In 2011, governor of Goa tried to dodge RTI queries by stating that he does not come under RTI. Now, the J&K governor’s secretariat has denied information stating that the office of the governor is a ‘privileged’ one
Rewind: In January 2011, Goa-based RTI (Right to Information) activist, Aries Rodrigues, demanded information under the RTI Act regarding president Pratibha Patil’s controversial four-day visit to Goa which was declared as a “private visit” via a press release issued by the governor’s office in Goa. Mr Rodrigues was denied information stating that the Goa governor’s office does not come under the purview of the RTI Act. K Sankaranarayanan was the governor of Maharashtra and holding additional charge of Goa at that time.
Therefore, Mr Rodrigues demanded the same information from the office of the governor of Maharashtra where Mr Sankaranarayanan was the governor. He was given the information, which confirmed that the president was indeed on an official visit to Goa and not on a private one as claimed by the Goa governor’s office, for which the Goa government spent Rs14.81 lakh from taxpayers’ money.
Thereafter, Mr Rodrigues also sought legal intervention against Goa governor’s denial of being public authority under RTI. On 14 November 2011, the Bombay High Court at Goa ruled that the governor of Goa is a public authority and comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The high court held that the governor enjoyed no immunity from the RTI Act and the public information officer (PIO) at the Goa Raj Bhavan is duty bound to furnish information sought under the Act.
Fast Forward: On 6 February 2013, Jammu-based journalist and RTI activist, Raman Sharma filed a RTI at the governor of Jammu & Kashmir’s (J&K) secretariat seeking information on the number of individuals who had visited governor NN Vohra between January 2010 and February 2013 and appointments sought by citizens and rejected by the governor’s office. Public Information Officer, OP Bhagat of the governor’s secretariat who replied on 27th February, denied information stating that the office of the governor is a ‘privileged’ one.
His reply reads: “…in this context, it is to inform you that the office of Governor is the privileged one and thus this information pertaining to delegation/ information about criteria adopted for seeking appointments cannot be made public under Section 8 of the RTI Act 2009. If you are not satisfied with the reply, you may appeal to FAA of the Governor’s Secretariat.”
This reply was a sequel to Sharma’s RTI application, which had a series of questions and read as follows:
“Provide me following details and Information under the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009.
INFORMATION SOUGHT (period 01/Jan/2010 to till date of both offices, Jammu/Srinagar):
Having been denied information by the PIO, Sharma then filed his first appeal on 18th March, with the First Appellate Authority, the principal secretary to the governor. Sharma states in the appeal, “Sir, the argument given by the respondent is neither justifiable nor hold any legal weight as in his rejection order. The respondent had
cited Section 8 of the J&K RTI Act, 2009, for not sharing the information to the applicant and claimed that office of governor is privileged one.”
“Sir, though there is no denial that the office of Governor is one of the “Highest Constitutional Office” in any state including J&K, but as per the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009, it is not specifically mentioned that office of governor is exempted from providing any sort of information. Hence the reason of ‘privilege’ cannot be claimed here while dealing an RTI application.”
“Moreover, nowhere in the Section 8 cited by the PIO, it is mentioned that information related to delegations/ individuals meeting with the governor can be denied to an information seeker.”
“Sir, the information sought by the information seeker is purely in larger public interest and would promote transparency and accountability of the Public Authority, which is well defined in the preamble of the J & K RTI Act, 2009. The preamble of the RTI act states that ‘The Constitution of India has established democratic republic and
whereas democracy requires informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold government and its instrumentalities accountable to the governed’.”
“Sir, the applicant also wishes to submit it for your kind information that almost everyday the State Information and Publicity Department issues press notes and photographs showing the Governor with the visiting individuals/ NGO/ dignitaries/ senior bureaucrats/ politicians/ educationists/ artists and other, the news and stories are often being published regarding the delegations meet with the governor. Hence the sought information is itself made public by the Raj Bhavan therefore the claim of ‘privilege’ holds no logic and justification therefore the present applicant cannot be denied the sought information.”
“Prayer: Keeping the above factual submissions of the applicant into your kind consideration the respondent may be asked to release the sought information without any further delay.’”
Raman Sharma should have also quoted the Goa governor example and the high court judgment.
For Goa governor related stories, see RTI Act: Same Governor comes under it in Maharashtra, but not in Goa and Goa Governor eats humble pie; High Court says he also comes under RTI Act
(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”.)
