It’s already evident that drafting a new Lokpal Bill is going to be a rocky process. There are no easy solutions and there will likely be further agitations. But it might help to keep some important aspects in mind while setting out the scope and functions of the Lokpal Commission
As expected, recent reports in the media have confirmed the feeling that the drafting and the passage of the Lokpal Bill will be difficult. The intentions were fairly clear from the way the Joint Advisory Committee was formed. With five members of the government being big guns, with a wealth of legal and administrative experience, and a broad mix of persons on the other side, it is likely to be somewhat one-sided.
The very composition of the Committee is asking for trouble, with ten members, equally divided five and five. It is easy to think of a situation where the Committee is split evenly. There are already signs of division and this is likely to lead to a stalemate. There is no built-in solution and there will likely be further agitation. How could experienced lawyers and activists have agreed to such an arrangement? No bench of the High Court or even the Supreme Court hearing important matters has an even number. This is to enable a decision by majority if unanimity cannot be achieved.
The Committee must have a broad picture of the scope and functions of the Lokpal. Here are some aspects to keep in mind.
1. The first is the number of members on the body. With wide powers proposed to be given to this authority, it would be desirable to have three members. The nomenclature of the body in the signal should not pose any problem. It could be called by any other name, like the Lokpal Commission. It should not be merely a recommendatory body, but it should be empowered to go to the court to prosecute offenders. This will be the first major contention between the government and other members on the Committee. This is where a majority arrangement would have helped.
2. Then the selection of members. Various alternatives can be considered. It would be better to have something like the process of selection of the chief vigilance commissioner or the election commissioner.
3. The Bill, as drafted in the Jan Lokpal Bill is too broad-based. Now there is a proposal to cover cases of corporate corruption as well as NGO corruption. This will overburden the Lokpal with too many petty cases. There has to be some filtering of the complaints that can be taken up by the Lokpal Commission. It would be better to leave it to the Commission to lay down criteria for taking up relatively big cases and leave the rest to other agencies.
4. The most important requirement will be for the Lokpal Commission to have an independent investigating agency under its direct control. To start with, about 50 handpicked officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation can be deputed to the Commission for five years. It will also need officers from the Enforcement Directorate and the Income-Tax Department with powers for search and seizure.
5. The powers for search, seizure and arrest should be built into the Lokpal Commission Act along with other provisions from the Criminal Procedure Code, such as the first information report and so on.
6. The Lokpal should have the power to freeze and also confiscate the assets of the accused in appropriate situations.
7. The Lokpal Commission should have its own panel of public prosecutors and their remuneration should be fixed by the Commission so that the best talent is available to conduct prosecution without fear or favour.
8. In order to ensure speedy disposal of cases, it would be necessary to have a few fast-track courts, at the Sessions Court level, so that appeals can go the High Court exclusively for Lokpal Commission cases which would mostly involve important public figures.
9. The road ahead will not be easy, with differences cropping up at every stage, the Committee split halfway and no easy solution in sight. On how many issues will Anna Hazare launch a hunger protest? Then there is the procedure after the draft is worked out. Political parties will get into the act to consider passing the Act or a Standing Committee will be proposed. There will be no time limit for the Committee to report. It will also propose many amendments. The Bill could face the same fate as the Women's Reservation Bill, which will be sad for the fight against corruption.
(G V Ramakrishna is a former member of the Planning Commission. He is also a former chairman of the Securities & Exchange Board of India and the Disinvestment Commission.)
An RTI application has revealed that the MSRDC had entered into an agreement with Ideal Road Builders (IRB), which requires the company to carry out extensive work on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, to ensure convenience and safety of commuters. But despite gobbling up Rs1,000 crore in toll money between 2004 and 2011, maintenance has been shoddy
According to details of the contract agreement of 864 pages between MSRDC and IRB for the operation and maintenance of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, procured through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, extensive work has to be done by IRB to ensure convenience and safety of commuters.
However, even if you take a cursory glance along the Expressway while you are travelling on it, you will instantly realise that despite the IRB having pocketed around Rs1,000 crore of our toll money between 2004 and 2011, maintenance is woefully lacking.
That IRB is enjoying the fruits of our toll money without adhering to the stringent terms and conditions laid down by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) in the operation and maintenance of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, is extremely clear as per the voluminous 864 pages of the contract agreement which this writer procured under Section 6 of the RTI Act.
