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Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
While the emphasis is on privatization of water services, Moneylife looks back at the battle fought by Arvind Kejriwal against the Delhi Jal Board and the World Bank to prove the fraud and the conspiracy to privatise water supply and make it expensive for Delhites
The ministry of water resources has been undertaking public consultations across the country for quite sometime to formulate the New Water Policy to be probably implemented in March this year (the last revision was in 2002). While the general feedback it got points to proper water management and augmentation at the grass-root level, the draft policy being circulated recently dangerously lays emphasis on privatization of water services.
According to news reports, the draft National Water Policy encourages privatization of water supply services and gives liberty to private operators (who would look at profits first) to “fully recover” their operational and administrative costs, which could obviously lead to steep hike in water rates for the end consumer. The draft also suggests that the government should shrug of its responsibility of being a service provider for water and has curiously put the onus on private operators.
In fact, Section 13 of the National Water Policy, 2002 states: “Private sector participation should be encouraged in planning, development and management of water resources projects for diverse uses, wherever feasible. Private sector participation may help in introducing innovative ideas, generating financial resources and introducing corporate management and improving service efficiency and accountability to users. Depending upon the specific situations, various combinations of private sector participation, in building, owning, operating, leasing and transferring of water resources facilities, may be considered.” The latest draft National Policy further hammers this issue, in complete disregard to peoples’ right of being delivered water at reasonable rates.
The first battle fought against the World Bank and Delhi Jal Board (DJB) was in 2005 when RTI activist and social reformer Arvind Kejriwal through his non-governmental organisation (NGO) ‘Parivartan’ steered a tenacious campaign against privatization of water. For this, he obtained, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, voluminous 9,000 pages of documents pertaining to correspondence between the World Bank and DJB of biddings, DJB’s correspondence with state and central government as well as reports of various consultants.
RTI documents revealed that the DJB had approached World Bank in 1998 for a loan to upgrade its water utility services to Delhi. The bank suggested that they hire a multi-national consultant who would ‘suggest’ basic reforms for the DJB to carry out. The bank offered a $2.5 million loan to DJB for hiring the consultant. States Arvind Kejriwal, “Delhi has 21 water zones. The management of each water zone was to be given to four experts for each zone at a salary of Rs25,000 per month which is Rs11 lakh. The per annum cost of the salaries would come to Rs108 crore. The total budget of the DJB was Rs168 crore thus 60% of the money would be spent on salaries on foreign consultants. Roughly estimated, this would lead to nine times increase in water tax for Delhites.”
RTI documents further revealed how the World Bank arm-twisted DJB to favour a particular multi-national company. The DJB invited tenders for which 35 consultants applied and six of them were to be short listed. An evaluation committee consisting of senior officials of the DJB ranked them in order of merit as per the World Bank guidelines. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was curiously termed as a ‘desi’ company because it bid from its Kolkata branch but was ranked 10th. However, the World Bank arm-twisted the DJB to prop it up to the 6th position. States Mr Kejriwal in a protest letter that he wrote to the World Bank after studying the documents, “This provision was misused to bail out PWC as it was treated as an Indian company because the branch of PWC which had applied is incorporated in India. Thus, PWC featured amongst the top six short-listed companies.
Mr Kejriwal’s letter to the World Bank further states: “Thereafter, technical and financial proposals were invited from the six short-listed companies. A company needed 75% marks in technical evaluation to qualify. An evaluation committee, consisting of senior officials of DJB, evaluated the proposals on the basis of the criteria given in World Bank guidelines. PWC again failed. Only two companies, namely Deloitte of USA and TAHAL of Israel, got more than 75% marks.
“The results were sent to the World Bank for their “no objection”. The bank was strangely dissatisfied with the results. It nevertheless blatantly displayed its interests in PWC. It demanded an explanation from the DJB as to why did they give such low marks to PWC.” DJB was stunned at this reply from the World Bank and in a note, the official placed on record that he strictly abided by the World Bank norms and no company procuring below 75% could be eligible for procuring the contract. If PWC is considered, the official wrote in his internal correspondence, it would go against the principles of transparency and would cause great embarrassment to the DJB.
DJB opposed this arbitrary interference but the World Bank bullied it into revising the criteria, audaciously stating this was not the first time it had so intervened.
Shockingly, DJB, the state and central government revealed their helplessness before the World Bank. Despite their many objections, DJB had to comply.
