Walmart spent spent $25 million ’as its lobbying fee to enter #India


India’s blind fists of fury

The rage in Parliament is off target. Walmart’s disclosure of its lobbying fee in the US Senate should trigger a different debate in India, says Shaili Chopra
Shaili Chopra

December 13, 2012, Issue 51 Volume 9

Illustration: Anand Naorem

WALMART’S DISCLOSURE on the fees it paid to lobby for opening up the Indian market created an uninformed and noisy debate in Parliament. The notion that allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail would be the only stumbling block for Walmart’s entry into India quickly evaporated as proceeding in both Houses were disrupted for two straight days because of this disclosure report. As the time of its entry into India gathers pace, any piece of news to do with the company is being greeted with protests.

Earlier this week, the multinational retail giant disclosed in a report to the US Senate that it spent $25 million over the past three years on lobbying, including on issues related to “enhanced market access for investment in India”. Opposition members picked on this number and stalled Parliament, claiming lobbying was illegal and accused the government of taking “bribes” for pushing Walmart’s entry into India. BJP members demanded a probe into the matter. To the surprise of many, the government agreed to an inquiry into Walmart’s lobbying practices.

“This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with Indian officials,” says a Bharti-Walmart spokesperson. “It shows that our business interest in India was discussed with US government officials along with 50 or more other topics during a three-month period. Naturally, our Washington office had discussions with the US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in that country and worldwide, and disclosed this in accordance with the law.”

A look at the facts will help us understand better the legality of lobbying. For a start, though it is true that Walmart did pay lobbying firms to push for retail reforms in India, it is also true that it voluntarily disclosed this information. In America, lobbying is a valid practice, a right protected under the US constitution. Therefore, to say that lobbying equals bribery is an outlandish assumption. Just because there are no laws in India regulating lobbying to influence policymakers does not make it illegal. You have laws to make an act illegal, not having a law doesn’t make it otherwise. It is wrong to say Walmart bribed its way into India when there are no facts to prove so, although it may be the right time to address long pending issues around disclosures and lobbying in the country.

How should industry or individuals in a democracy try and convince policymakers of a particular position if not by lobbying? Unlike in the US, where the constitution allows it, we, in India, are running away from lobbying. We cannot expect transparency unless we have a right to approach our elected officials on any issue, in a manner similar to groups such as the CII and FICCI, who work with the government on behalf of corporate India, and with the rest of the world on behalf of India. In the US, such groups would have to register as lobbyists.

“Lobbying is often viewed with suspicion since it is confused with fixing,” says Sunil Kant Munjal, Joint MD, Hero Corp. “If it is in the form of advocacy to wean others to your point of view, it is absolutely fine and is an accepted practice worldwide and in India.”

Walmart has been the mascot of the battle between the UPA and its political opponents, who have been anti-reform in retail, their argument being it will hurt small traders and farmers. There is no doubt that the rollout of FDI will be complex and tedious and this latest controversy is a part of it. But what is also clear is that Walmart will need to rethink how it plans to make the most of India’s push for reforms amidst growing hatred for its brand. For the BJP to translate lobbying into bribery is misleading. What they should highlight is Walmart’s investigation of its Indian officials under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). They are more likely to find some ammunition there. Instead, they are confusing the two issues.

The company has undertaken a detailed investigation of its own arm in India with regard to internal bribery charges under the FCPA. It has sacked five employees in India, including CFO Pankaj Madan, following the inquiry, and Walmart India CEO & MD Raj Jain — who has just returned from the United States — is under severe pressure to sort out the mess.

The lobbying fee disclosure is not connected to this case at all but with all the wounds suddenly open, anti big box retail segments are making use of every opportunity to show how the entry of Walmart will be detrimental to India’s economy. It, of course, helps to remember that retail is not just Walmart or vice-versa.

Says Ronen Sen, former Indian Ambassador to the United States: “Anywhere you have democratic institutions, this is a registered way of doing things.” Sen further says that Indians have for long engaged in lobbying to push their case.

