How the powerful threaten our basic freedom
It is the Polyester Prince story all over again. In the 1990s, Reliance Industries used the courts to bully a meek publisher and stopped the India release of a book that dissected Dhirubhai Ambani’s path to fabulous riches. In the days before social media or online book distribution options, the stay by a lower court was enough to stop it from getting into shop shelves. Nearly 15 years later, Indian industrialists, especially those in politics or with great political clout, are using the same bullying tactics.
In January, Praful Patel, the powerful minister from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) pressured Bloomsbury India to withdraw The Descent of Air India—a tell-all book that exposed how India’s national airline was systematically looted and pushed into the red. Naturally, Mr Patel’s stellar role, as aviation minister, in giving a huge push to the airline’s collapse through venal senior management and reckless purchase of aircrafts is described in detail. When Mr Patel filed a case with the metropolitan magistrate in Mumbai, the author Jitendra Bhargava (for decades, the public face of Air India) decided to fight back, while the publisher, Bloomsbury, chose to issue a public apology and destroy the remaining stock of the book. Mr Bhargava says on his facebook page that this was a unilateral decision without any discussion with him; he has also told the judge that he can substantiate everything he has said in the book. Mr Bhargava will soon self-publish it as an e-book.
In the very same week, the Sahara parivar decided to take the Ambani route. It filed a Rs200-crore defamation suit against journalist Tamal Bandopadhyay for a book that has not even been published and managed to obtain an interim stay against its publication from a Kolkata court. While Sahara claims that the book is defamatory, it has been the subject of innumerable adverse news reports ever since August 2012 when a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court (SC) ordered it to refund a whopping Rs24,000 crore raised through two group companies. In the subsequent months, the group patriarch, Subrata Roy, has been restrained by the SC from going abroad. The group has been rebuked by the apex court for trying to ‘fool’ it and has a contempt petition filed against it by SEBI for calling the market regulator a ‘sarkari gunda’. It will be interesting to see whether Jaico, the publisher of Sahara: The Untold Story also caves in or fights back.
Meanwhile, both Bloomsbury and Jaico would do well to look at what happened with The Polyester Prince. While the publisher chickened out of a fight, photocopies of the book were in great demand and author, Hamish MacDonald, grew in stature. A decade latter, when Anil and Mukesh went to war over the division of the family business, the dirty reputation that they washed in public began to make the revelations in Mr MacDonald’s book seem mild by comparison. More interestingly, Dhirubhai Ambani’s story, warts and all, became a popular Bollywood movie with the blessings of his son. Hopefully, the judiciary will take this into account while deciding on how much credence they should give to the claims of controversial corporates and politicians who want to use their financial muscle to gag whistleblowers and publishers.
Several people who have linked their Aadhaar with LPG distribution are either not receiving subsidy on time or not receiving the SMS. On the other hand, some people are receiving multiple SMS with different customer IDs about LPG refill and subsidy not related with them
The Supreme Court on 23 September 2013, in an interim order, directed that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory.”
However, despite this clear ruling, state-run oil marketing companies (OMC), like the Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL), Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) and Indian Oil Corp (IOC) are enforcing citizens to compel with the UID/Aadhaar requirement. This is not only causing troubles to citizens but lakhs of them are facing hardship due to the forceful implementation of Aadhaar for cooking gas (LPG).
And this is not limited to people who have not submitted their Aadhaar. Several consumers, who have enrolled and submitted their Aadhaar to the LPG distributor, are either not receiving the subsidy on time or not receiving any SMS. On the other hand, several people are receiving SMS about the LPG refill booking, cash memo and delivery, for a consumer number that is not theirs.
For example, I have neither enrolled for the Aadhaar nor I have linked my bank account with any UID number. Yet, I continue to receive SMS from my OMC giving details, about subsidy being deposited into a bank account that does not belong to me. Despite complaining to the OMC and LPG distributor, there is no action to delink my mobile number from the other consumer.
One of the readers of Moneylife, has been receiving SMS from OMC for three-four different consumer numbers. That too, when he has not received his own subsidy for the LPG refill in his own bank account. See the image below, the reader received SMS about booking of a LPG refill. Next message says ‘cash memo no165409 prepared on 27.12.2013 for Rs1044.50’ and his refill will be delivered shortly. The very next message (for the same booking number) says ‘subsidized cash memo 167664 dt 03.01.14 for Rs1273.5 prepared and the refill will be delivered shortly’. Then suddenly on 18th January, he received an SMS stating that his ‘booking no265829 is cancelled!’ (see the image below)
There are two things wrong in these messages. One, the consumer number does not belong to the reader and second, he is still waiting for his rightful delivery of LPG refill since more than 20 days. Interestingly, he still has to get the subsidy for his last refill and the distributor had told him that he would receive it in next 10-12 days.