Mr Kejriwal further states: “Fresh bids were invited. A new evaluation committee was formed. The new committee was careful this time. At every step, they obtained bank’s approval. The bank interfered in the formation of the committee. The composition, structure and procedures were all laid down in great detail by the bank. The new committee was formed with the approval of the bank.
“However, PWC again failed to get pass marks. Only one company, namely M
Watson of UK, qualified. Amazingly, the bank was again dissatisfied. It called for the detailed scores given by each member of the evaluation committee.
This time, the bank transgressed all limits of interference and violated all norms of fair play and decency. It demanded that the scores given by RK Jain, one of the members of the evaluation committee, be omitted because ‘evaluation made by Mr Jain is at considerable variance with the evaluation made by other evaluators.’ Interestingly, the evaluation committee mentioned in its report that RK Jain gave low marks to PWC and SK Chhabra gave low marks to M/s Sogreah. But the World Bank demanded omission of Mr Jain’s scorecards only. The bank’s bias could not have been more apparent.”
“DJB was “requested” to recast the scores accordingly. This time, there were no protests from DJB. DJB obliged and PWC scraped through.
The documents were carefully studied by the alumnus association of IIT Delhi and Kharagpur and they had held a press conference urging the Delhi government to withdraw the World Bank loan, but to no avail. Mr Kejriwal whipped up a mass public campaign and was joined in by noted RTI activist Aruna Roy. Buckling under pressure, DJB was forced to withdraw.
In an article in The Delhi Science Forum website authored by Raghu (http://www.delhiscienceforum.net/others/342-privatisation-of-delhi-water-supply-by-raghu-.html) states - “The World Bank has a long and inglorious record of advocating privatisation of public utilities. In the water supply sector, the bank-funded projects run by European and American multi-nationals are being implemented in the country after country in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In Tanzania, Colombia and the Philippines, for example, the World Bank-funded water supply projects have left a trail of disaster, debt and impoverishment. The MNCs have imposed enormous tariff hikes, denied water to the poor and others unable to bear these hardships, diverted water to luxury resorts and golf courses and reaped exorbitant profits. In the face of inevitable public protests, in some places at the level of popular uprisings, the MNCs have fled these countries, leaving behind stranded water utilities, governments with huge uncovered loans, infructuous infrastructure costs and, adding insult to injury, have demanded and often extracted compensation invoking contractual clauses imposed by the World Bank. As a result, these discredited policies are now being rolled back all over the world including in Europe where such privatisation began during the Thatcher era.”
Despite this, the National Water Policy may just give a green signal to privatization of water supply and put the country under the barbaric control of multi-nationals. Any sense?
Links for Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign against privatization of water supply in Delhi - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XwiyWgZHMA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOmr7aXj_hA
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
While the government at one end time and again attempts to deflate the Sunshine Act, at the other end harassment to RTI activists too never ceases
Deliberately under-staffing State Information Commissions (SICs); PIOs citing Section 8 with unfailing regularity as an excuse not to part with information; assaulting RTI activists; tarnishing their reputation are some of the ways being sought to deflate the RTI (Right to Information) Act.
Case I: Pankti Jog is a prominent member of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), an Ahmedabad based RTI organisation, renowned for its helpline service that has facilitated thousands in the state to file RTI applications and get guidance in RTI related matters. MAGP’s mobile van service that spreads RTI awareness in villages has also helped in RTI literacy in the state.
Last week, she was accused of indirectly having terrorist links, as per the submission made by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Department of Forest & Environment to the State Information Commission.
States Pankti, “`In one of my RTI applications filed with the Department Of Forest And Environment way back in 2009, I had sought copies of its communication with the ministry of environment and forest regarding permission given to a multi-national company for the expansion of its pipelines which would cut through the reserved forests of the treasured marine national park in Jamnagar district. I was surprised at the submission made by the PIO to the State Information Commission that, “if information is given to Pankti Jog then it could land in the hands of a terrorist, thus the info cannot be given.” Due to delay in reply, Pankti had filed a second appeal with the SIC which had asked the PIO to give reasons for not providing information.
According to Pankti, the PIO who denied her information for nearly two years argued before the SIC last week that blasts and terrorist attacks occured due to sensitive information made available to terrorists. Pankti, who amplified this unjustified stand taken by the PIO, went viral on email stating that, “I think I have to tell the government …my name is Pankti and I am not a terrorist…” The result? The PIO retracted his statement. The matter will come for hearing before the SIC early next week.
