An amendment to the RTI Act to exempt political parties from the Act is likely to be considered today in the Parliament. Citizen groups continue to fight against it
Activists of the Delhi based National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) have demanded that the Right to Information (RTI)Amendment Bill, instead of being put to vote, should be referred to the Standing Committee or the Select Committee of the Parliament in order to facilitate public consultation.
Reiterating the unprecedented popularity of the RTI Act and earlier attempts to dilute it, the NCPRI letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh states, "Any amendment that dilutes the people's right to information would weaken this important avenue of reform, and even undermine the process of realizing constitutional promises. There have been a series of attempts to amend the Act since 2006, which have been nullified by public pressure, and the political will of a part of the establishment and government. It is not often that there is a legislation that has become so popular and has been so resolutely defended by the ordinary citizen.
"You will recall that your government made an assurance in Parliament in 2009 that the RTI Act will not be amended without public consultation. It would be a travesty of this assurance if such an important issue, which has drawn a sharp public outcry, were to be passed without deliberation and consultation in the Parliamentary Standing Committee,'' the letter says.
The letter also mentions Singh's praise in last year's Independence Day speech for the Act. "…most importantly, as you so powerfully stated in your Independence Day address 'through the RTI Act, the common man (sic person) now gets more information than ever before about the work of the government'...The Act brings to light irregularities and corruption and opens the door for improvements."
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bharadwaj of the NCPRI believe that political parties could be having some legitimate concerns that this order could impinge on political activity but it could be solved by informed dialogue and consultation.
Their letter states, "We feel that the order from the Central Information Commission (CIC) could have been used to open the door for improving the political and electoral system and to bring to light the corruption and irregularities that are plaguing it. Over one lakh people from across the country, have signed an online petition urging you to not amend the RTI law, and there are numerous other petitions with the same message addressed to different authorities that are gaining momentum and popularity.''
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) along with Satark Nagrik Sangathan too has put up a petition. The organizations urge citizens to sign the petition in large numbers as the voting for the Bill is likely to happen today. The link to sign the petition.
In the meanwhile, Maharashtra State Gazetted Officers' Federation has publicly declared that all political parties must come under RTI; if they seek such exemption then the political parties have no moral right to implement it for others.''
In defence of staying out of the RTI Act, political parties in a chorus had stated that information pertaining to their expenditure is available with the Election Commission and hence, they need not come under RTI.
However, Delhi based RTI activist Subhash Agrawal's experience has been otherwise. Agrawal had sought information from six state political parties regarding their land allotment, contributors made by party members to the party fund and legislators involved in corrupt practices. The parties were Samajwadi Party (SP), All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Janata Dal United (JD-U) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Agrawal says, "Political parties and Union government, while opposing political parties coming under purview of RTI Act, are telling people that information relating to them can be obtained by filing RTI petitions at Election Commission. But even Appellate Authority at Election Commission has expressed its inability to provide any such information under provisions of section 2(f) of RTI Act. Before amending RTI Act to keep political parties out of purview of RTI Act, Union government should ensure that people may get required information concerning political parties from Election Commission and other concerned public-authorities under provisions of section 2(f) of RTI Act.''
Will today be the dark day? Lets wait and watch.
(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”.)
Here are some thoughts on what the Indian government can do to induce NRIs further to remit and invest more in their home country
So we have one more day when the Indian rupee was against the wall and had to succumb to the level of 64 against the US dollar. The bears apparently took a breather and did not pursue the kill. Maybe, they are planning for one on Friday for an outright onslaught.
The estimate of non-resident Indians (NRIs) - all categories - has widely varied from 30 to 40 million now. For the purpose of this article, let us take it at the lower rate of 30 million residing abroad in various categories. The largest concentration is in the Middle East, estimated at 20 million plus. The second lot, said to be in the Far East (mostly in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia) are about seven and 10 million; US has three million, UK at two million and rest of the world five million. On second thoughts, it should really be more than 30 million because we left out the whole of Africa, Latin America, China, Europe, Eastern block and Australia, New Zealand, as these should account for a few million more.
Anyway, the point at stake is that except for the Middle East where permanent residency has too many conditions to comply, other areas offer wide scope and opportunities for permanent stay leading to citizenship also.
By categorizing all these people as NRIs, we clear the slate and take it for granted that all these people have reasons to remit part of their earnings back to India on a regular basis.
And how do they remit? A large percentage of them, say about 70%, remit the funds back to India through normal banking channels, thanks to the setting up of branches of Indian banks in most of the countries where there is a growing Indian population. The balance may be said to be using non-banking channels, such as the ‘hawala’ route. This is debateable as only guestimates can be made in the dark and no reliable information is available, unless we have some information from the government agencies.
