Citizens' Issues
Public Interest Exclusive
The murder of a Karnataka audit official: Enough is enough!

According to the media enquiries, Mahantesh’s colleagues are categorical that nothing that he was working on was controversial to incur this murderous attack. More pressure needs to be mounted to ensure justice is done to a whistle blower

The brutal attack with a blunt object at 8.30pm on 15 May 2012 in Bengaluru killed SP Mahantesh, 48, the deputy director at the state’s audit watch dog, Directorate of Co-operative Audit. He was assaulted on Bengaluru’s high traffic density Palace Road, bang opposite the residence of the state chief justice, near the Police CID HQ and close to a well-known three star hotel. He was found lying injured on the road for full 45 minutes before being rushed to the hospital by the hotel staff. After battling for life for five days in a hospital ICU he succumbed to the injuries.

I’m particularly hurt because Mahantesh was an auditor. He and I belong to the same profession and he hails from the state of my birth. What is more saddening is that he had to pay an extreme price—sacrifice his life in the line of duty. To make matters worse only a few days back a forest officer Nayak, again in the same state of Karnataka, was also bashed up and killed also when he was performing his duties.

It’s high time now to say enough is enough! The neta-babu-land mafia nexus anywhere needs to be dealt summarily with an iron fist. The rot and scam go right up to the PMO and the high profile Tatra truck deal; this is only one segment of the BEML cooperative audit.  

The police, apparently at the behest of their political bosses seem to shift the focus of the probe by hinting at personal motives—“Personal angle in whistleblower’s murder: Cops. Family refuses to buy theory” blares the headline in a national daily.  The worst of all, the police are making an outrageous suggestion of “extra marital” affair as a possible motive.   They ought to have thought twice before making such a slanderous allegation without a shred of evidence—they need to substantiate this vague statement which indeed is quite damaging in its content and extremely personal in nature. It has been challenged by both his grieving family and his colleagues.

According to the media enquiries, his colleagues are categorical that nothing that he was working on was controversial to incur this murderous attack, further going on to add that in the audit system he couldn’t have done anything individually to harm anyone. The police ought not to gone into presumptive character assassination more particularly when time they claim that they are clueless in the absence of CCTV footage or witnesses.  They are deliberately down-playing that he was also attacked earlier at Bannergatta by two motorcyclists in January.   

More pressure needs to be mounted by the citizens on the state as well as Union government to ensure justice is done to a whistle blower, given the extent of institutionalized corruption, bureaucrats, this includes the auditors, who serve as checks and balances constituting vital resources, need to be protected to help in cleansing the system that is going from bad to worse. It is the duty of the state to ensure that these honest men don’t have to pay the price with their lives. This makes the enactment and immediate notification of the Whistle blowers Act enforceable without any further delay.

Today, the country’s economy is stressed, drifting away with the rupee sliding to fresh lows—falling from under Rs44 end-July 2011 to crossing the magical Rs55-to-a-dollar in May 2012, forex reserves dipping by about $27 billion; compare this with the 2008 crisis when in a period of three months September-November the depletion in reserves the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) net dollar sales, adjusted for valuation changes amounted to $50 billion. The present forex reserves inclusive of gold at $292 billion can pay for just over seven months of India’s imports, earlier they sufficed for 13 months when the Lehman Brothers went belly up. Like in 2008 there is a gradual drying up of capital inflows, unsustainable current account deficit resulting in excessive exchange rate volatility and speculative trades.

The country has had good monsoons, 2012 is expected to be better too. The food production is so great that the Food Corporation (FCI) has no space to stock the produce and millions of tonnes are simply allowed to rot. Though the government numbers indicate dismal numbers, India Inc has thrown up robust results declaring high two and three digit dividends. The cost of living, with food and milk costs shooting through the roofs nonetheless.
Call it because of policy paralysis or trust deficit, the aam admi’s confidence in the UPA-2 government’s capacity to deliver is waning fast. The country is beset with good governance issues that have caused economic slowdown.

It is only the leadership crisis at the top that is responsible for the absence of any effective steps to reign in the galloping food price rises, forex volatility, current account and fiscal deficits. There are no so-called “coalition compulsions” holding up any major decision.  It is simply a myth and bogey created by the ruling coterie to stay in power.

Unfortunately India is stuck by TINA—There’s Is No (other) Alternative factor. There is lack of effective opposition—the BJP has squabbling leaders with many PM aspirants, the Left is badly divided and the regional parties be it the NCP, Trinamool, RJD, BJD, SP, BSP, NC, DMK or AIDMK are incapable of clobbering workable coalitions. They agree to disagree even on a nominee for Rashtrapati Bhavan. This perforce leads us to another Congress-led kichdi to be led by God knows who! The Lok Pal bill is tossed around with the Congress piggy-backing on RJD and SP to shoot from its shoulders.