However, it is important to understand that information relating to a powerful MNC was kept in abeyance for nearly two years. This particular issue relates to the expansion of a pipeline belonging to Essar the group which is to cut through the marine national park, to facilitate expansion of the pipeline but it would mean disturbing the reserved forest area. Hence, Pankti had also filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court besides filing a RTI Application.
The RTI application dates back to 28 April 2009. The information sought was: “a certified copy of the report submitted by the committee for the use of forest land by Essar Bulk Terminal in Jamnagar; certified copy of the letter/communication to director, environment, sent by the ministry of environment and forests regarding Coastal Regulation Zone Clearance for the proposed jetties and sea water intake and effluent release facility for the thermal power project of Essar Power Gujarat (EPGL) of Salaya creek at Jamnagar district and; certified copy of the study reports done by National Institute of Oceanography Goa on Marine Environment Management & Strategies for Gulf of Kutch.”
States Pankti, The communication between state and central government plays a key role in making us understand the permissions given to the MNC and whether environmental laws are being violated. However, in the garb of ‘security’, the entire information was denied to me. The government has the right to withhold information pertaining to sensitive coastal security, and can give me partial information. Instead, the PIO and the Appellate Authority (AA) raised questions about my locus standi in the project area and also argued there is no public interest in this issue. It is unfortunate and shameful that the PIO of the department of forest & environment at Gandhinagar is more interested in protecting the vested interest of a MNC rather than protecting environment.”
Case 2: In Hardoi, UP, IITian and RTI activist beaten up
This incident is not directly related to a RTI application but is about a young IIT student and a budding RTI activist who works tirelessly for RTI applicants and wants to remain anonymous. He files RTI applications on their behalf. His name is Sangh Priya Rahul, a third year student of IIT Kharagpur and one of the managers of the unique organisation ‘RTI Anonymous.’ (www.getup4change.org).
RTI Anonymous is run by a group of young technologists from the USA and India and was born after the brutal killing of RTI activist Shehla Masood. The website states: “`We are concerned that many of our fellow citizens who have filed RTI applications have been routinely targeted and eliminated by vested interests. We just can’t let this continue” and hence have taken it upon themselves to file RTI application on behalf of citizens who are afraid to come out in the open.
Last week, Rahul visited his home town Harnoi in Uttar Pradesh (UP) for a short holiday and decided to renew his driving license. When he approached the window where they click a computerized photograph of the applicant, he was asked to pay a bribe of Rs100. Rahul refused saying there’s no such rule. The RTO official at the window insisted he part with Rs100 as everyone else does so. To this, Rahul stated that he would file a RTI application to find out irregularities being done at the RTO. He also asked all the applicants who had come there to seek driving licenses, not to pay the Rs100.
At this point, says Rahul, “about 20 RTO officers physically assaulted me and I was left bleeding. As I lay on the ground, I was asked again whether I was ready to pay the bribe. When I refused again, I was mercilessly kicked by the officers.’’ In the meanwhile, Rahul had turned on the voice mail of his cell phone and recorded their demand for bribe. You can listen to this on the YouTube.
Thereafter, Rahul visited the police station to register an FIR against the RTO officers but the police refused to lodge an FIR. After local media coverage, the FIR was filed. Says Rahul, “my fight for corruption has become stronger.”
In the meanwhile, Anand Sharma, one of the founders of RTI Anonymous is campaigning for Rahul, urging citizens to sign the online petition, in order to pressurize local officials to take action against the culprits.
