Delhi High Court Judgement Clears Path for Politically-connected Board Appointees
The Delhi High Court (DHC), recently, upheld the appointment of Sambit Patra as an independent director of the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), a public sector energy enterprise. Mr Patra, a surgeon by professional education and training, is a BJP spokesperson and is a regular on television and other media defending the government and the ruling party at the Centre. His appointment was effected on 29th September and was challenged in a public interest litigation (PIL) writ petition by the organisation known as Energy Watchdog. 
 
Independent directors, under the law, act as conscience-keepers of the company’s board and are important actors in holding high standards of corporate governance in the company. When a ruling party appoints a person who has been its media face as an independent director of a public sector company, with sitting fees and other perks that are a part of such an appointment, it is inescapably opening itself up to charges of nepotism. 
 
The legal challenge to Mr Patra’s appointment was laid under several grounds—chief among those were: a) that he lacked the experience and expertise necessary in the domain relevant to the company, in this case energy; b) that his close relationship with the ruling party and, by implication, the government which is a promoter in ONGC, disqualifies him from being an independent director; and c) that his appointment was effectively a distribution of State largesse to a person apparently close the ruling powers and, therefore, unreasonable, legally speaking. 
 
The DHC upheld Mr Patra’s appointment on each of the grounds, holding that there is nothing wrong with the search committee having taken a view that he was a person of eminence in the field of management—given that he has been at the helm of a little-known NGO called ‘Swaraj,’ which supposedly works for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden in Delhi; and that his experience as a doctor and a surgeon since 2002 is not wholly irrelevant to the domain of energy and oil as is required under the Act (independent directors are expected to have relevant domain expertise under the Companies Act, 2013, and rules of the Securities and Exchange Board of India— SEBI). In the judgement’s words, “ONGC would also be concerned with the health of not only the large numbers of its employees but also would require to address health concerns of the public at large on account of the activities (including explorations for oil, etc) which are undertaken by it, i.e., the large social and environmental impact of its core businesses which only a scientifically trained person could best evaluate and understand.” 
 
The DHC also went on to hold that Mr Patra’s connection with the ruling party had nothing to do with his connection with the government and that there is nothing that constrains him from effectively performing a checks-and-balances role against the decisions and actions of the promoter of ONGC, the Central government. 
 
The DHCwent on to hold that a mere sitting fee and perks, even if it may amount to as much as Rs23lakh per annum, as was shown by the petitioners, cannot be said to be ‘State largess’, without recording any special reasons why it cannot be considered so. 
 
It is a settled law that appointments can be questioned, legally speaking, only on eligibility and not suitability. However, the DHC, with great respect, has erred in construing the phrases ‘person of eminence in management’, and ‘relevant domain’ as merely the absence of their clear opposite. That approach is inappropriate in the case at hand because public monies are involved, irrespective of the quantum. The DHC missed a great opportunity to advance the interests of public accountability and has ended up giving cover for a brazenly nepotistic act, even if not an unprecedented one. 
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    Abhishek Singh

    2 years ago

    Very Sad...

    Maharashtra CM’s lavish official programme in Mira Bhaindar sponsored by ‘contractors and builders’?
    On 20 October 2017, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis inaugurated beautified premises of Mira Road railway station and the underground subway connecting Bhaindar east and west. However, both the programs were allegedly ‘sponsored’ by contractors and builders, as Mira Bhaindar Municipal Corporation (MBMC) did not spend a single rupee on it, reveals a reply I received under Right to Information (RTI).
     
    After attending the inauguration programs, I filed RTI with MBMC to know expenditure incurred for these official functions of the state CM. The inauguration ceremony was so lavish that it included imported flowers, lighting arrangements, stage, chairs, banners, and sound system. Also there were hundreds of banners and posted put up across the city for this inauguration events. This had left me wondering how public funds might have wasted for such a grand ceremony. 
     
     
     
    However, to my utter shock, the Public Information Officer from the Office of Executive Engineer under Public Works Dept in MBMC, replied that there are no records available about the expenditure incurred for the two inauguration ceremonies attended by CM Fadnavis. If the MBMC does not have any record of expenditure incurred for an official event, then who sponsored it? 
     
     
    In addition, on that day, despite it being Diwali, since Maharashtra's CM was coming to Mira Bhaindar, the local administration did not allow autorikshaw, buses and private vehicles to ply on the road leading to station. The Chief Minister completed both inauguration in just 15 minutes and left the place without any speech. Yet at both places, the 'organisers' had made arrangements like a large pandal, huge stage, sound system, flower decoration and banners. Everywhere, the name of MBMC and its logo were prominently displayed. 
     
    So the question is, if the MBMC did not spent a single rupee or does not have any record of expenditure who paid all the bills for these lavish ceremonies. While nobody is willing to say anything on this, it is believed that contractors and builders, who were awarded the works, may have borne the expenses.  
     
     
     
     
     
     
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    Mallika (Mallika) Chellappa

    2 years ago

    This is what is called a conflict of interests - but it is my favourite saying that most Indians would not recognize a conflict of interests if it hit them on the head !