Unfortunately, in India, lobbying as a term is still associated with Niira Radia and the 2G spectrum scam, acts to be scoffed at, proofs of the unsavoury business- politics nexus. But the truth is, lobbying is undefined, vague and controversial because we have never considered a framework for it or its scope, albeit it has existed in every sphere — corporate, government, NGOs and more. And not one party can be exempted from indulging in it.

Often lauded for his business-friendly ways, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi reportedly hired Apco Worldwide, a public affairs firm, to boost his image internationally. Apco today boasts of a client list that includes names such as former Indian ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh, US ambassador to India Tim Roemer and many more.

The UPA had also paid a US firm to lobby for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. As reported by the Daily Mail in November 2012, Washington-based Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) was hired by the Indian embassy to seek media interviews for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and get Congressional resolutions passed in his support ahead of a US visit.

“What is being said reveals ignorance,” says Sen who was instrumental in the Indo-US nuclear deal. “As India’s ambassador, I have actively engaged in lobbying, wherever it was. For example, when the erstwhile Soviet Union broke up, we had to lobby for a certain point of view to influence opinion. Even during legislations, as foreign envoy, I would get into the language of the legislation and lobby to get it changed with our trade, economic and security agenda in mind.”

INDIAN TECH companies routinely hire lobbying firms to get improved visa rules passed. Reliance, Tata and Nasscom have all used the services of global firms to get a foot in the door in other markets or appointments with governments.

Does an Indian citizen have any basis for seeking answers from those who receive funds? As a nation, we do not believe in disclosure of campaign finance, lobbying funds or even any gifts received by those in office. As a result, our political class gets uncomfortable whenever there is talk of disclosing information voluntarily. Why would any politician or entity disclose that they accepted any money when no such rule makes it incumbent on them to do so?

What this debate has once again exposed is our discomfort with transparency where all institutions — government, corporations or the bureaucracy — will have to deal with an open system of discussion, debate and decision. The government should take this opportunity to seek a basic framework to recognise lobbying as a legitimate industry, which should be given due importance when policies are drafted. At the same time, we need to recognise that excessive influence of money like in the US is not desirable and hence, the need for a set of rules.

People who work in the building that hosts the Walmart Federal Government Relations offices watch as hundreds of people from several different labor rights groups demonstrate in the street below August 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. Organized by the Jobs With Justice 2001 Conference, the demonstrators called on Walmart to secure decent, living wage jobs during their attempt to build four new stores in the District of Columbia, and not to retaliate against associates who join labor organizations.

We would also do well to acknowledge that lobbyists are professionals, who possess special skills of persuasion and tact to make a point of view acceptable to those who did not approve it. So that we understand that when Walmart spends $25 million on lobbying, it is because it used the best professional help it could to achieve its objectives. Calling it a bribe is not only irresponsible, but also defamatory.

Shaili Chopra is Business Editor, Tehelka.
shaili@tehelka.com

 

#Delhi rape highlights chronic women’s safety issues in India


By Anjali Mathai | Posted: 17 December 2012 2126 hrs

 

File photo of indian protesters shouting slogans during a protest against growing cases of sexual abuse in New Delhi on May 5,2012. (AFP/Sajjad Hussain)
Click to enlarge Photos 1 of 1


File photo of indian protesters shouting slogans during a protest against growing cases of sexual abuse in New Delhi on May 5,2012. (AFP/Sajjad Hussain)

NEW DELHI: A weekend trip to the movies for a medical student in her twenties and her male friend ended in horrifying brutality on Sunday night.

She was harassed and then gang raped on a moving bus. Her friend tried to intervene but was beaten up with an iron rod. The two were later thrown from the vehicle, semi naked.

The woman is now in critical condition in a New Delhi hospital suffering from head injuries, cuts, as well as sexual assault wounds.

“Five to seven people started harassing her. The boy protested and made every effort to come to her aid, but some people caught hold of him. Then three to four people took her and gang raped her in the cabin of the bus,” said D.K. Mishra, a relative of girl’s male friend.

Whilst tragic and very disturbing, incidents such as this are becoming far too common in the Indian capital.

Reactions from politicians are also becoming increasingly similar.

Opposition politicians blamed the party in power for not doing enough to protect women, while the chief minister of Delhi said her government would do whatever it took to make sure such incidents do not happen again.