According to the terms of the Act, I obtained the relevant details from MSRDC's Pune office after paying Rs1,728 (at the rate of Rs2 per page as per the norms under the Act).
Chapter 4 of this agreement (on page 145) clearly places crucial responsibilities on IRB, the private agency which has taken over operation and maintenance of the Expressway for a 15-year period between 2004 and 2019. Its responsibilities include the upkeep of the road and traffic management. Some of its other crucial duties include patrolling, safety including accident prevention, cleanliness and fencing. IRB also has to plant one lakh trees along both sides of the Expressway, ensure ban on cattle and prevent villagers from straying onto the Expressway.
Here is a description of IRB's specific responsibilities (all relevant sections of the agreement are also provided) along with my observations immediately after each section:
18.104.22.168: Road Maintenance, both routine and emergency, and inspection
This includes cleaning of the road surface by a self-propelled mechanical sweeper with a vacuum system in order to remove all the dirt, small aggregates and pieces of different material fallen on the road. Elements that cannot be removed by the mechanical sweeper will have to be removed by manual sweeping or by hand. This activity will be carried out at the time of least traffic. Cleaning of road surface will be carried out through the year. The areas where the collection of dirt is more frequent such as ear-bridge parapets, underpasses, etc, shall be attended to at least twice a week.
(Today, we find several pockets of the Expressway are filled with litter, especially plastic tea cups.)
22.214.171.124: Garbage collection
This task includes collection of paper, plastic and other such type of material from the area at the way, median, shoulders, at the sides of the road, rest areas, public facilities, interchanges, connector, emergency telephone areas, etc. This activity shall be done manually or mechanically. The garbage so collected shall be put in a yellow or white plastic bag and the bags shall be placed on the beams in order to be removed at the end of the day. The pickup truck that collects the garbage shall transport them to an authorised rubbish dump.
Garbage collection shall be carried once a fortnight at median, shoulders, on the carriageway and at sides of the road. At the toll plaza or places close to the wayside, amenity centres or petrol station area, where many objects are thrown from cars, garbage collection will be done on a daily basis except on holidays.
(Do send us photographs of any garbage that you might have observed along the Expressway to email@example.com.)
126.96.36.199: Renewal of paved shoulders
The following renewal treatment to bituminous surfaces including thermoplastic painting and other road markings will be provided by the contractor when the roughness index is more than 2,000 or after every four years, whichever occurs earlier. Renewal cost of 25mm thick Open Graded Carpet (OGC) layer on paved shoulders with necessary camber corrections.
(Reliable sources in the MSRDC have confirmed to this writer that the shoulders have not been resurfaced even once during the 10 years that IRB has been in charge. The approximate cost of resurfacing is apparently Rs100 crore).
188.8.131.52: Replacement and repairing of road furniture and road signs
- Repair and replacement of road signs and mileage posts
- Repair and replacement of safety reflectors
- Repair and replacement of metal crash barriers
- Repair and replacement of fences
- Repair and replacement of lights
- Repair and replacement of light-posts
- Repainting of road marking and other structures
- Replacement of reflective tapes on metal beam crash barriers and kerbstones
184.108.40.206: Repair and replacement of safety reflectors/delineators
- The above consists of repair or replacing damaged, faulty, stolen or old safety reflectors. This activity includes the providing of new safety reflectors, delineators, removal of damaged or faulty safety reflectors and installation of new safety reflectors.
220.127.116.11: Repair and replacement of metal crash barriers and guard rails
- The above consists of repair or replacing damaged or faulty metal crash barriers due to traffic accidents and vandalism.
18.104.22.168: Repair paint and replacement of fences
The above consists of repair, painting or replacing damaged, faulty or stolen fences located on both edges of the right of way all along the toll road. The activity includes providing and transporting necessary fences to the job site, painting of existing fencing for every three years by two coats of approved paint, removal of damaged or faulty fences. (As per 22.214.171.124: Fence survey consists of inspecting the existing fence located on both edges of the right of way and reporting of quantum of damage or defect. The patrol inspectors on duty will carry out the inspection twice a day).
126.96.36.199: Repair and replacement of lights
- The above consists of replacing faulty lights, including transporting light to the toll plazas, tunnel inside area, removal of the old lights and installation of new lights. Lights replaces shall be of the same, better type and quality than the ones initially installed. Repair and replacement shall be carried out as necessary.
