Today, perhaps, political parties will move the bill to be passed in the Parliament, to invalidate the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission, which declared six national political parties as ‘public authorities’ under the RTI Act. Hear some sane voices from the political fraternity
The din in the Parliament has compelled procrastination of the Bill to amend the Right to information (RTI) Act, 2005 and also to move it immediately to pass it. This would ensure that political parties are not under the ambit of the RTI Act. This bill, which was listed as item no5 for 3rd September will probably see the light of the day today.
While leading RTI activists and members of RTI organizations are fighting tooth and nail through written appeals and protests, it comes as a pleasant surprise, that, several members of Parliament (MPs) are also as disgusted with their seniors as citizens across the country. It is only fair that we take note of their stance, for the strengthening of the RTI Act and for the benefit of citizens at large. Instead of passing the bill in the Parliament they, like activists and citizens are appealing to the Lok Sabha speaker to send the bill to the Standing Committee, which will facilitate public consultation. Also, one of them, has succeeded in convincing some senior leaders of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Baijayant Panda, is a MP from Kendrapara in Odisha from the Biju Janata Dal (BJU) and is active on the social media. His post in his Facebook account, on 29th August read: “My amendment opposing political parties' exclusion from RTI was not admitted in the Lok Sabha (on a technical ground). So I am filing fresh ones, including the one that says only those political parties with *no* seats in parliament or assembly should be excluded.’’
On 2nd September, he posted another message on Facebook: “The battle for RTI has been building up, and tomorrow is high noon in the Lok Sabha! Want to make a difference? NOW is the time. For the past couple of weeks, I have been working with many activists' and citizens'.
“My initial letter to the Hon'ble Speaker to refer it to a Standing Committee (where public can also contribute suggestions) was turned down; but subsequently, all the combined efforts started yielding results, and two other MPs (Ajoy Kumar and Dinesh Trivedi) also took a stand, writing to the Speaker on the same lines.
“Today, we had the additional gratification of having Sushma Swaraj, Gurudas Dasgupta, and some other leaders also join in making the same demand. Separately, Arun Jaitley is rumoured to have told his party that this proposed amendment is unconstitutional. Even some MPs from United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are reportedly concerned. However, not all parties are on board, and it is likely that the RTI amendment will be taken up in the House tomorrow and passed. The crucial difference, why the government can be so brazen about this, is: HOW MANY OF THE MPs/PARTIES WILL ACTUALLY VOTE AGAINST THE GOVT on the floor of the house? I certainly will, and in fact will demand a division (voting) so that a record remains of who actually stood up when it mattered. I still have a hope, even if somewhat faint, that IF ENOUGH OF YOU PITCH IN NOW and contact MPs thru social media and phone, tomorrow could, just possibly, see the tables being turned...’’
Ajoy Kumar, the Lok Sabha MP from Jamshedpur of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVP) party, has written a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to refer the bill to a Standing Committee. The letter states: “The RTI Act is a fundamental citizens' right and has empowered citizens across the country to access information and demand accountability from the government… As you may be aware, there has been widespread public agitation against the RTI amendments. There is also an apprehension among people that the whole political class is coming together to prevent transparency in the political process. Therefore, as we deliberate amendments to this landmark legislation, it is critical that we have detailed debate on it. We must provide common citizens a chance to present their views on the Amendment Bill by referring it to a Standing Committee. Ensuring public consultation on the Bill will help reduce the chasm between people and political parties and will help restore peoples’ faith in parliamentary democracy.’’
In addition, Panda has also written to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, stating, “With respect to the merit of including political parties under the ambit of RTI, I am personally of the opinion that the correct constitutional body for this should be the Election Commission, whose powers need to be enhanced to enforce political transparency, particularly with regard to funding and expenditure. This ought to be further augmented by mandatory auditing of the accounts furnished to the EC by political parties. However, until and unless these are legislated and enacted, it would be wrong to pass the proposed amendment to RTI, particularly in the face of widespread public criticism.”
“Several commentators have claimed certain infirmities with political parties being covered by RTI, while others have pointed to similar provisions already passed by our House in the Lok Pal bill. However, the best way to deal with this is to refer the matter to the appropriate standing committee for detailed deliberations, followed by a thorough discussion in the House.’’