“The stringent actions required will be taken, not just in this incident but precautionary measures will also be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in the future,” said Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit.

However that often-heard promise begins to sound hollow when the records of rape cases are analysed.

According to National Crime Records Bureau, 568 cases of rape were registered in New Delhi in 2011.

“If women are not safe here, then where ever in the country you can imagine a woman be safe? No parent can sleep in peace if this is the kind of situation which is developing in our capital,” said Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research.

India‘s other major cities are not far behind. Entertainment and financial hub Mumbai is second on the list with 218 cases.

One also has to bear in mind that these numbers are just cases which are registered. Many more cases in the cities and throughout the country are never registered.

There are laws to protect the rights of women but rape case statistics point to a very disappointing lack of enforcement borne out of deep-rooted social attitudes.

- CNA/jc

NEW DELHI: A weekend trip to the movies for a medical student in her twenties and her male friend ended in horrifying brutality on Sunday night.

She was harassed and then gang raped on a moving bus. Her friend tried to intervene but was beaten up with an iron rod. The two were later thrown from the vehicle, semi naked.

The woman is now in critical condition in a New Delhi hospital suffering from head injuries, cuts, as well as sexual assault wounds.

“Five to seven people started harassing her. The boy protested and made every effort to come to her aid, but some people caught hold of him. Then three to four people took her and gang raped her in the cabin of the bus,” said D.K. Mishra, a relative of girl’s male friend.

Whilst tragic and very disturbing, incidents such as this are becoming far too common in the Indian capital.

Reactions from politicians are also becoming increasingly similar.

Opposition politicians blamed the party in power for not doing enough to protect women, while the chief minister of Delhi said her government would do whatever it took to make sure such incidents do not happen again.

“The stringent actions required will be taken, not just in this incident but precautionary measures will also be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in the future,” said Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit.

However that often-heard promise begins to sound hollow when the records of rape cases are analysed.

According to National Crime Records Bureau, 568 cases of rape were registered in New Delhi in 2011.

“If women are not safe here, then where ever in the country you can imagine a woman be safe? No parent can sleep in peace if this is the kind of situation which is developing in our capital,” said Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research.

India’s other major cities are not far behind. Entertainment and financial hub Mumbai is second on the list with 218 cases.

One also has to bear in mind that these numbers are just cases which are registered. Many more cases in the cities and throughout the country are never registered.

There are laws to protect the rights of women but rape case statistics point to a very disappointing lack of enforcement borne out of deep-rooted social attitudes.

- CNA/jc

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/

 

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE- Paid news in Gujarat Elections


PRESS NOTE
December 17, 2012
            I have been informed today by Shri Rajeev Ranjan Nag, Member, Press Council of India and Convener of the team I appointed for looking into complaints of paid news and violation of Press freedom in the Gujarat election, that large scale practice of paid news in the recent Gujarat elections has come to the notice of the fact finding team.
            The full report about this is still being prepared and shall be submitted to me shortly, but I am informed that not only the print media but even the visual media (TV Channels) indulged in large scale practice of paid news in the Gujarat elections.
            This is indeed shocking and very disturbing as it is a heavy blow to democracy in the country. Certain politicians seem to be making a mockery of the purity of elections, and in their desire to get elected are prepared to go to any extent.
            After I receive the full report of the fact finding team I shall inform the Election Commission of India about it (as well as the general public and concerned authorities)  and request that elections of candidates who indulged in paid news and violation of press freedom in the recent election should be cancelled, as was done in the case of an elected candidate in the recent U.P Legislative Assembly Elections.
            This also vindicates my plea for effective media regulation and punitive powers in the proposed Media Council for taking action against the delinquent media. ‘Self regulation’ has proved to be ineffective, and the recent Gujarat elections is the latest example of the malaise in a large section of the media, and it is not just an aberration.
                                                                                                (Justice Markandey Katju)
                                                                                                Chairman, Press Council of India

 

#Mumbai- Mistaking woman for wife, man attacked her with a knife #WTFnews #VAW


Woman stabbed near Dadar station

Mistaking woman for wife, man attacked her with a knife near Dadar railway station; victim is said to be in a critical condition.

