Prasad was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance that discussed gas pricing policy, while he was engaged by a RIL group company
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Communications and Information Technology in the Narendra Modi government, was part of the Standing Committee on Finance that discussed gas pricing policy among others, while he was on a retainership with company associated with Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). According to the information procured from the Parliament by us, Prasad was present as member during a sitting of the Committee on 19 July 2013, when the issue of economic impact of gas pricing policy was discussed.
Documents provided by the Aam Admi Party (AAP) show that during April 2013 to March 2014, Prasad was retained by and paid Rs84 lakh as fees by Mumbai-based Fine Tech Corp Pvt Ltd. In addition, he seems to have raised nine bills worth Rs84 lakh on a single day in March 2014, as per the documents released by AAP. The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has alleged that Prasad, while being a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was paid this money as retainer fee from a company of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). Prasad, however, has refuted the allegations.
In a release, AAP said, "Union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is in receipt of retainership fees from a company of Reliance group (Fine Tech Corp Pvt Ltd). We are enclosing the invoices raised by Ravi Shankar Prasad on the company of Reliance group from April 2013 to March 2014, total amount billed Rs84 lakh. Payment is in the form of retainership fee. It appears to be a token of gratification being offered."
"Before becoming a union minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) from March 2011 onwards, which examined matters relating to allocation and pricing of telecom licences and spectrum. Reliance is a major telecom player and many questions have been raised on Reliance’s improprieties in the 4G matter," the release says.
The JPC headed by PC Chako submitted its report on 25 October 2013. However, Prasad along with Jaswant Singh, Gopinath Munde, Harin Pathak, Dharmendra Pradhan and Yashwant Sinha submitted a note of dissent. It said, "It is regretted that in spite of voluminous evidence on record before the Committee, the final report chose not to fix responsibility of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Minister and many others. Our note of dissent is designed to ensure that the political accountability of this massive scam is clearly determined and fixed against all the guilty so that it serves as a lesson for the future."
According to the documents provided by AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader was retained by Mumbai-based Fine Tech Corp Pvt Ltd, during April 2013 to March 2014 and paid Rs7 lakh a month as fees. Prasad raised nine bills for the entire period as individual advocate. In all the bills, location of the service provided is mentioned as WO-31090172 dated 27.08.2013. In addition, all the bills show service description as "Advising on various issues from legal point of view, recommendation regarding decision or course of conduct and vetting of various contracts on legal aspects.”
Here is the copy of bills provided by AAP...
The Kejriwal-led party also alleged that Manish Tewari, the erstwhile minister in Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government also had a retainership agreement with RIL, this was while serving as a Minister. According to documents furnished by AAP, the Congress leader was paid Rs5 lakh between July 2010 and June 2012. Following a letter from Tewari, his retainership was extended by two more years for a fee of Rs6 lakh per month till June 2014. Tewari was also a member of the JPC, which probed the 2G telecom scam, the AAP said.
Here is the copy of letters sent by RIL to Tewari...
What is Fine Tech Corp?
According to information from Zauba.com, Fine Tech Corp was set up in November 2000. The company has three directors, Jaishanker Prasad Kanhaiya Lal Bansal, Rajagopal Subramanian and Shanker Natarajan. Bansal, who is shown as whole-time director of Fine Tech Corp, is also director of Reliance Jamnagar Infrastructure Ltd.
Rajagopal Subramanian is also associated with various RIL group companies, like Reliance Chemicals Ltd, Reliance Industries Investment and Holding Ltd, Reliance Energy and Project Development Ltd, Reliance Global Commercial Ltd and Reliance Aromatics and Petrochemicals Ltd. Shankar Natarajan is also director or additional director on several RIL group companies, including Reliance Oil and Petroleum Pvt Ltd, Jamnagar Kandla Pipeline Co Pvt Ltd and Reliance First Pvt Ltd.
The Bill, tabled in Parliament, is to be taken up for discussion in the budget session.
On a day, when the Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramaniam, praised the Goods and Services Tax implementation and said that it would be a game changer, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said the Bill will not be tabled in Parliament in this session.
Jaitley said that the bill would be tabled in Parliament in the Budget session of Parliament. Reports had suggested that there had been a breakthrough in negotiations between the Centre and the States, and that the GST amendments would be taken up in Parliament in this session.
This session however, has been marred by disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is in a minority, with almost the entire Parliament session already washed out.
There were also reports that the Tamil Nadu CM had also opposed provisions in the GST and had said that the Bill should be deferred till the outstanding issues are resolved.
The Tamil Nadu CM wrote to PM Narendra Modi and said that the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers should be allowed to come to a consensus before taking up the bill in Parliament, PTI reported.
Unfortunately, at the moment, most Indian ports lack deep drafts, cranes with sufficient reach to serve mega vessels
When Sri Lanka sought the India's assisstance in the development of Hambantota harbour, for reasons that have not been made public so far, India did not show any interest. As a result of this, in spite of India being Sri Lanka's largest trading partner, the Government was forced to approach China.
China grabbed the opportunity and has developed Hambantota port with the most advanced handling equipment available, so as to cater to the needs of large vessels that have come to rule the high seas now.
While most Indian ports are able to handle vessels carrying 5,000 containers, with the exception of Mundra (which is reported to have handled 14,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) in 2013, setting a record) and the Gujarat Pipvav port (9,000 TEUs), our southern neighbour's port at Hambantota can easily handle the so-called monster vessels of 15,000 TEUs capacity with ease.
It has been reported in the press that an estimated 100 or more such mega vessels rule the sea, these are able to transfer small lots of containers for onward transmission to ports that cannot berth these mega vessels. It would follow that, in due course, these smaller container vessels will also be forced to leave the shipping lanes and land up in ship-breaking yards.
As far as India is concerned, as a sequel to the development of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, cargo to USA, UK and Europe are now seeking transhipment facilities at Colombo, Singapore and Jebel Ali (UAE). Unfortunately at the moment, most Indian ports lack deep drafts and cranes with sufficient reach to serve such mega vessels.
In a way, this works to India's disadvantage because when customers nominate their cargo carriers, by identified shipping companies, we may land up handing over the cargo that would employ the advanced facilities available in the ports mentioned above, for the final destination.
At the moment, even Nhava Sheva port, which handles around 45% of India's container movement, does not have sufficiently deep draft. And yet, we are only six years away from the goals set for the Maritime Agenda 2020 by the government. If this target has to be met, it is imperative that in the "Make in India" campaign, special attention is drawn to this inadequacy and efforts are made on a war footing, to develop deep drafts and obtain matching equipment to be able to handle such mega vessels.
In addition to the development facilities at ports, it becomes all the more necessary to draw up mega plans for simultaneous concentration in setting up infrastructure facilities in and around such ports. Extension of rail roads, increased availability of wagons/rakes to move goods and container carriers in and out of these ports to keep pace with increased demands, both for imports and exports. At the same time, these ports will keep developing and we need to keep pace with them in speed and execution.
To make all this possible, there is a need to create well-trained and skilled personnel to handle the latest equipment that would be in use. Also, as some of the ports are considered "small" or "minor", there is a need to develop these ports, so that these can supplement the efforts of mega ports to handle increased cargo, both in and out of the country.
Port development, therefore, is a must to make "make in India" campaign fruitful.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of 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.)