By repeatedly decrying the CAG and trying to malign the person occupying that Constitutional office, the UPA government is weakening an important pillar of democracy and lowering its own credibility
Admitting that there is a great deal of uncertainty and a perception of policy paralysis in the government these days, a senior Cabinet colleague of the prime minister recently observed that it was being created by the activities of (Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)! “We have to think ourselves whether we have selected a proper person... I haven’t seen something like this (CAG’s numerous reports on the scams of the UPA) in the 45 years of my career as a politician”. What he unwittingly implied was that the scams associated with the UPA were the biggest ever to take place during the sixty-four years of independent India and, had CAG remained a mute spectator to them, UPA would have succeeded in keeping the Parliament and the people of the country in blissful ignorance of the sheer magnitude and the virulence of those scams.
It was indeed the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India which audited the accounts of the government in recent years and provided comprehensive reports to the Parliament and the people at large on the irregularities and the excesses committed in the infamous Lavasa scam in Maharashtra, the 2G (second generation) spectrum scam at the Centre, the improprieties committed in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games, the design and implementation of the production sharing contracts entered into with private oil company (Reliance Industries) that is developing the Krishna Godavari natural gas fields and the arbitrary allotment of captive coal blocks to private companies, all having huge financial implications to the public exchequer.
The CAG’s revelations on the captive coal scam touched the sensitive nerves of the UPA politicians because the UPA, largely during the time when the prime minister himself headed the coal ministry, allotted 248 captive coal blocks to companies mostly in the private sector, in a highly non-transparent manner, yielding huge windfall profits to the latter. On a complaint received by it, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), yet another statutory body, rightly ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to ascertain whether there were any improprieties committed and determine the responsibility of all those concerned. When Anna Hazare and the opposition demanded that the investigation should also cover the involvement of the PMO, the latter rubbished it saying that there was no need for it, thereby pre-empting both the CVC and the CBI in one go from doing anything that would tarnish PMO’s image!
With specific reference to the coal scam, a UPA minister even went to the extent of flaying the role of the CAG and said, “the CAG has no business, power or authority to question the government’s policy... They can only consider if the due process is followed or not... Nowadays what happens is that the CAG has become an organization that questions the policy of the government.”
To the billion people of this country, what really matters is not whether the CAG or CVC can question the executive’s actions but whether the executive itself has acted in the larger public interest. The minister was evidently trying to obfuscate this central issue! The people of this country have not forgotten how the UPA had earlier tried to make a questionable appointment to the office of CVC itself and how the not so palatable facts came to light, entirely through judicial intervention.
By repeatedly decrying the role of the CAG and trying to malign the person occupying that high Constitutional office, these political functionaries have not only lowered their own government’s credibility but also done something unpardonable, that is, tried to weaken an important pillar of our democracy, created as such in Part V of the Constitution. The CAG is as an important instrument of the Parliament to exercise control over the executive, in terms of the way it manages the public finances. What these politicians have deliberately or unwittingly done was to weaken the Parliamentary system of democracy itself by making such irresponsible statements. Not one of these politicians has ever tried to strengthen the hands of CAG to help promote greater transparency in the way the government manages the resources of the public exchequer.
As it is, the CAG’s audit covers only half of the public expenditure incurred in the country. The Parliament has no way to get authentic information on how the rest of the expenditure is incurred, especially the amounts routed through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), Self Help Groups (SHGs) and so on. Article 149 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament to enlarge the ambit of CAG to cover this. To meet this end, as long ago as in November 2009, the CAG proposed a far reaching amendment to CAG (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971. More than thirty months have elapsed and the government is yet to refer the draft to the Parliament.
Coming to the role of the judiciary the apex court of India, in its order of 27 July 2010, found fault with the government for allowing millions of tonnes of foodgrain to rot in the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) and asked the government to consider distributing the foodgrain to the poor, free of cost. This invoked a righteous indignation among the UPA leaders who questioned the judiciary's authority to ‘intrude’ into the executive’s policy domain.