 

December 17, 2012, MUMBAI,Agencies

A youth was arrested Monday for attacking a woman with a knife in broad daylight in a crowded area of Dadar in Mumbai, police said.

Woman stabbed near Dadar station
Representational pic

“The youth identified as Vijay Sangavlekar was arrested after he attacked a woman with a knife near the Swaminarayan temple in Dadar. He had mistaken the victim for his wife, with whom he had fought earlier,” an official from Matunga police station said.

The woman sustained several injuries and was rushed to the nearby Sion Hospital. Her condition is stated to be serious.

The spot where the attack took place is near the busy Dadar railway station. A police post is also located nearby and police personnel rushed to rescue the woman from the attacker.

Police are questioning Sangavlekar in the case.

 

#Guajarat- The violence that stalks even 10 years on #Narendramodi


Dec 16, 2012

Rupa Dara Mody witness and victim showing her flat  in Gulberg society in Ahmedabad city of Gujarat state in India. Rupa Dara Mody lost her son Ajar who was 13 years old at the time of th 2002 riots.

 

AHMEDABAD // Rupa Dara Mody moved to get away from the violence. In 1996, she and her family left Shahpur – an area then known for frequent inter-religious confrontations – for an affluent, mostly Muslim neighbourhood called the Gulberg Society in the state of Gujarat. The violence eventually followed.

 

Mrs Mody’s 13-year-old son Ajar and 68 other people were killed in a Hindu rampage against Muslims on February 28, 2002.

The night before a mob of Muslims had set a train on fire, killing almost 60 Hindu pilgrims returning from the holy city of Ayodhya.

The Hindus sought revenge, igniting rioting that would continue for four months and leave nearly 1,000 people dead.

Ten years later legal proceedings against some of those alleged to be responsible continue. More than 100 people, both Hindu and Muslim, have been convicted in four separate cases. But none of the convictions have been for the Gulberg Society deaths.

In April, investigators appointed by India’s supreme court acquitted Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, 62, of any responsibility for the rioting, saying there was no evidence against him. He is now running for a fourth term in this month’s election, which is being held on a variety of staggered dates. The final results will be released December 20.

The acquittal and memories of 2002 haunt Mrs Mody. “The pelting of stones started, then came burning tyres and bulbs filled with acid,” she recalled earlier this week of that February night a decade ago.

“Modi says in the 10 years he has ruled there has been no riots, no curfews. He started one and on the back of it he has ruled with the fear in people’s hearts,” she added.

Mr Modi has refused to apologise for the riots, telling the Wall Street Journal in August, that “only has to ask forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime.” The issue of violence in this race has been mostly overshadowed by economic issues.

Mrs Mody and her two children, Ajar and 11-year-old Benifer, had sought refuge in the house of a neighbour, Ehsan Jafri, a former member of parliament that winter night in 2002.

Others followed, believing that Mr Jafri’s powerful friends would shield them from the violence. Most of the women gathered upstairs. The men watched helplessly from downstairs as the mobs blasted the walls of the gated community by turning cylinders of cooking gas into impromptu bombs.

Then they started setting fire to homes.

Mrs Mody recalled stepping on bodies of people who had collapsed from the smoke and then falling. “I wasn’t unconscious but my daughter stood there asking me to get up,” she said. “I got up and covered her eyes to keep her from seeing what was happening around us. I turned around to see if my son was following my daughter. He wasn’t. “We looked in the relief camps, hospitals, morgues, everywhere we put up posters. In the hospitals, I went to the burn units and I would tell them, just blink or extend a hand if you are my Aju [her nickname for her son],” said Mrs Mody. “No one answered.”

His body was never found.

Before Mr Jafri was dragged from his home and killed by the mob, Mrs Mody said she watched him call the police and numerous politicians from his landline to ask for help. She claims that one of those calls was to Mr Modi. She has also testified in court.

While Mr Modi has not been shown to have been directly involved in instigating the violence, members of his government have.