Here’s how Anand has used social networking site and technology to campaign from overseas:
• A Facebook Welcome page (Justice for Sangh Priya Rahul) has been created
• A webpage has been created that updates news and progress of the case
• An online petition has been created. Says Anand, “every time people click and ‘sign’ this petition, an email will be sent to the official email address of the following four people. The idea is flood them with a deluge of emails and hopefully, that will gain their attention
a) RK Saxena(OSD to the state governor )
b) RC.Misra (secretary - personnel) MOP&PG, New Delhi
c) Director, Dept of I&P.R(Govt of Uttar Pradesh)
d) Uttar Pradesh Lokayaukta
• Also, a video of Rahul has been uploaded on YouTube. The 1.56 minute video describes the entire sequence of events by Rahul himself
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart—Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
Fake identities were created in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) computer server to generate forged birth certificates in order to apply for a Slum Rehabilitation scheme. Such crime puts national security at stake if secure databases are compromised. Strangely, the PMC has initiated no action
A massive forged birth certificate fraud at the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was revealed through a Right to Information Act (RTI) inquiry filed by the noted Pune activist, Vijay Kumbhar. Consider this:
The above information pertains to 12 names shown as beneficiaries of the Government of Maharashtra’s ambitious but controversial slum rehabilitation scheme that is being haphazardly and dubiously implemented in major cities, particularly Mumbai and Pune. In Mumbai, Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who was then a RTI activist had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) way back in 2006 on the basis of 89 complaints lodged by citizens with the Anti-Corruption Bureau about crimes such as forgery, cheating, bogus documents, fake tenancies, threats and coercion in obtaining signatures and vacating slum dwellers in different Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) schemes. There were charges of corruption and collusion against various Government officials of the SRA as well as the collectors’ office and municipal officials. The ACB expressed its inability to deal with the issue due to lack of manpower while the state government concluded that Mr Gandhi was exaggerating and then instituted a tame inquiry by a retired IAS officer. Subsequently the Nagrik Chetna Manch filed a PIL but it has not been admitted to date. So much for the seriousness of addressing large scale corruption—no wonder the country is clamouring for a strong Lokpal Bill.
In this case, the SRA scheme pertains to a locality in Pune called Mangalwar Peth, but probably reflects the manner in which schemes meant for the upliftment slum dwellers are hijacked by ‘fraudulent’ beneficiaries. It also highlights political-bureaucratic-builder/developer nexus wherein more beneficiaries are allegedly added in order that the developer gets more building space and in turn, more FSI. For more information on Maharashtra’s Slum Rehabilitation scheme, you may visit www.sra.gov.in
In the case of the Mangalwar Peth slum rehabilitation scheme, the issue is far more dangerous. Very clearly, it shows that secure government databases have poor security and any hacker or an outsider in connivance with a municipal corporation employee can enter his name in the computerized birth record register and claim to be a citizen. He could, for all you know, be a terrorist or an illegal immigrant. Imagine how much worse it will be when these databases contain biometric information such as Iris scans and fingerprints as well!
Strangely, the PMC Commissioner Mahesh Pathak has not found it fit to initiate severe action against the Birth & Death Registration officers; instead, he delayed ordering an inquiry even after the forgery was established. RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar’s inquiry has revealed that out of the 180 beneficiaries of the Mangalwar Peth slum rehabilitation scheme, a shocking 80 names do not qualify as they do not fit into the 12 proofs required to be a beneficiary. Mr Kumbhar says, “If you do the numbers, each of these 80 fake beneficiaries would receive 350 sq ft dwelling, which amounts to 28,000 sq ft given as TDR to the developer. This is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg of how such schemes are being used for the benefit of the entrepreneurs in the building industry in connivance with top officials of the PMC.’’
That’s not all. In an official complaint to Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Pathak, Mr Kumbhar states, “On November 28, I had sent you proofs procured from RTI of fake beneficiaries of the slum rehabilitation scheme of Mangalwar Peth but you have not taken action despite the fact that such tampering in your computer records can lead to breach of national security as anyone can become a ‘legal’ citizen of Pune and therefore India. The documents reveal serious irregularities in the working of the department. Yet no action is being taken by you.’’
It all began four months back, when a genuine beneficiary of the Slum Rehabilitation scheme in Mangalwar Peth filed a RTI application, asking for a list of 12 beneficiaries with copies of their identity proofs. After he got a reply, he approached Mr Kumbhar for advice. Shocked with the details, Mr Kumbhar filed an official complaint with the municipal commissioner and requested him to conduct an inquiry. After much delay, Mr Pathak instituted an inquiry which showed that the PMC’s computer sever had been tampered with.
Mr Kumbhar then made another complaint to the municipal commissioner requesting him to file a case with the police against those involved in the fraud. Again, he dilly-dallied. Finally, Additional Registrar Aparna Basalkar has lodged a police complaint with the Faraskhana police against seven slum dwellers under Sections 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Period. Police, too, has not thought it fit to sternly pursue the case!
Not surprising, as slum rehabilitation schemes under Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) in Maharashtra have termed as “nothing short of organised crimes.’’