Free foodgrain to the poor would no doubt cost the nation a whopping Rs1,00,000 crore and, for the UPA, ‘subsidy’ is apparently a bad word, if it were to be given to the poor. On the other hand, the same UPA leaders had no compunction whatsoever in doling out tax exemptions to the corporates to the tune of Rs5,29,432 crore (latest Budget estimate for 2011-12). The concessions given to the industry are “economic incentives” for promoting growth. There seems to be one theory of economics for the poor and a different one for the rich!
One could feel the heat of UPA’s resentment against the apex court’s order on rotting foodgrain when the prime minister himself made the following remarks, addressing an international conference of jurists a couple of months later.
“I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court should not go into the realm of policy formulation. I respect the sentiments behind the (court) decision that when foodgrain are rotting and people are suffering from deprivation, then some way should be found to ensure that the food needs of the deprived sections are met. But quite honestly it is not possible in this country to give free food to all the poor people.”
The Indian Constitution has always guaranteed food and nutritional security to its citizens. However, the successive governments have never thought it obligatory on their part to translate that guarantee into a well-defined policy for more than six decades since Independence! It was only when the judiciary nudged them into action that they thought it fit to introduce a Bill on food security. What the National Advisory Council (NAC) proposed by way of food security was not to the liking of some senior leaders of UPA. As a result, there has been a further delay in processing the Bill. Meanwhile, foodgrain continue to rot in FCI’s godowns and the poor continue to starve.
Has the UPA executive sincerely tried enough to take the people of this country into confidence on matters of public importance?
Certainly, the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005 was a defining step taken in that direction, though it was the civil society that forced the executive to enact the law and it was the judiciary that interpreted the ambit of Article 19 of the Constitution that such a law would be necessary.
Unfortunately, subsequent moves made by the UPA failed to invoke public confidence in its intentions. The subjective way in which the information commissioners were chosen left much to be desired. When the government tried to exempt the official file notings from RTI Act, it was the citizens who resisted that move, since the notes recorded in the files of the public authorities revealed the thought processes that went into decision making. When investigative journalism exposed the various scandals, some of which have been specifically referred above, it was the judiciary that intervened to direct the CBI to investigate the same, independent of the executive. As if to keep the public in the dark about what the CBI was doing, the present UPA government hurriedly exempted CBI from the RTI!
The main grievance of the people residing around Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is that they have all along been kept in the dark about the activities that revolved around the project. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) headed by the prime minister himself made a mockery of the RTI by not complying fully with the mandatory disclosure requirement under Section 4. Instead of respecting the citizen’s right to know under Article 19 of the Constitution, the UPA government has slipped in a non-disclosure clause in the recently introduced Bill on nuclear regulation, once again in open defiance of the RTI. By making light of the RTI, the UPA government has eroded its own credibility.
The UPA leadership should understand clearly that no political party has the right to undermine the integrity of the institutions that play a central role in nurturing our great Parliamentary democratic system. After all, no political party is ever certain that it will remain in power permanently. It is the Constitution and the institutions created by it that help the ruling party to deliver good governance and the opposition to play the role of a constructive critic, expected from it. Any weakening of the institutions will only upset this delicate balance that is so crucial for the working of our democracy. Sooner the UPA leadership realises this, the better would it be for the future of our democracy.
(Dr EAS Sarma, IAS, is a post-graduate in Nuclear Physics (Andhra University) and in Public Administration (Harvard University) and a Ph D from IIT, Delhi. As a Union Secretary he has held the portfolios of Power, Economic Affairs and Expenditure. He quit the government in 2000 over differences regarding policy issues with the National Democratic Alliance government. He is the convener of Forum for Better Visakha (FBV), a civil society group set up in 2004.)
The IRDA initiative is welcome, but it will help only a subset of orphan policies. The customer with lapsed policies expecting new allotted agent may be in for a surprise
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has recently issued guidelines on an orphan life insurance policy. The guidelines allow 100% of the renewal commission to allotted to the agent for revival of a lapsed policy as well as for future renewals. At present, a new agent is entitled to renewal commission of only 50% of what the procuring agent would have been entitled had the policy continued to be in force and that too if lapsed policies required medical examination.
The guidelines are good for life insurance agents who help in revival of lapsed policies which were sold by another agent who may no longer be working with same insurer or dead. A policy on which premium remains unpaid even after six months from the due date is considered as lapsed policy.