 

#India – Mining scams -a decade of loot



Author(s):
Sayantan Bera
Issue Date:
2012-12-31

At more than Rs 65,000 crore, the mining scam in Odisha has surpassed that in Goa and Karnataka. The penalties, however, came too late

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/24_201212311.jpg” width=”457″ height=”234″ border=”0″ />Prodded by the Shah Commission, the Odisha government has started satellite mapping to check illegal mining (Photo: Sayantan Bera)

In December last year, days before an inquiry commission headed by justice M B Shah was slated to visit Koira and Joda mining circles in northern Odisha, piles of documents were burnt in the office of deputy director of mines in Koira. In November this year, just days before the commission’s third visit, the Odisha government slapped a fine of Rs 65,493 crore on 104 mine lessees for extracting more than the permitted quantity of iron ore, manganese and chromite between 2000 and 2010 (see ‘Who’s who among offenders’).

The commission was set up by the Centre in 2010 to probe illegal mining across India. It is expected to submit its report on Odisha by December end.

At present, of the 600 leases in the state, 388 have been either suspended or temporarily discontinued. The state environment minister recently told the Assembly that 111 mines have been listed for violating Environment Protection and Forest Conservation Acts. In October, the state government notified that second and subsequent renewal of mining leases will be restricted to captive users, that is, lessees without any industry of their own will not be eligible.

image

The Rs 65,493 crore fine has been recorded as royalty for overextraction and transit passes (given by the state to vehicles carrying minerals out of mines) issued. “But what about the mining beyond leasehold areas which include forestland?” asks Union minister and Congress MP from Odisha Srikant Kumar Jena who says the total loss from illegal mining in the state is Rs 4 lakh crore. Accusing the Odisha government of hoodwinking people, Jena says, “It has imposed the fine on mine lessees to put a brave face in front of the Shah Commission.”

Horror unfolds

The decade beginning 2000 witnessed a boom in iron ore prices. To reap benefits, miners in Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts, which include Koira and Joda circles, started mining in excess of the limit approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines. They stretched operations beyond their lease areas and continued extracting even after their leases had expired. Mining was done without acquiring mandatory environment and forest clearances or the “consent to establish” from the state pollution control board.

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/26_201212311.jpg” width=”457″ height=”302″ border=”0″ />The blank board at Koira block development office is an ironic reminder of the underdevelopment in the mining hot spot

Traders transported the overproduce by bribing through check posts. The iron ore was eventually exported to China. Thousands of trucks carrying ore moved daily on broken roads, says Satyabrata Panda, an economist based in Bhubaneswar, while recalling the day in 2005 when his car moved inch by inch in Sundargarh to cover four kilometres in eight hours. A 2008 report by the Auditor General found that many trucks in the Baripada mining circle in Mayurbhanj district were using number plates assigned to motorcycles. Of the eight circles reviewed, six did not have government check gates, says the report.

In 2009, a report by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Odisha, provided evidence of mining in forestland, tampered boundary pillars, construction of roads inside reserve forest in Keonjhar and Sundargarh, and rampant illegal mining along the Jharkhand border (see ‘Pushing the pillars’). The same year, Rabi Das, senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar, filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging organised illegal mining with active support of the state government. Das argued that 155 leases were operating “without any valid authority… most of which include forest areas and by whom the mandatory clearances from the Central government has (sic) not been obtained ”.

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/27_201212311.jpg” width=”457″ height=”546″ border=”0″ />Source: Inspection report by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests , Odisha, 2009

In response, the court appointed a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which submitted its report in 2010. The report observed that of the 341 mines operating, 215 were working under the “deemed extension” clause of the mineral concession rules under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. “The deemed extension clause is primarily meant to deal with contingency situation and to ensure that mining operations do not come to an abrupt end… This provision is not meant to be availed of indefinitely. Continuing mining over a long period of time without renewal of the mining lease becomes a potential source for serious illegalities and irregularities,” notes the report.

It observed that mining activities were going on in a large number of mines without requisite approvals under the Forest Conservation Act and the Air and Water Acts. Despite the findings, many violators, especially big companies, got away without any hassle, says Panda. Tata Steel, for instance, renewed its mining lease and increased production capacity from six million tonnes to 12 million tonnes in a year even when the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Keonjhar had slammed the company for violating forest laws and illegal mining in 2011. Similarly, Rungta Mines renewed its lease despite violations. The DFO was transferred after he filed damning inspection reports.