According to media reports, Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, in his valedictory speech at the eighth convention of the Central Information Commission, stated that if political parties are availing income tax exemption, they should be accountable to the public.
According to reports, Omar stated that he does not see any problem in sharing records of day-to-day functioning of political parties with people. "At the end of the day, nobody can force us to collect information that we don't ordinarily collect or that we don't ordinarily use in our day-to-day operations. As a political party, if there are records that I keep about functioning of my political party, then those records should be made available to the people. And if I don't keep those records, then I can't be forced.’’
Venkatesh Nayak, an agitated scholar-activist says, “Unlike the past couple of weeks, this Bill was at the bottom of the agenda and could not be taken up due to delay or disruption of House proceedings; this time it has been placed high up on the list indicating the urgency with which the Government supported by most political parties wants to pass this Bill.”
Similarly, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs announced Friday last that the RTI (Amendment) Bill will be taken up for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha this week. His statement is available in the uncorrected version of the RS debates available at: http://18.104.22.168/newdebate/229/30082013/12.00NoonTo13.00pm.pdf
Lets wait and watch today, whether political parties show their true or false colours!
(Tomorrow: 40 countries where electoral laws compel them to pro-actively publish information about their finances)
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
The new governor of RBI, who rose to fame when he predicted the US crisis, has a lot of work to do in cleaning up the economic mess in India. Here is a list of things that Raghuram Rajan must do now to restore stability in the Indian economy
Raghuram Rajan, the new governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), faces challenges of enormous proportions. The RBI has been criticised like never before. Many experts believe that the Central Bank is primarily responsible for the ongoing economic woes in India. It all started with the overzealous approach of the previous governor, D Subbarao, to control inflation. Thirteen consecutive repo rate hikes killed the ability of economy to grow, while it failed to control inflation as well. The fascination of controlling wholesale price index (WPI) has not worked at all, as the entire country continues to reel under the negative impact of inflation. As if all this was not enough, the recent crisis of the depreciating rupee has exposed the hollowness of RBI measures. The new governor brings lots of hope and expectation. Here are some of the key challenges that the new governor needs to manage:
Trilemma of managing growth, inflation and currency: India's economy is at the crossroads-growth is slowing down, fear of double-digit inflation looms large with crude prices going up. The worst part is that the rupee is on a free fall. There are very few RBI governors in the past, which have faced this unique scenario called as trilemma, in which inflation along with currency needs management of enormous proportion without throttling down growth further. It is an open secret that the Indian economy can ill-afford to have 4.4% GDP growth (the last quarter GDP growth) on a long-term basis. This is far from the projected growth of 8%-9% visualized in 12th plan document.
So what is the solution?
The solution lies in propelling economic growth by attracting foreign investment and also ensuring that domestic growth picks up. In order to ensure that growth picks up, one key trigger is the cost of capital, which impacts investment environment.
Should RBI go ahead and cut the rate of interest by lowering the repo rate? This is the biggest dilemma. While RBI has recently taken measures to suck liquidity out of the economy to protect the fall in the rupee, any reversal of this can adversely impact the currency which is struggling to stay below Rs70 per dollar levels. But the growth cannot be achieved unless the liquidity is eased. In addition, inflation may go up further, if the interest rate is brought down. It has been seen in the past that monetary policy measures do not work in controlling inflation, as there are several supply side constraints.
In order to overcome this challenge on an immediate basis, there is very little that RBI can do alone. It needs to work in tandem with the government to ensure that measures are taken to attract foreign investment. This will be the first step in stabilising the currency. This is easier said than done. However, measures to attract foreign investment can be achieved by easing foreign direct investment norms. While this may take time, issuing sovereign bonds would help. As India needs dollars to flow into the economy to stabilise the rupee.
Customer focus of RBI: RBI as a Central Bank is not very customer friendly. Customers of banking services in India have to very often resort to legal measures to get justice. There are frequent cases of banks cheating investors and mis-selling products to the customers. The banking ombudsman, who was supposed to be the protector of customer's interest, works on dotted lines. Mangelal Sharma's case taken up by Moneylife is a case to justify the dotted line-approach of the banking ombudsman. There is a sense of helplessness amongst customers when they face any banking issue. Moneylife has taken up many issues on behalf of banking customers, which should have been ideally tackled by the regulator. The RBI looks completely understaffed to take care of customer's interest. The new governor needs to have a look at this.
