We should demand better public transport, GPS-tracking device on government vehicles and using the power and reach of government fuel companies to think of larger social good
In the previous piece (http://www.moneylife.in/article/petrol-price-hike-ndash-i-some-people-should-be-celebrating/25952.html) I have talked about the deep vested interests that win each time petrol prices go up and wondered what is the way to fix it. Well, there are a few simple ways, and you can do your part by demanding that these be implemented. The problem here of course is that those who can and should implement this are the same who stand to lose the most because of points 1,2 and 3 above, but the time has come when something has to be done. Here are some ideas. Please do write in with yours.
1) A very strong move on making public transport better all over the country has to be pushed as a national agenda. People have to demand it as an electoral issue. This will include the removal of all taxes / permit fees / tolls / entry taxes / levies / octroi / haftaas / traffic zone point charges / etc. from basic public transport like stage carriages (city buses), non-air-conditioned 'chartered' buses, state roadways buses, non-air-conditioned school buses and pilgrim buses. Likewise, point-to-point share taxi/auto services will need to be promoted. Public transport has to be treated like a social good, not a revenue generator.
2) Mantri/santri/babu misuse of government vehicles has to come down. The path forward is very simple. All government vehicles, owned or rented, must be fitted with GPS tracking devices, and their movements must be visible for tracking on public internet with a 24-72 hour time lag. But we as citizens of India must be able to spot and follow online where the government vehicles are going—and ask questions if we spot them hanging around clubs, golf courses, schools, five-star hotels or similar. A device like this costs about Rs5-Rs6 thousand now, and is becoming compulsory fitment on auto-rickshaws and taxiis, why not for cars used by mantri/santri and babu?
3) The adulterated fuel lobby and business is the strongest of the lot, and the most difficult to cure, as well as one which faces the maximum social resistance because so many people down the line also depend on it for their livelihood. It is also the one industry where the actual threat to those who stand up against it is the most. However, if public transport improves, then at least to some extent in urban centres, there should be a resultant fix. That remains the only hope.
And how does one get the most important component—the oil companies, to support? An anecdotal experience will help. In the power and water shortage affected areas of North West Karnataka, on a back-road in the cashew plantation areas, I came across a public sector filling station which had installed solar power options for feeding electricity to the lights, fans and dispensers. Literally in the middle of nowhere, this filling stations with no help from their parent oil companies, had figured out that it made sense to use solar power instead of diesel for gensets. Maybe this sort of common sense will filter up to their head offices too, soon?
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)
Noted RTI activist Subhash Agrawal raises serious issues concerning alleged immorality in appointments to the higher judiciary—an issue that has also agitated a lawyers’ body
Delhi-based Subhash Agrawal, also a well known Right to Information (RTI) activist has requested the Supreme Court, to take suo moto cognizance of media reports about a compact disk (CD) involving senior lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
“Supreme Court should take sue-moto cognizance of media reports about some CD which is alleged to have a sting on a leading politically influential lawyer allegedly in a chat with some lady advocate offering his influence in assisting her for being appointed a judge in a high court through some give-and-take offer,” Mr Agrawal said.
Mr Agrawal says in a release to the media that since it is a serious matter relating to the appointment of judges, “the apex court should order an enquiry directly under its supervision” and verify the CD through an independent laboratory of repute (may be a foreign one) to check if the CD is doctored or not. He says, this is necessary, because the prime accused in the FIR (first information report) lodged with the police has allegedly entered into a ‘compromise” with the prominent lawyer who figures in the CD.
In this connection, Mr Agrawal has raised several questions through his RTI application. They are:
1. Has the Honourable Chief Justice of India and/or other/s concerned at Supreme Court taken cognizance of widespread media reports (including also on social network websites) about a CD involving leading advocate and Parliamentarian Shri Abhishek Manu Singhvi, where even some mention of interference in judicial appointments is also reported on social network sites?
2. If yes, complete and detailed information on action taken on the complete episode and to verify authenticity of the referred CD, and also for an independent probe in the complete matter especially in order to clear air about judicial appointments
3. Is a copy of the referred CD been made available with any concerned one at Supreme Court?
4. If yes, complete and detailed information on action taken to verify authenticity of the referred CD mentioning also if the said CD has been sent to any laboratory for analysis, and name of the laboratory where the CD is sent for analysis
5. Complete and detailed information on action taken on each and every aspects of my submissions dated 20 April 2012 “Is CD relating to a leading lawyer authentic” also e-mailed at Supreme Court (copy enclosed for ready reference)
6. Name/s of person/s having recommended name/s of Anusuya Salwan, Abhinav Vashisht, Rajiv Virmani, Meenakshi Arora and Mahinder Acharya as judges at the Delhi High Court (subsequently sent for review by Honourable Chief Justice of India Justice SH Kapadia) as also referred in enclosed news report “Kapadia for review of Delhi High Court move on five new judges” (IANS 01.06.2010)
7. Any other related information
8. File-notings on movement of this RTI petition as well
According to Mr Agrawal the Chief Public Information Officer (CPIO) declined to provide information on query no1 to 4 and 6 on grounds that he was asking to authenticate some news reports. He said, “In an earlier RTI response, the CPIO had confessed about a system at the Supreme Court that takes cognizance of news reports. Therefore, my query in plain English was if the enclosed news report was taken cognizance or not at Supreme Court.”
In his first appeal to the Registrar and Appellate Authority of the Supreme Court, Mr Agrawal said, “Since query numbers 2 to 4 and 6 also emerge from query no 1, I appeal that the learned CPIO may kindly be directed to provide information to these queries as well but with sought and related documents.”
The rapid developments with regard to the “Consent Order” mechanism to settle regulatory action initiated by the Securities & Exchange Board of India are rather intriguing
On Friday, 25 May the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) released revised consent rules by amending its Consent Circular of 20 April 2007. It did this even as proceedings related to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the very legality of the Consent Circular were underway at the Delhi High Court.
Meanwhile, The Economic Times reported today that Reliance Industries (RIL), India’s largest private sector group has moved the Bombay High Court urging that action initiated against it in a massive insider trading case should be allowed to be settled under the now-discarded consent regulations.
RIL’s action comes after SEBI has apparently rejected its consent application twice before. However, it is not clear why SEBI has not initiated regulatory proceedings against the group for so many years. The RIL case suggests that there is no clear process for initiating punitive action once the regulator rejects a consent request. It is also unclear under what rules and circumstances it does this, since there is apparently a very long window available to some entities to keep revising their settlement offers.
The PIL in Delhi HC has prayed, amongst others, for quashing of the 2007 circular and all consent orders passed by SEBI pursuant to it. It has argued that SEBI’s circular does not have clear legal basis.
SEBI’s recent amendment to the consent rules states that it will not settle charges such as insider trading, fraudulent and unfair trade practices, failure to make the open offer, front-running, manipulation of net asset value or other mutual funds defaults, failure to redress investor grievances and failure to make disclosures under the ICDR. But, having said that, it still keeps a window open for by arming itself with discretionary powers to settle any case even in these defaults!
The original SEBI consent mechanism was obliquely justified on the grounds that it was modelled on the lines of the settlement procedure followed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This is factually incorrect.
Unlike the SEBI Act, the SEC has specific provisions in its statues to govern the settlement procedure (and not consent) with clear objectives of investor protection and fairness. They focus on disgorgement of illegal gains and compensation to affected investors from the money disgorged and fines collected. The SEBI Act has no provision for awarding compensation or damages for the losses suffered due to fraud or unfair practices. The fines imposed by SEBI are deposited in consolidated fund of the Government of India. Further, settlement terms of the SEC require the approval of a court (which can also reject the settlement). SEBI’s consent orders are entirely negotiated by its staff and ratified by its own chosen committee, headed by a retired judge. There is no known case where this committee has objected to the consent terms or sought their modification.
This means that even after the latest amendment, the fundamental issue of whether SEBI’s consent rules are legally valid has still to be decided by the courts. Does SEBI have the powers to settle all type of defaults? In my view, it does not. In fact, once it is satisfied that a violation or transgression of rules has occurred, SEBI is mandatorily required to impose the penalty prescribed for that particular offence under the Act. It has no discretion in the matter. For instance, “a penalty of Rs25 crore or three times the amount of profits made out of insider trading, whichever is higher,” is to be levied for insider trading or non-disclosure of acquisition of shares and takeovers or fraudulent and unfair trade practices.
Both SEBI circulars on consent proceedings—dated 20 April 2007 and 25 May 2012—turn the intent of the legislature as well as the letter and spirit of the legislation on its head. The legislation provides for mandatory and specific (in most of the violations) penalties whereas SEBI’s circulars over-ride this and empowers itself to decide matters on a case-by-case basis. A close reading of the latest amendment makes it obvious that it is another exercise in self-empowerment and SEBI’s sympathies lies with the violators rather than in protecting investors’ interest and safeguarding market integrity.
The new regulations are strange in another respect. They in fact formalize the process for those who commit an offence or violate a rule to walk through the consent door every two years (from the date of the previous consent order or even earlier “if the default is minor in nature”). Only those who have already received two consent orders (or pardons) already have to wait for three years before applying for consent again.
SEBI’s consent rulings so far have been extremely opaque and arbitrary, so one can only draw inferences from the amendments. One such amendment says that a consent application cannot be filed until the investigation is complete. Does this mean that in the past, under a more lawless regime, SEBI has allowed entities to file consent applications even before it had completed its investigations and figured the extent of wrongdoing?
Clearly, the new consent regulations are also grossly inadequate. SEBI is India’s capital market regulator, it would do well to regulate, strictly within the parameters set by the legislature and leave legislation to parliament.
(Virendra Jain is the president of Midas Touch Investors Association. His views expressed are personal.)
Disclosure: Midas Touch Investors Association has filed an application for impleadment in a PIL in Delhi HC challenging the power of SEBI to issue such consent guidelines. It is fixed for hearing on 8 August 2012.