4.3.1: Traffic control and communications
A traffic control room should be established, manned 24x7, which will be the hub of the communication centre, located at the Road Operations and Maintenance office at Kusgaon (near Pune), which will be linked with important persons at all times, by radio or telephone or both.
4.3.3: The control room will also be linked to emergency call telephones installed along the Expressway at regular intervals.
An independent engineering consultant-Stupp Consultants Pvt Ltd-has been appointed by the MSRDC to monitor the work implemented by the IRB. For this, it receives a payment of Rs10 lakh per month. However, despite stringent norms on action to be taken by Stupp in case IRB falters, the former seems to be a mute witness to the inefficiency and the incompetency of the IRB which has shown pathetic maintenance and woeful lack of passenger safety going by the ever-increasing number of serious and fatal accidents.
The RTI Forum For Instant Information has demanded termination of the contract by the MSRDC on both counts-lack of transparency in toll collection amount; lack of proper operation and maintenance of the Expressway and implementation of the latest Central government order issued by the ministry of surface transport where toll collection has been streamlined. For example, a car can be charged a toll of only 65 paisa per kilometre.
In addition, the following issues have not been resolved.
Here are some value-added work orders IRB is required to carry out on the Expressway, but much of it has yet to see the light of day:
Construction of a compound wall in lieu of fencing 5,570 running metres. (Reason: Fencing at certain stretches is being damaged again and again hence it is proposed to construct a compound wall in lieu of fencing.)
Providing cattle traps: Providing metal beam crash barriers as per accident prevention committee report for 15,152 metres (Reason: To prevent entry of animals on the Expressway.)
Concrete crash barriers across the ghat for 3,500 running metres. (An Accident Prevention Committee (APR) proposed that metal beam crash barriers should be erected around the catch pits, around piers of cross structures, at high embankments and at curves, inside and outside.)
Provision of road safety procedures: Cat eyes, thermoplastic paint, etc. (The APR and other government agencies have suggested information and cautionary boards at important locations on the Expressway for a distance of 20km.)
Wayside plantation: It is proposed to provide plantation of 100,000 trees on both sides of the Expressway, near the fencing, up to the side-slopes of the embankment. The plantation was to have been completed in two years.
Redoing paved shoulders: The existing paved shoulders are on an average 2.5 metres wide on both sides of the Expressway and under distress in a number of areas. It has been proposed that the defective portion would be removed, the paved shoulders milled wherever required and the entire length would be provided with a 25 mm thick Open Graded Carpet (OGC) with liquid seal coat to the desired camber.
Will the authorities finally wake up and take some action?
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Net profit jumps 33%, revenues also increased by 31.5% at Rs4,138 crore in the January-March 2011 period. Shares jump nearly 10% in early trade
New Delhi: HCL Technologies, the country's fourth largest software company, today posted a better-than-expected 33% increase in net profit atRs 468.2 crore for the quarter ended 31 March 2011, which saw its shares jump by nearly 10% in the first hour of trade.
In January-March 2010 the company recorded a net profit of Rs350.30 crore, the company said. Revenues for the reported quarter were up by 31.5% at Rs4,138.2 crore from Rs3,132.1 crore in corresponding quarter a year ago.
"We continue to expand market share backed by a second sequential quarter of revenue growth of 30%-plus year-on-year along with expansion in margins," said Vineet Nayar, vice-chairman and CEO, HCL Technologies. "HCL's focus on forward investment in key markets and transformation services is paying rich dividends."
The company has also announced a dividend of Rs2 per share for the quarter. Shares of the company were at Rs508, up by 7% or Rs33.30, on the Bombay Stock Exchange at 11.20am, in a strong market with the benchmark Sensex up 0.79% at 19,273.
HCL said its business outside Europe and the Americas grew as much as 81%. All its service offerings also showed strong growth of 34%-43%. Net employee addition-a key parameter of the IT sector's health-was at 1,153 for the period, taking the total headcount to 73,420.
On Friday, Infosys Technologies, the country's No.2 software services exporter, sparked worries about the growth in the sector after announced lower-than-estimated numbers for the January-March 2011 period and forecast lower than expected sales on reduced client spending. January-March is a weak period for IT companies, when customers work out their budgets for the next financial year.