Here are some important points:
• Single premium or policies on which no further premiums are due for payment are not eligible for new agent allotment.
• The allotted agent shall not part with the policyholder information to any third party/entity nor use it for any other business purposes. However there is no bar in an allotted agent to canvass new policies to the policyholder after reviving the lapsed allotted policies.
• No upfront/advance payments to agents are allowed on account of the policy allotments.
• The payment of remuneration shall cease with the exit of an allotted agent by any means.
• The policies that are allotted for servicing shall not be counted for persistency of the allotted agent.
• The number of policies allotted to an agent shall not exceed 20% of the total number of policies that were introduced by him/her and in-force as on the date of allotment.
• Insurers shall have in place a board approved policy for allotment of lapsed orphan policies which is in compliance with these guidelines.
• Insurers shall also take into account the track record of the agent and complaints registered against an agent, etc. while allotting the orphan policies.
• Where the lapsed orphan policy allotted is not revived within six months from the date of such allotment, life insurers shall have the discretion to undo the allotment by issuing a formal notice to the allotted agent and re-allot to any other agent.
The guidelines have been hailed by the media, but the details are in the fine print. The renewal commission can be paid to the allotted agent only if the original agent who sold the policy is not entitled to the commission. This is a big if, as per insurance regulations.
Under Section 44, except on grounds of fraud, an agent who has served an insurance company for a period of five years shall be entitled, subject to certain conditions, to renewal commission on policies if s/he discontinues his agency. Agents who have completed 10 years of service with a given insurance company and stops for any reason his/her agency business but does not join another company are entitled to renewal commission on all such policies which they had placed. The agent’s heir will get it even after the agent dies. It is a contract between an agent and the life insurance company as renewal commission is just deferred compensation which cannot be taken away if the agent has completed certain time with the insurance company.
IRDA’s initiative to have the insurance company allot a lapsed policy to another agent and give the allotted agent the renewal commission is only applicable to a subset of lapsed policies. Addressing the issue of lapsed policies by incentivising agents is welcome step by IRDA, but who will help to revive the lapsed policies wherein the policy seller is still entitled to commission even though s/he is no longer with the insurer or may be even dead?
A veteran life insurance agent asks: “Who will help such customers with services like loan processing, change of nomination or even filing to death claim? The agent who sold the policy is gone (left the insurer or dead) and there is no allotted agent to the policy for any kind of servicing. Life insurance companies keep renewal commissions when the policy seller is not entitled for renewal commission. It happens as many agents leave the business after one or two years. The insurer should use these funds to incentivise agents to revive a lapsed policy even when the policy seller is entitled for the commission, but has left business after completing required years or dead.”
While a life insurance agent can get renewal commission after leaving the business and even passing it to his/her heir, a general insurance agent does not get anything. Most of the general insurance policies are renewable every year and there is no concept of renewal commission payment if the agent has left business or dead. It’s something on the wish-list of general insurance agents.
The much sought after monsoon is finally here. And with it come the usual issues of water-logging, illness, traffic jams and so on. Here is a compilation of information that would come handy in monsoon
After making us to sweat and wait for over a week than its scheduled time, the monsoon has finally arrived in Mumbai. Unfortunately, this year also there would be problems like water-logging, traffic jams, trains not running on time and most important, illnesses caused by rains.
Here are some tips and tricks to use during the rainy season compiled by the United Way Mumbai Helpline. The Monsoon Advisory 2012 includes the high tide dates as released by the Disaster Management Cell of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for this year’s monsoon, nutritional tips for the season and some preventive steps to avoid diseases.
As per the Advisory, it is seen that Friday, 22 June 2012 and Saturday, 23 June 2012 are predicted to experience the highest tides of 4.35 meters (in height) in the month of June.
July and August show an average that ranges between 4.35 and 4.50 meters, the highest tide predicted to be that of 4.79 meters on 4th July. September shows an average range between 4.40 and 4.55 meters.
The advisory also emphasized on a few important points that one should keep in mind. Turning off all electrical appliances and staying away from power lines in flooded areas are safe measures. One should also avoid contact with flood water as it may be contaminated.