Dr Manmohan Singh, the finance minister of 1992 who was forced into an out-of-the box budget to usher in a better India by a determined PM leading a minority government, is today occupying the PM’s chair but  sadly unable to lead and/or deliver effectively.

The 2012 Budget was indeed a golden opportunity for reforms lost. This lacklustre budget nitpicked trivial issues like a chicken feed Rs20,000 hike in the threshold limit, Rs5,000 for preventive healthcare, Rs10,000 in the Rajiv Gandhi Yojana Investments, Rs10,000 for interest on bank savings accounts and not other interest, capital gains in SME—all meaningless freebees that make no sense in galloping inflationary conditions. The roll backs only accommodated the already rich jewellery and forex lobbies. It has done nothing whatsoever by way of incentives for industries, agriculture or exports when, this perhaps the last budget of the present FM was expected to deal with international monetary issues. Budgets from now on will be beset by state assembly and parliamentary election constraints and are not expect to any indicate any radical measures.

The government that has not been able to push through vital enactments like the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Direct Taxes Code, the Companies Bill, the Whistle Blowers Bill—all that have been cleared and only waiting to be finally presented to and voted upon by the Parliament. 

 Under the present state of governance when the governments at the Centre and states cannot take on major policy issues, it is too much to expect them to tackle issues relating to law and order  like the murders of honest officials, child abuse, scams and frauds.

The lawyer-turned-minister for HRD just on taking over the IT  portfolio under controversial circumstances simply goes on to  attack the CAG report on the scam as being “zero loss”, little knowing how many zeros make a crore!

(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)


Sensex, Nifty fall on weakening rupee: Tuesday Closing Report

As long as Nifty does not break 4788, it ha a good chance of hitting 5,040

The market snapped its three-day gaining streak to settle lower as the weakening rupee ignited fresh concerns about the pace of economic growth. Yesterday we had mentioned that the Nifty has to hold itself above 4,789, which may take the benchmark to the level of 5,040. The Nifty today made a higher high, but couldn’t maintain the momentum and went into the red in the noon session. Apart from sustaining above the support of 4,789, the benchmark has to strongly close above today’s high which may take it up to the level of 5,040. The National Stock Exchange (NSE) saw a higher volume of 53.61 crore shares.

The market opened higher on a recovery in the rupee and positive cues from the Asian markets which were in the green in morning trade on hopes of Europe working towards new solutions to tackle its debt problems. The Nifty opened 49 points higher at 4,955 and the Sensex resumed trade at 16,344, up 161 points over its previous close.

The benchmarks hit the day’s highs in initial trade itself with the Nifty going up to 4,956 and the Sensex scaling 16,367. All sectoral indices, led by capital goods and consumer durables, were trading in the positive zone.

The market pared part of the early gains as the rupee dropped to a new record low of 55.09 to a dollar. The indices, which were sideways till noon, witnessed a sharp fall as institutional investors increased selling.

The losses expanded in the post-noon session as investors feared that the depreciation in the rupee would make imports costlier and restrict growth.

A further fall in the rupee to 55.19 a dollar in afternoon trade added to investors’ woes. The benchmarks dropped to their intraday lows in late trade. At this point, the Nifty went back to 4,850 and the Sensex tumbling to 16,001.

The market closed near the lows of the day, snapping its three-day winning streak. The Nifty settled 46 points (0.93%) lower at 4,861 and the Sensex lost 157 points to finish trade at 16,026.

The advance-decline ratio on the NSE was 613:1045.

Among the broader indices, the BSE Mid-cap index fell 0.59% and the BSE Small-cap index declined by 0.68%.

BSE IT (up 0.46%), BSE TECk (up 0.15%) and BSE Consumer Durables (up 0.11%) were the sectoral gainers. The top losers were BSE Metal (down 1.83%); BSE Bankex (down 1.51%); BSE Power (down 1.45%); BSE Realty (down 1.23%) and BSE Capital Goods (down 1.21%).

The Sensex gainers were Tata Motors, TCS (up 1.17% each); BHEL (up 1.04%) and HDFC (up 0.24%). The key losers were Tata Power (down 5.29%); Maruti Suzuki (down 4.50%); Sterlite Industries (down 3.96%); State Bank of India (down 3.43%) and Hindalco Industries (down 2.99%).

The Nifty was led by TCS (up 2.46%); HCL Technologies (up 2.20%); Tata Motors (up 1.55%); Cairn India (up 1.33%) and SAIL (up 1.21%). The main losers were Sesa Goa (down 5.38%); Tata Power (down 5.33%); Maruti Suzuki (down 5.04%); Sterlite Ind (down 4.01%) and Sun Pharma (down 3.65%).