Panda, who has been analysing the mining sector, points to another problem. “For the 80 million tonnes of iron ore produced in 2010-11, the environmental cost of handling overburden (waste produced while mining) would be Rs 26,000 crore. This is absurd since the market valuation of 80 million tonnes is less than Rs 10,000 crore,” he says.

Fine: a face-saver?

Referring to the Rs 65,493 crore fine, Supreme Court lawyer Jayant Das says the notice of fines given to mine lessees will not stand in the court of law. “The firms were not issued a show cause notice where they would have a chance of replying,” adds Das, who is fighting a case on illegal mining in the state.

Prafulla Samantara, a civil rights activist in Odisha, says the penalties were imposed as a face-saver ahead of the Shah Commission’s visit. “What was the state government doing for 10 long years while the loot was on?” he asks.

Two instances bring home the point. Earlier this year, the state had fined Raikela Iron Mines, leased to Geetarani Mohanty, Rs 40.37 crore for excess production of iron ore. The notice was issued after the Auditor General raised an objection in the 2011-12 audit. The mine lessee appealed to the revision authority in the Union Ministry of Mines and got a stay on the order to pay fine. Similarly, a fine of Rs 1,132 crore imposed on Indrani Pattnaik mines was stayed. “The state government is not serious about recovering the amount,” says lawyer Das.

Another hurdle to collect the fine is in the definition of illegal mining. A recent amendment to the mineral concession rules under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act defines illegal mining as any mining outside the leasehold area. Overextraction inside the leasehold area cannot be termed illegal and, therefore, the penalty will not be valid, mine lessees argue. Deepak Mohanty, state director of mines, says, “Fines were imposed under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. Stay orders of the revision authorities are not the last word.”

Fifty years of mining have done little to improve people’s lives, says Kanhu Charan Mohanty, activist in the region from NGO Ekta Parishad. Despite overproduction of minerals, jobs are not easily available as most excavation work is done by machines. Beginning 2002, with the boom in mineral prices, people abandoned agriculture—everyone wanted a share of the booty, either by illegal mining or by transporting the iron ore. Most areas now lie barren. With streams dried up, people depend on tankers from mining companies for drinking water.

At the entrance to the Koira block development office is a signboard listing its success profile—from check dams and farm ponds to peripheral development. It’s telling: there are no numbers on the white board, only a coat of red iron ore dust.


 

To pass biometric ID, apply Vaseline or Boroplus on fingers overnight #WTFnews #UID #Aadhaar


ANUMEHA YADAV, Dec 16, 2012, The Hindu

The technical glitches that plague cash transfers in Jharkhand may not have arisen with a simpler system that does not need Internet connectivity

Pilot cash transfer projects taken up in Jharkhand for MGNREGA wages have achieved little success due to a variety of logistical, human and technological problems. A year after the launch of these projects, the problems remain unsolved.

In Ramgarh district, a majority of the beneficiaries are in Dohakatu and Marar panchayats of Ramgarh block. Over 63,000 people enrolled for Aadhaar numbers in the two panchayats in Ramgarh block. Of these, only 2,312 were “mapped”, i.e., their Aadhaar numbers and their welfare details were linked together. Of 4,791 “active” job-card holders in the two panchayats, only 469 received MGNREGA payments through Aadhar-Enabled Cash Transfers (AECTs). Fifty km away in Ratu block in Ranchi, of 8,231 “active” job-card holders in three panchayats, those paid through AECTs was even lower: 162.

Under strain

Ramgarh District Collector Amitabh Kaushal, who has been awarded the National Aadhaar Governance Award two years in a row, admits that the district’s administrative capacity is under strain and banks are not able to cope with the volume of transactions. Of eight banks on the Aadhaar platform, five got added only last month.

In Ramgarh and Ranchi, all accounts have so far been linked with the service area bank, Bank of India. “Initially many people turned up to enrol without their MGNREGA job-cards. So now we have to physically go house to house to find every job-card holder. In some places there was high enrolment but no BoI branch, in other places a branch existed but little enrolment,” says Mr. Kaushal. He rattles off a list of other concerns — bank technology upgrading, Internet connectivity in hilly areas, and availability, security and integrity of the cash-carrying Banking Correspondents (BCs).