If stranded in a vehicle, one should leave it and move to a place at a higher level, besides being aware of the potential flooding spots in one’s ward/area.
Six inches of moving water can result in one losing his/her balance and falling down, thus one should avoid walking through moving water. If required, a stick can be used to check the firmness of the ground in front. One should also try and identify/visit elevated areas in and around one’s home as places of refuge during floods.
In case of emergency
One very important point is to keep all emergency contact numbers handy for immediate use. Also, keep the “Family emergency supplies kit” ready for nutritional tips during the monsoons.
Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, particularly leafy vegetables. Some measures such as eating in moderation are of great help—this is because the body finds it harder to digest food during the monsoon. One must stick to drinking warm beverages—tea with a hint of ginger or mint is recommended—during the season as well as for health purposes.
For vegetarians, moong dal, among other pulses, is easy to digest and should be the preferred choice of dal for the season. Garlic, ginger, pepper, jeera powder, turmeric, asafoetida (hing) and coriander help enhance digestion as well as improve immunity. Non-vegetarians should opt for lighter meat preparations like soups/stews, etc, rather than curries.
Drinking boiled and filtered water is a must, especially during this season. One should also ensure that water is consumed within 24 hours after it is boiled. Avoid eating junk food such as chaat items and fried items. Also avoid pre-cut fruits and juices from roadside vendors, this helps to prevent contracting serious infections such as viral fever, diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. They may seem quite tempting and an easy way out, but after all, prevention is better than cure.
Fruits such as bananas, apples, mangoes, pomegranates, cherries and litchis are recommended during this season. These are easily available and should be consumed fresh, not forgetting to wash them thoroughly before consuming. Non-leafy vegetables are recommended—these include snake gourd (turi), gourd (dudhi), pointed gourd (parwal), yam (suran), cluster beans (gavaar), apple gourd (tinda) and bitter gourd (karela).
Health is wealth
Diseases such as malaria, jaundice, cholera, dengue and many more are common during the monsoons and these create serious health hazards. These diseases prove to be healthcare disasters in our city, and it is therefore essential to take a few preventive steps.
The two most common types of diseases are water-borne or vector (carrier) borne. To prevent infection from water-borne diseases, it is very important to drink water from a safe source or basically, water that has been disinfected (boiled or chlorinated). Food items should be kept covered and should be cooked or reheated thoroughly and consumed while it is still hot.
Common things such as washing hands thoroughly with soap before preparing or eating food and after using the toilets is of utmost importance. Though we inculcate such ideas into our young kids, it is not uncommon that we may tend to forget them.
Diarrhoea is very common during the rains. Some symptoms include irritability, restlessness, unconsciousness and lethargic attitude. If a person eats and drinks poorly and has marked thirst, one should consider it a symptom. Another symptom could be fever or blood in the stools.
Some conditions to be kept in mind and highly avoided are drinking water from unsafe sources, eating uncooked food unless it is peeled or shelled. Fruits that are cut beforehand should be avoided. One should not litter the surroundings unnecessarily and maintain hygiene.
To prevent vector-borne diseases, one should use insecticide treated bed nets (ITBN) or insect repellents while sleeping. This can help keep away from mosquitoes. Clothes covering arms and legs are recommended to be worn during the rains. Do not forget to empty water containers at least once a week, besides covering and sealing septic tanks and soak away pits. Stagnant water from coolers and other places should be removed.
Fever cases should first be given preventive treatment for malaria.
Avoid accumulation of water in discarded items such as tyres, tubes, empty containers and objects where it may collect. Do not allow water to stagnate. Do not allow children to wear shorts and half sleeved clothes, especially in the evening.
Let’s join hands in making Mumbai a safer city and a better place to live in!
(The advisory has been compiled by United Way Mumbai Helpline, which is a special initiative by United Way of Mumbai. It has been making collaborative and consistent efforts in addressing aspects related to environment with specific focus on civic issues and disaster response measures in Mumbai. United Way Mumbai Helpline has also been working as third party auditors for Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s Clean-up Mumbai Campaign. For further information visit: www.unitedwaymumbai.org)