrawals/ cheques for payments far beyond the projections for entirely different purposes or to closely related entities or patently dubious payees, large cash withdrawals and the like. Had each of these payments been duly flagged right away by the monitoring branch and reported promptly, the diversions and wrong end use could have been pre-empted before it snow balls into much larger outflows.
• Many bouncing of cheques issued beyond drawing powers go to indicate that there is total lack of financial discipline – faked sales not resulting in genuine receivables, no inventories, miss-match of purchases, consumption, sales and closing stocks.
• Inability to service interest when it falls due takes the final straw.
• A major a flaw at the monitoring level arises when the borrowings are not subjected to regular stock audit tally.
The fresh Re-audit calls for a patient and painstakingly diligent in-depth scrutiny of the accounts at the branch levels, covering each and every aspect listed above in respect of all (repeat all) of the borrowing accounts going back to the dates of their inception to identify and report on significant debits for each of the patently irregular withdrawals and all other related malfeasances. This can be carried out only by a senior bank auditor jointly with a high RBI and retired veteran, PSU General Manager-level officials.
After all, veteran domestic professional chartered accountants with adequate ground level exposure to bank branch audits are certainly much more qualified to assist the RBI’s internal team in big fraud case investigations over assigning it to the big ticket and not the more expensive firms whose reports do not inspire any confidence as is very apparent in the two reported cases.
To make a thorough success of the entire exercise and fix appropriate accountability the Re-audit teams have necessarily to be provided with an extremely no-holds-barred extremely wide cast-iron mandate with a virtual carte blanche to access and seek all information from any authority, however high and mighty it may be, even to go beyond the RBI, lending banks’ present and retired or past chairman managing directors (CMDs), members of the Board of Directors and to go all the way to the North Block at Delhi. Where hard documentary evidence of pushing a loan proposal or soft-peddling recovery proceedings is not available, it can record oral statements to that effect.
The accountability of other internal departments tasked with due diligence and also vetting defective documentations like unenforceable third party/ corporate guarantees also needs to be ascertained and reported.
The news report mentions appointments of PwC, and the report states, some were earlier black listed by RBI for audit lapses at Global Trust Bank -GTB [and just now two of its partners are delisted by the ICAI on grounds of professional misconduct in the Satyam scams. One of them was stated to be the Chairman of Ethics Committee of the Accounting Regulator the Institute of Chartered Accountant of India.] Another audit biggie, E&Y is charged with of being equally guilty of submitting an “inconclusive report that yielded little that the lenders did not act upon.” As of now, nothing is known nor any report made available in the public domain on what went wrong with the GTB and its audit, more particularly of the action, if any, taken on the gross irregularities. As of now the GTB’s then statutory auditors appear to have been let off the hook.
When the RBI insists on applying the “Fit & Proper Criteria” for all kinds of appointments, this practice should necessarily hold equally valid for its associating with the right experienced senior auditors with a good past record as a long standing auditors of banks possessing a great degree of proficiency to deal with such complex issues.
I’d rather term the exercise as “Re-audit” rather than the high sounding “Forensic Audit.” As a once RBI empanelled Statutory Auditor of banks for over quarter of a century, I, for one, strongly hold that “Forensic Audit” by any name, cannot reveal anything new or substantial - it is no better than any audits that remain essentially a post mortem exercises, pure and simple. It carries an enormous price tag only because of its fancy name – at best it is old wine in new bottle!
The entire bank audit approach, process and reporting regime calls for an immediate review.
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant turned activist.)
At last, some sensible policies governing this pecularly Indian investment product