Citizens' Issues
Safety Issues in Public Transport

The onus of the safety of passengers is on the public transport operator


What is the liability, if any, of the an entity in charge of a public transport service, be it road, rail, water or air? In the context of the rape that occurred in Delhi recently, where the accused was a driver with the taxi service ‘Uber’, the question acquires greater importance. In this latest Delhi case, the taxi service is covered under laws for ‘public carriers’, which assigns the onus for any crime committed on the owners and operators of taxi services. Is there a precedent for something like this? Actually, in context with public services like transport, there is.


In chairman, Railway Board vs Chandrima Das case, a practising advocate of the Calcutta High Court filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India against the various railway authorities of the Eastern Railway claiming compensation for the victim (Hanufa Khatoon)—a Bangladeshi national—who was raped at the Howrah Station by railway security men. The High Court awarded Rs10 lakh as compensation. The State appealed arguing that:


a) The railway was not liable to pay compensation to the victim because she was a foreigner.


b) That the remedy lies in the domain of private law and not public law, i.e., the victim should have approached the civil court for seeking damages; and should have not come to the High Court under Article 226.


The Supreme Court observed: “Where public functionaries are involved and the matter relates to the violation of fundamental rights or the enforcement of public duties, the remedy would be avoidable under public law. It was more so, when it was not a mere violation of any ordinary right, but the violation of fundamental rights was involved—as the petitioner was a victim of rape, which a violation of fundamental right of every person guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”


It is time the authorities and policy-makers take a harder look at the ‘public duties’ of yellow-plate commercial vehicle operators all over the country. Even in the Nirbhaya case, while the focus was rightly on the high incidence of rapes in Delhi, the subsidiary issue of safety in public transport was barely looked at by the authorities. This latest case shows up this very lack in India’s policy-making and enforcement environment.


On the other side of the spectrum are people, who drive cabs or operate them. More than a few I know have a strict ‘no drunks in taxi’ policy, because of the risk of vomiting, fighting or public nuisance. I think that attitude by good fleet operators and drivers will start taking precedence soon.


Low Oil Prices Make It Cheaper To Pollute


Auto major Mahindra is trying its best to enliven the battery-powered vehicles market in India, for personal transport (with their offering called ‘e2o’) and for commercial vehicles in the three- and four-wheeler formats. Commercial success appears to have eluded them in India, for now; but the increased concern by the National Green Tribunal on removing older and more polluting vehicles from city roads may soon include solutions which make it more cost-effective for prospective buyers to go in for battery-operated vehicles.


However, the steep decline in global crude oil prices, may stymie these plans. The effect of oil prices will become clear only if some benefit of lower prices is passed on to consumers in the form of reduced taxation. For now, Mahindra has tweaked the ‘e2o’ to provide more mileage per recharge and better seating, as well as minor modifications in design, based on feedback from customers.


(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)


Stock manipulation: Odyssey Technologies

Odyssey’s stock price has shot up 1443% in a little over a year. Where is SEBI?


Odyssey Technologies claims to operate in the information security industry with a focus on public key infrastructure (PKI) for payment systems in India. The company’s latest annual report mentions that its main customers are from the banking & finance sector and the rest include government and defence agencies. Around 70% of Odyssey’s revenue reportedly derived from product-related services and a little less than 28% comes from product licences implementing PKI. But Odyssey has recorded sales of only Rs1 crore-Rs2 crore each quarter since March 2011. However, such is the ease with which manipulators operate in the market that, in about a year, the company’s share price shot up by 1,443%, or 15 times, to Rs39.05 on 9 December 2014 from Rs2.53 on 8 October 2013. To put it in perspective, an investment of Rs1 lakh would now be worth approximately Rs15 lakh. In as many as 128 of the past 270 trading days, the stock has closed with a gain of 2% or more. As usual, this will go unnoticed by the regulators.


SEBI proposes new norms for issuance, listing of municipal bonds

According to SEBI, municipal bonds would add to instruments where provident funds, pension funds and insurance companies can also invest


Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Tuesday proposed a new set of norms for listing and trading of municipal bonds on stock exchanges to channelize household investments for urban infrastructure development. This would also help government in its 'smart cities' programme.


Issuing draft regulations for such municipal bonds, also known as 'muni bonds', SEBI said that that issuing authorities would need to contribute at least 20% of the total project cost for which they wish to raise funds.


Besides, these municipal authorities would need to have a strong financial track-record and such bonds should have a minimum tenure of three years.


"Conservative Indian investor mainly invests in fixed deposits, small saving schemes or gold. Bonds issued by municipalities having good financial track record would be an good alternative investment opportunity for such conservative investors, as it provides reasonable return with less risk, which in turn may accelerate the capital markets," SEBI said.


Commonly known as 'muni bonds', these investment products are very popular among investors in many developed nations, especially the US, where muni bonds have attracted investments totalling over $500 billion and are among preferred avenues for household savings.


The market regulator has invited comments on the SEBI (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipality) Regulations, 2015, till 30th January.


Further, the capital market regulator said that municipal bonds would add to instruments where provident funds, pension funds and insurance companies can put in their money.


While such bonds have been issued by various municipal authorities in the country, the total funds raised through them stand at only about Rs1,353 crore.


The Bangalore Municipal Corp was the first municipal corporation to issue a municipal bond of Rs125 crore with a state guarantee in 1997.


However, the access to capital market commenced in January 1998, when the Ahmedabad Municipal Corp (AMC) issued the first municipal bonds in the country without state government guarantee for financing infrastructure projects in the city. AMC raised Rs100 crore through its public issue.


Among others, Hyderabad, Nashik, Visakhapatnam, Chennai and Nagpur municipal authorities have issued such bonds, however, there is no provision as yet for listing and subsequent trading of muni bonds on stock exchanges in India.


As per guidelines of the Urban Development Ministry, only bonds carrying interest rate up to maximum 8% per annum shall be eligible for being notified as tax-free bonds.


However, SEBI's Corporate Bonds and Securitisation Advisory Committee is of the view that having a fixed rate of 8% might not attract investors.


There can be "flexibility in setting interest rate cap by linking it to a benchmark market rate," the concept paper said.


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