Stringent mechanism to handle money-laundering cases: The Indian banking system is ill equipped to handle cases of money laundering. The regulator has been in 'denial mode' when it comes to widespread money laundering in the Indian banking system. Thanks to Cobrapost, the cases of money laundering were identified in many banks and RBI penalized 22 banks. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The Indian banking system lacks adequate controls to check money laundered by politically exposed persons, through correspondent banking system and transfer of funds to tax havens. The know your customer (KYC) mechanism is based on the 'tick box' approach and lacks comprehensiveness to identify cases of money laundering. This is a serious issue, which deserves the attention of the regulator.
The new governor needs to have 'out of the box' thinking to manage macro economic variables at least till the time elections are held. It is very unlikely that the government will initiate changes that can turn the tide. However, the new governor needs to initiate measures to bring back Indian economy on track. It looks very difficult, but that is where the abilities of a suave, unflappable University of Chicago economist, Raghuram Rajan, will be tested.
While NSE want brokers to collect upfront margins from investors to avoid a flash crash like 5th October 2012, why is Sebi going soft on NSE for a obvious systemic failure on that day?
On 5th October 2012, the Nifty crashed by over 900 points when a dealer for stockbroker Emkay Global punched a wrong order. While National Stock Exchange (NSE) quickly blamed Emkay for the crash, but has not bothered to explain why its market-wide circuit filters failed to work. And now, NSE is seeking approval from the market regulator for its proposal under which brokers will have to collect margin money upfront from investors for trading in shares or the cash segment, similar to futures and options (F&O) trading.
At present, Exchanges collects upfront margins from brokers, but brokers do not ask clients for money in advance in the cash segment. In short, brokers are funding the clients, who settle the trades on next day using the ‘T+1’ settlement. The NSE move follows a show cause notice issued by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), after the 5 October 2012 flash crash.
NSE blamed 'abnormal' orders, worth $126 million, placed by the stockbroker in multiple trades of various stocks at low prices, for the crash. NSE claimed there were no technical glitches in its system and the crash was due to 'erroneous' trade orders worth over Rs650 crore by Emkay, which was disabled by the bourse for trading.
According to a report from Business Standard, in the notice (to SEBI), NSE had said mandating upfront margins even in the cash segment would have prevented the flash crash in October 2012. This is incorrect and an attempt to shift the blame.
Even if Emkay Global had collected 150% margin and then punched a wrong order, would the results be any different? NSE has continued to blame Emkay for the crash, but has still not bothered to explain why its market-wide circuit filters failed to work. Brokers are increasingly getting angrier at being held responsible for all technology problems and want a fair and open investigation.
In fact, when NSE index showed a sudden fall of nearly 900 points or over 15% within seconds, triggering the circuit filter (maximum permissible limit of movement in the index) at 0950 hours on 5 October 2012, the Exchange was supposed to halt trading for an hour. This is as mandated by SEBI circular on circuit filters. However, without the halt, NSE resumed trading at 1005 hours. This by not following SEBI circular, NSE has violated the norms on circuit filters.
NSE informed SEBI that the decision to reopen the cash market after a halt of 10 minutes was taken by the Exchange as F&O markets and other markets were functioning normally and the fall was apparently on account of freak orders from a particular member.
Last year, in August, the chief technology officer of the NSE preposterously told Business Standard that the Exchange had ‘attained nirvana’ in technology by being able to put through transactions at the speed of light. This when the Exchange had already had serious issues in three consecutive months—March (ONGC), April (Nifty futures algorithmic trading) and May (derivatives snag) and a fourth bigger one was about to happen in October.
As Moneylife has already said, the NSE as well as the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) seem to have ignored every check prescribed by SEBI. Trading was not halted in both bourses and across market segments; but the regulator’s only reaction is to launch an investigation.
The NSE has always successfully evaded a close scrutiny of all technology issues for over a decade. In its initial years, especially under the leadership of the late Dr RH Patil, the NSE was seen as an extension of the regulator and the government system. Not any more. Today, the NSE is driven by profits, pay and perquisites of senior executives, which are tied to a desperate need to maintain market share.