The purpose of remittance covers, generally, the following activities:
a) To meet the cost of maintenance expense of the family left behind by the NRI who has left (say) on a job overseas. Initial remittances cover his/ her travel costs, visa charges, agent fees and other money borrowed for the purpose of travel. In addition, this expense may cover several months of earnings by the individual concerned.
b) Subsequent remittances may be to truly meet family expenses, on a regular basis, to cover cost of education of children, purchase of essential household items and medical expenses. It must be remembered that getting the family members to join has too many hurdles in the Middle East and similar immigration formalities in other countries too.
c) Once settled (2/3 years from departure date) the NRI may return to meet the family and then plan repairs to the family home (if any) and or plan a purchase of land, flat so as to ‘acquire’ a personal property.
d) It is by this time, NRI gains the knowledge to ‘save’ and ‘invest’ in a little more systematic way as the previous year’s earnings were mostly directed to settle loans and other obligations created as a prelude to getting the job abroad.
e) The educated class of NRIs and some others become enlightened to open non-resident external (NRE) rupee accounts have foreign currency deposits (FCNRs) and also take the much needed insurance cover for the family.
f) Those NRIs who manage to get into western countries, such as USA, UK, Europe and eastern group like Singapore, Malaysia and Australia consider themselves as lucky because the immigration policies open up the prospects for permanent settlement, more often than not leading to citizenship.
g) With the government of India relaxing the rules and making dual citizenship procedure reasonably easy, it makes life a lot more easier for NRIs to target the countries of their choice locations.
The remittance from NRIs is substantial and is said to exceed $20 billion every year. Most of them, particularly those settled in the US and UK are very well to do, and have huge business interests abroad running into billions of dollars. These people of Indian origin, holding the nationality of the adopted countries have also returned to India to invest and the government offers them a wide range of benefits and special consideration to welcome their investments into the country.
Now, what can the government do to induce them further to remit more and invest more in the country? Here are some thoughts for the government to seriously consider…
a) Offer Indian Sovereign NRI Bonds, valid for 5 years, at a flat rate of say 9%, payable in rupees, freely transferable at maturity; this may be extendable, by the beneficiary, for two more terms at an additional bonus of 1% for the entire duration
b) At the time of maturity, if the account holder (NRI) decides to accept the Rupee in non-convertible account, give an additional 1% to 3% interest, permitting the use of the total amount in specified areas of investment, such as setting up production, infrastructure facilities, educational institutions and other areas that the government may nominate at that time
c) The interest earned on these bonds can be reinvested in treasury bonds for a minimum of three year period, after which, the whole amount can be repatriated and not subject to any tax
d) The face value of these Bonds will be in multiples of $1,000 or £1,000 and freely transferable to members of the same family - resident or non-resident - but need to be pre-identified at the time of initial purchase
e) The government may also relax the rules pertaining to investment by NRIs holding dual citizenship in areas of agriculture i.e. purchasing, owning farmland and actually involved in farm production, against the current policy that prevents purchase
Instead of procrastinating the issue of Sovereign Bonds, the Indian government must go ahead and bring this out immediately, preferably well in time before Diwali so that NRIs can take the opportunity to subscribe. In fact, this can be a regular annual feature to ensure that additional funds come into the country.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council under the Ministry of Commerce. He was also 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.)
Value investing requires a great deal of skill and experience. To deliver market-beating returns, the fund management would have to effectively pick undervalued stocks
Peerless Mutual Fund plans to launch an open-ended equity scheme— Peerless Value Fund. As the name suggests, the schemes would invest predominantly in equity based on a value investing strategy. The scheme would invest a minimum 80% of its assets in equity and the remaining portion of the portfolio would be invested in debt and money market securities. Value investing strategy employed by the scheme would look to invest in stocks at a discount to their intrinsic value, as indicated by low price-to-earnings, price-to-book, and high dividend yields. Value investing has proven to be a successful investment strategy worldwide for some, but a lot depends on the investors or, in this case, the fund managers’ judgements on picking ‘mispriced’ stocks and avoiding value traps. Formula does not work.
There are six schemes which follow a value investment strategy and have a track record of greater than three years. The returns of these schemes have varied significantly over the last one-year, three-year and five-year periods. Therefore, value investing requires a certain degree of skill, which not all fund managers posses. Among the schemes that are in existence, ICICI Prudential Discovery Fund has outperformed its benchmark over the one-year, three-year and five-year period. Sahara Star Value Fund has been the worst performer of the one-year and three-year period with a return of -18.50% and -10.25% respectively. Birla Sun Life Pure Value Fund and UTI Master Value underperformed their benchmark over the one-year and three-year periods.
Peerless Mutual Fund has just one equity scheme in existence—Peerless Equity Fund. The scheme which was launched in September 2011, has delivered a return of 14.20%, while its benchmark CNX Nifty delivered a return of 9.81%. The scheme is managed by Kaushik Dani, who would also manage the new scheme when it is launched. Has over 14 years of experience in fund management.
Other details about the scheme
Benchmark: CNX 200
Minimum Application Amount
Rs. 1,000/-and in multiples of Re. 1/- thereafter
Minimum Additional Purchase Amount
Rs. 100 and in multiples of Re. 1/- thereafter
Annual Recurring Expenses
Maximum total expense ratio (TER) permissible under Regulation 52(6)(c)(i)&(6)(a): Upto 2.50%
Additional expenses under regulation 52(6A)(c): Upto 0.20%
Additional expenses for gross new inflows from specified cities: Upto 0.30%
Exit Load: 1% if redeemed before 1 year