A PIL filed in 2006 in regard of slum rehabilitation frauds of large proportions in Mumbai shows the huge scandal thriving unabashedly even today. Excerpts from the PIL originally filed by Shailesh Gandhi will give you the horrific reality:
““That the petitioner is concerned with what appears to be a major and organized crime being reported to the police, with no chance of any charges being framed, since no investigations are being done in them. When a large number of criminal actions are reported and no investigation is done, it would be a clear signal that crimes will not be punished when the government so desires. In such a situation the rule of Law, is increasingly subverted, and has no chance of being enforced.
The main facts that emerged from the papers mainly obtained from the government using Right to Information were as follows:
a) At the end of October 2006 the ACB had 89 complaints about crimes such as forgery, cheating, bogus documents, fake tenancies, threats and coercion in taking signatures and vacating slum dwellers in different SRA schemes. There were charges of corruption and collusion against various Government officials from SRA, collectors’ office and municipal officials.
b) The ACB wrote that they would only be able to investigate three complaints where the Court had issued specific directions. They have also confirmed that evidence regarding criminal acts had been unearthed in these cases. The question is, if criminality is evident in just three cases, statistically, the probability of significant evidence of criminality being exposed in 89 other cases is very high. I quote from the ACB’s letter to me (Exhibit C page 22): "The offences are of criminal misconduct under prevention of Corruption Act, along with IPC offences done by government officials and investigation is largely based on documents. The collection of documents, to prove these offences, is voluminous in nature and also a very large number of witnesses need to be examined and thus a stipulated period cannot be given for completion of investigation in these offences.
A proposal to the ACS home, Government of Maharashtra, has been sent to form a special cell for investigation of cases”.
c) The letter from the director general of ACB, Maharashtra written on 21 September, 2006, mentions that at that time 26 complaints had been received by ACB. It further states, "In view of the seriousness of this newly visible scam, it is recommended that Government may consider setting up of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) for undertaking a comprehensive investigation into all corruption charges pertaining to the SRA schemes.
“It is recommended that the proposed SIT should have a strength of 10 investigating officers of the rank of PIs and ACPs with sufficient constabulary to assist these officers. It is also recommended that in view of the extent of this incipient scam, the SIT should be headed by an officer of the rank of DIG or IG assisted by two officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police as supervisory officers.” When 26 complaints were received, the head of the ACB in Maharashtra felt the need for a SIT of 12 officers to investigate the matter. The government made no move to support this and stymied the investigation.
d) In a letter which reveals the government’s intent the deputy secretary, housing wrote to the CEO of SRA on 15th November (Exhibit K-page 47) “Information which has been ordered by the Hon. Special Court to be given should be given to the Additional Commissioner, ACB, Mumbai. The administration has decided that there is no need to give the information of the other matters to the ACB.”
e) Thus, there was a clear design and method to the government's approach in this matter by denying information to the ACB and ensuring that no resources were available for investigating a very large number of criminal complaints. After all, we know that delay in investigation allows wrongdoers the time to bribe or threaten complainants with the help of organized underworld thugs.
This suggests collusion and a conspiracy to ensure that criminal acts though reported to law enforcing agencies, and reported widely go unpunished. Given the letter of the deputy secretary, housing, mentioned earlier, citizens would have to increasingly approach courts to keep alive the hope of corrective action; in the process the judiciary will end up performing the job of the police who have been rendered helpless.
Disturbed by these facts and the all the circumstantial evidence, I filed my PIL, asking for specific relief. My main prayers needed to be addressed urgently, if they were to have any effect. The prayers were:
a) This Hon'ble Court be pleased to issue a writ of mandamus or a writ in the nature of mandamus or any other appropriate writ, commanding the respondents to set up a Special Investigation Team.
b)That the Hon'ble Court be pleased to direct the government that the SIT be furnished with adequate staff to specially probe the very large fraud in the SRA schemes.
c)That this Hon'ble Court be pleased to direct that the SIT be charged with completing the investigations into the SRA schemes where there are complaints or reported irregularities, within a time-bound program., and reporting the progress and results to the court.
d)That this Hon'ble Court be pleased to direct that until the final disposal of this petition no third party interests in the SRA schemes should allowed to be created.
e)That this Hon'ble Court be pleased to grant interim reliefs in terms of prayer clauses (a), (b), (c) & (d) above.’”
Till date no SIT has been set up. The scandal now spreads to other cities having SRA schemes.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected])