Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner, says that with more and more public projects handled by PPPs, people have a right to know what is happening to these assets. He was speaking at a Moneylife seminar at the weekend
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) must come under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act because they concern public assets and resources, says Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner.
"PPPs must be brought under the RTI. A lot of public assets, I think, are going to be shifted to these entities in the coming years. So, people have a right to know what is happening to those assets," Mr Gandhi says. "If information is denied, it is like a fraud, where public assets are privatised without consent."
He was speaking at a seminar on using the RTI effectively, hosted by Moneylife Foundation on Saturday.
Mr Gandhi says it is unfortunate that in many cases, public information officers (PIOs) reply that PPP documents do not exist, or that they are not traceable.
The central information commissioner mentioned that he had come across cases where documents were declared 'missing' within three years of signing of the contract. "How can they just go missing within three years? Even surprisingly, how does the contract itself disappear?" he wondered.
According to some activists, such 'missing' documents cases make way for new, or 'altered' documents, which differ substantially from the original ones. In many cases, facts and figures about the quantum of resources allotted to PPP projects are changed, they say. Therefore, they suggest that all contracts and related documents should be put up on the company website, or in some other public domain, as soon as they are signed, so that there is no chance of them getting lost.
Narrating from his personal experience, Mr Gandhi said that the truth can be revealed, even when documents are declared missing. "In a similar case the PIO said that the documents were not traceable. I asked him to report that the documents have been stolen. He was aghast and he refused. So I asked him to give me the evidence that the documents were not stolen. In the end he had to produce either the file or the backup," Mr Gandhi said.
According to Mr Gandhi, PPPs are 'substantially funded' by the government and hence should be subject to the RTI, even if the government may not hold a majority stake, or control in the project. Many government infrastructure and urban development projects are now handled by PPPs.
In a letter to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Satyananda Mishra, chief information commissioner has said, "In all such projects which are handed over to a PPP entity … the land, if not any other resource, given by the government forms a vital component of the project … and can be deemed to be substantial funding. Thus, a PPP entity should be deemed to be a public authority for the purpose of the RTI Act."
"The problem is that the moment information is sought about such an entity, public information officers deny information by saying that it is exempt from the RTI, because it is about a third party, and that the information is of commercial importance. That is not what the Act says," said Mr Gandhi.
He cited section 8(1) (d) that lists the exemptions. The section says that the disclosure must not 'harm' the third party whose views should be taken into account while replying to the query. The 'competent authority' must be satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of information. "The other reason PIOs give for these queries about PPPs is that the information is held in a 'fiduciary' capacity. However, public interest overrides such restrictions," said Mr Gandhi.
The Central Information Commission, in a recent ruling, also spoke in favour of bringing PPPs under the RTI. In the order, Mr Gandhi said that even if private bodies resisted the RTI, it was the duty of the government to provide information to the public. The order also referred to guidelines issued by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) that say the functioning of PPPs must be accountable and transparent.
The projection made by Moody's in its latest report for the current fiscal is below the government's and RBI's forecast. It, however, added that the 'cyclical slowdown' is unlikely to change its credit outlook of the country
New Delhi: Global rating agency Moody's has pegged India's growth at 7.5%-8% for the current fiscal, saying that higher interest rates as well as global economic uncertainties could affect the country's economic expansion in the near term, reports PTI.
In its annual sovereign credit update on India, Moody's, however, added that the 'cyclical slowdown' is unlikely to change its credit outlook of the country.
"Moody's expects gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.5%-8% in 2011-12 ...Given current global uncertainty, and the continuing transmission of the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) tightening over the last year, the risks to both forecasts are on the downside," Moody's said.
It added: "Although rising domestic interest rates and an uncertain global economic environment could dampen India's near term GDP growth, a cyclical slowdown is unlikely to alter its credit outlook."
India's economy grew at 8.5% in 2010-11. The projection made by Moody's in its latest report for the current fiscal is below the government's and RBI's forecast.
While the government expects the country's GDP to grow at the same pace this fiscal also, the RBI has projected economic growth at 8%.
Moody's report also said that inflation is likely to moderate to around 7% by March 2012, a projection in sync with that made earlier by the RBI.
"Moody's expects ... inflation to abate slowly over the course of the year to about 7%... Should global growth decelerate, the concurrent decline in global commodity prices would alleviate India's inflation problem and likely allow for a pause or even reversal in monetary tightening," it said.
Moody's said that India faces a renewed period of global uncertainty while trying to rebalance its own macro-economic position. Headline inflation has been above 9% since December 2010, while food inflation breached the double-digit mark in mid-August.
The RBI has hiked interest rates 11 times since March 2010 to curb demand and tame inflation. India Inc has blamed the repeated rate hikes, which has resulted in rise in the cost of borrowings, for bringing down investments and industrial growth.
The economy expanded by 7.7% in April-June, the slowest growth in six quarters.
"The Index of Industrial Production averaged 6.7% year-on-year increase in the first quarter of 2011-12, down from an average of 8% in 2010-11, and 10% plus during the 2004-2007 period.
"Of concern is the apparent slowdown in investment in recent months, blamed on rising domestic financing costs as well as policy uncertainty in the wake of recent telecoms related scandals," Moody's said.
An inter-ministerial panel in its draft report a few months back had suggested averaging out price of costlier imported LNG with cheaper domestic gas. But in its final report, it said, "The committee does not recommend pooling mechanism for natural gas at the overall level, nor does it recommend a price pooling on sectoral basis"
New Delhi: Reversing its earlier stand, a high-level government committee said that domestic natural gas users cannot be asked to subsidise costlier imported LNG as pooling of natural gas prices was not feasible, reports PTI.
An inter-ministerial panel headed by Planning Commission member Saumitra Chaudhuri in its draft report a few months back had suggested averaging out price of costlier imported LNG with cheaper domestic gas. The averaging out, called pooling of prices, would have resulted in users of cheaper domestic natural gas pay double the existing rates so that imported LNG could be sold at affordable rates.
But in its final report, which was prepared after extensive consultation with the industry, it said, "The committee does not recommend pooling mechanism for natural gas at the overall level, nor does it recommend a price pooling on sectoral basis."
Instead, the committee in its 25th August report said preferential allotment of domestic gas to be done to priority sectors of fertiliser and power only and the rest of the consumers like steel plants should be allocated imported LNG.
Domestic gas is currently priced at $4.2 to $5.5 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu) while the fuel imported in ships in its liquid form (liquefied natural gas or LNG) is priced at $10 to $14 per mmBtu.
"These (non-priority) users operate in a market environment where their output prices are market driven with no regulatory burden and hence they should be able to pass on the higher costs of gas feedstock," the report said.
State gas utility GAIL India and Petronet LNG, which were part of the inter-ministerial committee, had been lobbying for pooling of gas prices as LNG currently being imported on a long-term contract from Qatar will cost upward of $12 per mmBtu from 2014 while new contract with Australia was priced at $14.5 per mmBtu.
"The recommendation put forth here do not envisage any form of pooling at the all-India level cutting across industries," the report said.
"What it does is to preferentially allot available domestic natural gas to fertiliser and power sectors with a certain quantity reserved allotment for the city gas/CNG sector," it said.
The final report called for meeting incremental requirements of the two sectors and keeping usage of imported LNG in the priority sectors to not more than 25%.
Non-priority steel plants, oil refineries, petrochemical units presently consume about 18.4 million metric standard cubic meters per day (mmscmd) out of the total domestic gas availability of 110.59 mmscmd. Fertiliser and power sector draw 88.37 mmscmd.