Markets in Asia closed higher on hopes that Germany and China would look at fresh initiatives to spur growth. Reports that the Chinese government would boost investment in infrastructure and German finance minister’s assertion that the country would consider all available solutions to help growth in the Eurozone supported gains in Asia.

The Shanghai Composite surged 1.06%; the Hang Seng advanced 0.62%; the Jakarta Composite jumped 2.06%; the KLSE Composite rose 0.52%; the Nikkei 225 climbed 1.10%; the Straits Times gained 1.20%; the KOSPI Composite was up 1.64% and the Taiwan Weighted settled 1.15% higher.

At the time of writing, the key European markets were up between 0.53% and 0.71% while the US stock futures were in the negative.

Back home, foreign institutional investors were net sellers of shares totalling Rs79.59 crore on Monday. On the other hand, domestic institutional investors were buyers of equities amounting to Rs149.20 crore.

Piramal Healthcare today said it has completed the first phase of clinical trials of a new oral drug for treating cancer and will move to the next stage of development. The company said it has established safety, apart from determining maximum tolerated dosages in humans for its new molecule code named P1446A-05 in multi-centric Phase-I trials conducted in India and Canada. The stock gained 0.14% to close at Rs420.65 on the NSE.

Venus Remedies today said it has received patent approval in South Africa for an antibiotic combination of carbapenem and aminoglycoside, to be used for treating bacterial infections. Having received this patent grant from Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO), South Africa, the company is hopeful of capturing a major share in the market. The stock closed at Rs164.30 on the NSE, up 1.92% over its previous close.

Power and automation major ABB India has bagged a Rs 175-crore order from National Thermal Power Corporation to build two sub-stations in Maharashtra. ABB’s turnkey project scope comprises the design, engineering, supply, installation, commissioning and associated civil works for the sub-stations. The project is scheduled for completion in 2016. ABB gained 2.44% to close at Rs727.60 on the NSE.


Public Interest Exclusive
Election Commission to start field trial of vote confirmation ticket on EVMs

The paper trail or paper confirmation receipt, which would be automatically printed by the electronic voting machine, would help eliminate doubts cast on the EVM system

The Election Commission of India (EC) will soon start filed trials of the vote confirmation ticket, which will show where the individual had cast his/her vote. In a tweet reply, Dr SY Quraishi, chief election commissioner (CEC), said that the development of the paper trail is in a very advanced stage and soon the EC will run a field trial.

The paper trail or paper confirmation receipt, which would be automatically printed by the electronic voting machine (EVM), would help eliminate doubts cast on the EVM system. It appears that when the voter presses the button for the candidate of his choice in the EVM, a paper ballot with the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate will be printed. The printouts will be used later to cross-check the voting data stored in the EVMs.

Earlier, while speaking at Moneylife Foundation’s second anniversary celebration, Janata Party president, Dr Subramanian Swamy talked about how EVMs can be easily tampered with. He said that India is among the few countries that use them without a check-back mechanism. Even Japan, which provides the microcontroller for our EVMs, does not use them without paper confirmation tabs, Dr Swamy added.

State-run Bharat Electronics (BEL), which makes the EVMs in India, also confirmed that the EC has given their requirements and it would incorporate the new features. Speaking with media persons in January 2012, Anil Kumar, managing director of BEL had said, “The software in the EVM will be modified and a printer will be attached to it. When you cast a vote, the serial number and some data will be generated in the form of a printout. It is to ensure that there is no malpractice in the voting system.”

EVM are being used in general and state elections to implement electronic voting in part from the 1999 elections and in total since the 2004 elections. EVMs were first used in 1982 in the by-election to North Paravur Assembly Constituency of Kerala for about 50 polling stations.

In April 2010, an independent security analysis was released by a research team led by Hari Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp, and J Alex Halderman. The study included video demonstrations of two attacks that the researchers carried out on a real EVM, as well as descriptions of several other potential vulnerabilities.

The researchers suggested moving to a voting system that provides greater transparency, such as paper ballots, precinct count optical scan, or a voter verified paper audit trail.

Majority of political parties backed the demand to have a voter verified paper audit trail in EVMs to counter charges of tampering. After that the EC, in October 2010, appointed an expert technical committee headed by Prof PV Indiresan (former director of IIT-M) to consider the feasibility of the proposal.

Earlier in January 2012, the Delhi High Court, while refusing to issue directions to the EC, had suggested that the Commission should hold wider consultations with the executive, political parties and other stakeholders on the matter of paper audit trails. Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy had had moved the high court seeking its directions to the Commission that a paper trail be incorporated to record the votes cast through EVMs or the old system of paper ballots be brought back.

The EC had opposed the plea, saying returning to the paper ballots would not be feasible as it would require immense expenditure as there were over 73 crore eligible voters in the country.
BEL has supplied about 8 lakh EVMs to the Commission. These old machines would be replaced with the Commission certifying new models with advanced technology in a phased manner.


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