SEBI while asking the Sarafs of Zenith Infotech to provide a bank guarantee of $34 million, said the promoters and directors of the company have in a devious manner attempted to take away assets of a listed company, directly and indirectly, for their own benefit causing loss to shareholders
Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has barred Rajkumar Saraf, Akash Kumar Saraf, Devita Saraf, Vijayrani Saraf, VU Technologies Pvt Ltd and Zenith Technologies Pvt Ltd from the securities market till further directions. In addition, the market regulator asked the board of directors of Zenith Infotech to furnish within 30 days a bank guarantee of $33.93 million valid for one year.
SEBI said its examination “prima facie'” shows that promoters and directors of Zenith Infotech have in a devious manner attempted to take away the assets of a listed company directly and indirectly for their own benefit or for benefit of entities owned and controlled by them, thereby causing loss to shareholders.
Here are the observations made by SEBI...
1. Zenith Infotech had raised $33 & $50 million by issuing ‘FCCBs’ which were due for redemption in September 2011 and August 2012, respectively.
2. Zenith Infotech in its EGM held on 29 January 2011 took approval from its shareholders to sell its assets for repayment/redemption of FCCBs due for maturity.
3. On 26 September 2011, Zenith Infotech announced to the exchanges that it has sold one of its division, managed services division or MSD, to Zenith RMM LLC.
4. It was observed that the substantial portion of sale proceeds of MSD Division of Zenith Infotech was diverted for the benefits/interests of promoters and/or directors and subsidiaries, which was not remotely connected to the authorization of the shareholders.
5. Further, it was observed that the Zenith Infotech and its promoters/directors not only disregarded shareholders’ resolution but also adopted fraudulent device and artifice to defraud the shareholders by concealing and misrepresenting information to the exchanges.
6. The aforesaid apparent asset stripping of Zenith Infotech for the purpose of benefitting the interests of its promoters /directors and related entities led to the following consequences:
a. Shareholders/investors have lost considerable value as a result of sharp price fall in the scrip of Zenith Infotech from approximately Rs190 on 23 September 2011 to approximately Rs45 on 30 November 2011 i.e. a fall of approximately 75% in just 45 trading days. The price of the scrip has further gone down to Rs19 as on 7 March 2013.
b. The shareholders’ value has eroded because of the misconduct of the promoters/directors.
c. The company is still fastened with the liability to pay back the FCCB holders on account of redemption thereof. This will further have a financial burden on shareholders' wealth in Zenith Infotech.
In 2006, Zenith Infotech, run by Akash Saraf as managing director and chief executive, issued foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) worth $33 million at a conversion price of Rs310 per share due in September 2011. Next year, the company again issued FCCBs worth $50 million at a conversion price of Rs522 per share and due to mature in August 2012. The first tranche of $33 million came up for repayment as Zenith's share price at that time was below the conversion price on the maturity date.
However, in a regulatory filing, the company admitted that it has defaulted on its $33 million FCCB and was in negotiations with the bondholders to extend time for repayment. Since there was a default in payment of the first tranche, it triggered a cross default provision under which the second tranche also was considered defaulted. This made the total defaults of around $83 million.
Creditors, including hedge funds, said that Zenith Infotech owes them more than $90 million or about Rs450 crore. “We tried contacting both, Akash and Raj Saraf but could not get any satisfactory answers from them. In fact, we found out that at the time of the maturity of first tranche, the company had shown Rs150 crore as cash in its balance sheet,” said one representative of the creditors, who did not want to be identified.
He said, “Despite having the cash, Zenith Infotech has not paid our dues at that time. Later on 26 September 2011, it decided to sell one of its two divisions, called managed services division (MSD) through a newly incorporated vehicle Zenith RMM LLC in Delaware to US-based private equity fund Summit Partners via an asset purchase agreement.”
Following the court orders, it was discovered that Zenith received $54 million or about Rs250 crore in cash for selling 85% of its MSD business and would also retain 15% ownership in Zenith RMM with Summit Partners holding the rest. Zenith UAE, which received $27 million or about Rs133 crore from the deal is a very small entity.
In an affidavit filed before the court, Zenith also revealed that it transferred about $15 million from the proceeds to Vu Technologies, a company run by Devita Saraf, the daughter of Raj Saraf and sister of Akash Saraf. However, till date Zenith failed to explain what happened to the Rs150 crore it showed on its balance sheet and why it did not cleared its dues or repaid money to FCCB holders.
Airport operators, particularly the Airports Authority of India, had seized several aircraft of the Vijay Mallya-owned carrier and decided not to release them till Kingfisher clears their dues