Several readers of Moneylife have complained about threats being received from their LPG distributors for submitting the UID/Aadhaar number. All the distributors are using the one line threat, "You will not get any subsidy, if you do not provide your Aadhaar and link it to your bank account."
Even the social media is full of people who are having a tough time due to Aadhaar linkage with LPG refill and subsidy. Here is one such tweet that shows the mess of Aadhaar, LPG refill booking and direct benefit transfer (DBTL) scheme. The person has received subsidy through DBTL in his bank account without him booking the LPG refill!
Meanwhile, the OMC continue to send SMS asking people to submit their Aadhaar number to LPG distributor and link it with their bank account.
This is not only illegal but also can be construed as contempt of court. Under Article 141 of the Constitution of India, "the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all Courts within the territory of India." To declare means to announce opinion. Thus the law declared by the Supreme Court is the law of the land. It is a precedent for itself and for all Courts, Tribunals and authorities in India (Rupa Ashok Hurra vs. Ashok Hurra (2002) 4 SCC 388).
Following the interim order from the apex court, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoP&NG) filed an ‘Application for clarification/ modification of order dated 23 September 2013. The Supreme Court, however, simply refused to do so. On 26th November, the Supreme Court said, its 23rd September order remains unmodified. Yet, HPCL, BPCL and IOC and their distributors continue to harass customers under the name of Aadhaar.
This is despite, the Nandan Nilekani-led Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), maintaining its UID or Aadhaar is 'free and voluntary' and is meant for 'residents'.
The Supreme Court is likely to hear the matter on 28 January 2014 and take these ‘welfare agencies’ and the concerned ministries to task.
(This is the first part of two part series. The second part describes steps needed to be taken by customers harassed by the OMCs for LPG refill and subsidy)
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The Sensex opened at 21,084 and the Nifty opened at 6,262. The indices soon hit their low at 21,001 and 6,243. After which they moved to green zone and remained in the positive for the entire session. In the last hour of the trading session the benchmark hit the day’s high and closed almost at the same level. The Sensex hit a high of 21,221 and closed at 21,205 (up 141 points or 0.67%) while the Nifty hit a high of 6,307 and closed at 6,304 (up 42 points or 0.68%). The NSE recorded a lower volume of 50.90 core shares.
The Reserve Bank of India said on Friday, 17 January 2014, that the liquidity conditions are undergoing some stress in the recent period, primarily on account of the build-up of cash balances of the Government of India. In order to address the temporary liquidity deficit situation, the Reserve Bank of India has been infusing additional liquidity through 7/14/28 days term repo auctions in addition to the existing overnight repo under liquidity adjustment facility and standing liquidity facilities. The current assessment suggests that the strain on market liquidity is likely to remain enduring in view of the fiscal targets set for the year as well as projections for aggregate credit growth, warranting the need to provide liquidity of a more permanent nature. Accordingly, the Reserve Bank has decided to conduct Open Market Operations by purchasing the following government securities for an aggregate amount of Rs10,000 crore on Wednesday, 22 January 2014, through multi-security auction using the multiple price method.
Investors also cheered Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's economic vision for India in his speech on Sunday, 19 January 2014, wherein he said the emphasis will be on urbanisation, infrastructure and inflation control and said his wish list includes setting up 100 new smart cities and introduction of bullet trains to all four corners of the country.
The Congress-led government in Maharashtra has taken a leaf out of the books for Aam Admi Party in Delhi and decided to reduce 15% to 20% cut in power tariff charged to domestic consumers, industries and powerlooms by the state-run Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MahaVitaran). However the decision is not applicable to Mumbai consumers who get power supply from Tata Power, Reliance Infrastructure and BrihanMumbai Electric Supply & Transport.
US indices closed flat mostly with the negative bias on Friday. The US stock market will remain closed today for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Asian indices closed mostly in the negative. Seoul Composite was the top gainer which rose 0.48% while Hang Seng was the top loser which fell 0.88%.
European indices were showing mixed performance while US Futures were trading marginally in the negative.