    Shweta Korgaonkar

    2 years ago

    Swapnil.. If money spent by contractors r NOT from their own pockets... They recover it by doing shoddy work... Which does not last even 5 years ... When the bridges and roads constructed by British long last for 100 years... The repairing or reconstruction of the shoddy work again will be done from public money ... If someone is taking pain to find out the source... What's wrong.... CM is NOT above law... And can be criticized...

    swapnil c

    2 years ago

    This is good getting sponsorship, what us your problem Mr. Writer did you not like Maharashtra CM pending public money ? Or did you like it? This is like shame politicians of he does anything and also shame if they do something opposite. Learn to appreciate dear.

    shyamdave.d

    2 years ago

    It happens all the time. Nothing new, nothing extraordinary.

    Dengue Death at Fortis: Pride, Prejudice, Ignorance of Influencers
    The Rs15.79-lakh hospital bill, presented to the parents of a seven-year old who died of dengue after 15 days of treatment at Fortis Hospital Gurugram, has triggered a nationwide debate over hospital charges. We learn that Fortis Hospital reached out to the medical community and corporates associated with pharmaceuticals and healthcare to justify the bill and counter the public anger spilling out on social media. Reliable sources tell us that hospitals, leading doctors and influential persons were sent emails explaining the cost of treatment and its break-up. 
     
    But anecdotes about elite hospitals ripping off hapless patients are too rampant to be countered with aggressive challenges by super-privileged corporate honchos associated with healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. So, when TV Mohandas Pai (associated with the Manipal group) and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (chairperson of Biocon ltd) attempted to slap down all those who commented against the Hospital, it made for an ugly spectacle. Some gems from these encounters are worth narrating, mainly because, ultimately, it is these influencers who have the ear of policy-makers and politicians, while ordinary people only face the consequences. 
    Mr Pai launched a personal attack on Dr Ashok Khemka, the whistle-blower IAS officer from Haryana who had questioned the exorbitant Fortis bill in his tweets. Mr Pai retorted that he disliked “people like you (Khemka) passing judgement without data! shows prejudging and prejudice!” (unedited). Dr Khemka pointed out that the bill was ex-facie high. By way of comparison, he said, Rs18 lakh was his “annual salary after completing more than 26 years in the IAS. My professional qualifications, too, match the best in industry.”
     
    Mr Pai ticked off a journalist specialising in healthcare saying, “Why do you patronise private hospitals if you think they exploit you? Boycott them, go to govt hospitals; enjoy the care of the socialist experience.” 
     
    Ms Mazumdar-Shaw told people that they didn’t understand how healthcare works and went on to rant against people failing to get themselves insurance. She said, “People don’t mind charging their phones every month but desist buying insurance which costs less!”  She added that they then blame hospitals for this ‘crazy psychology’. (Unedited comment. She possibly meant, “changing their phones.”).
     
    Confident that the little girl’s family had no insurance, she lectured –“A 1000 p.a. insurance cover can save you from such exorbitant costs.” This preposterous statement triggered hundreds of tweets demanding to know which insurer would offer them a Rs18-lakh cover for Rs1000 per annum. Anoo Bhuyan, the journalist, offered a fact correction:  “The family, whose 7 yr old died from dengue with a bill of Rs 15.79 lakh, had an insurance amount paid of Rs 5.21 lakh (figures from Fortis press release).” But Ms Mazumdar-Shaw simply doesn’t know how insurance works; neither does she get it when explained. She seemed to think that all costs, no matter how high, were covered by insurance and fitting them into the coverage was “the  hospital’s headache not patient’s.” Fortis and the insurance company “must explain this unacceptable situation” (presumably explain why insurance wouldn’t cover any amount of exorbitant charges). This triggered another barrage of tweets that hopefully served as a lesson to her on basics of insurance and how premium is linked to overall quantum of coverage as well as the risk of claim rejection and other issues. 
     
    After this Marie Antoinette-type exchange (the last Queen of France before the French Revolution who is credited with the infamous comment that if the masses don’t have bread, let them eat cake), Ms Mazumdar-Shaw mercifully dropped the discussion with a neat about-turn, saying:– “hospitals must be penalised for overbilling through fast-track consumer protection courts” (edited) and that “the Fortis case needs to be investigated for this inordinate billing.” Most hospitals, as Dr Khemka pointed out, get land at subsidised rates. Also, the government heavily subsidises the education of all ‘good’ doctors on merit lists, who often go on to work at these hospitals. 
     
    Unaffordable or unreliable healthcare is a serious and emotive issue and not one where influential billionaires should be sniping and sneering at those seeking good treatment at affordable rates. What we need urgently is serious academic research on healthcare costs which cover the actual cost of medical education (public and private) as well as the cost of running hospitals (including government hospitals with permanent staff on lifelong pensions). This will help us to do a rational cost comparison and understand of the extent of subsidisation by the exchequer—eventually paid by taxpayers who may not even use the services. 
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    c babu challa

    2 years ago

    Shame on the hospital and the state government for not saving the girl at such an equipped hospital and then present a huge bill.

    Muralidharan Venkataraman

    2 years ago

    First thing to do is make it mandatory for all those who get paid from taxpayers money to seek treatment only from govt.hospitals/dispensaries/PHC, etc. This should also cover all political party leaders to workers since they are self-proclaimed servants of the common man.
    Make it compulsory and implement without exception and within a couple of months, we will see a dramatic upturn in the quality of healthcare provided by Govt. Hospitals. The Apollo's, Fortis types can then cater to the Dr. Pai and Madam Shaws of the country who will pay even millions without cribbing.

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