At the Panchayat Bhavan at Dohakatu where most of the MGNREGA payments recorded were made, the BC, Rajesh Kumar, tries to rush through filling beneficiaries’ bank forms online — he has been asked to submit them by December 15 — but runs into many interruptions. “The line [power] came back only at noon. Last week two days there was no power and then there were server problems,” he says. But at three p.m., when he begins making payments to those who have queued up to collect wages for land-levelling work done under MGNREGA in November, there is anxiety but palpable excitement too.

Disappointments

Of the seven workers who take turns to scan their fingers, the micro-ATM Mr. Kumar operates recognises four. He pays them between Rs. 300-200 from the cash he withdrew at the bank that morning. For two workers the micro-ATM lists errors repeatedly. One worker’s account has still not been mapped. Of four pension beneficiaries who turn up, three collect their payments within an hour.

Dashay Bediya, a frail agricultural worker in a white shirt and dhoti, tries eight times, placing different fingers in the hope that one will work and then goes outside the office and scrubs his hands. He returns and tries five times more getting more anxious and disappointed each time. “Come after three to four days. Put Vaseline or Boroplus and rub your fingers before you go to sleep,” Mr. Kumar instructs before sending him back. And so the question, can the ease of payments at the household or panchayat level not be better achieved through smart cards that require neither real-time Internet connectivity, nor the creation of a massive centralised database like UIDAI’s that makes it harder to include those who missed enrolment the first time?

Dohakatu has had such a bevy of bureaucrats, officials and journalists visiting for months that the sarpanch, Kalawati Devi, now keeps a stock of mineral water bottles at the Panchayat Bhavan. At the site of the second pilot in Ratu block, however, things have not gone so smoothly even during officials’ visits. A few days before October 2 when the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand was to hand over pensions through AECTs at a function at Tigra panchayat, block officials and BCs tried frantically to make the fingerprints verification go through for 45 beneficiaries. It worked only in the case of nine.

Since October 2, even these nine have not been paid through AECTs even once, their payments still going to their old post-office accounts. The only reason they are still able to get their pensions is that the government kept open the option to withdraw the money at the post-office using their old passbooks.

“Half of MGNREGA workers’ fingerprints do not match. Maybe their fingerprints keep changing? In March I gave pension beneficiaries ID proofs to BoI so they open accounts and give passbooks. Then the bank manager changed in June and bank officials say they lost the documents. I gave the documents again in September but everyone is still waiting for passbooks,” says Tulsi Koeri, the BC in Puriyo panchayat, Ranchi.

The BC in nearby Tigra panchayat, Mahmood Alam, says of 383 whose MGNREGA accounts were mapped with Aadhaar since last December, only 102 have got passbooks, making it difficult for them to withdraw wages if they run into authentication or Internet connectivity problems.

Missing wages

Neither Mr. Koeri, nor Mr. Alam has been paid their monthly salary of Rs. 2,100 since they were hired as BCs last November by United Telecoms Limited (UTL) that BoI outsourced the work to. Mr. Kumar, Ramgarh’s BC, got paid for four months after the Collector, Mr. Kaushal, intervened in June. Even he has not been paid the last six months.

“I spend at least Rs. 400 per month on fuel for this work. In October at the PM’s video conference three of us were sent from Ratu, we paid over Rs. 2 lakh those three days. There have been 18-20 functions with officials from Delhi, Bangalore, even America. But if I ask for wages, UTL says if you do not like the work you can quit. Could you ask them about our wages please?” asks Mr Koeri.

anumeha.y@thehindu.co.in

 

#India- Companies like #Vedanta are brazenly taking over #Governance


How Big Business Gets Its Way

Nexus
Dongria Kond tribals protesting atop the Niyamgiri hill (Photos: MIHIR SRIVASTAVA)

Dongria Kond tribals protesting atop the Niyamgiri hill (Photos: MIHIR SRIVASTAVA)

» Ratan Tata, weeks before relinquishing control of the Tata Group, has warned India of crony capitalism. In a recent interview with PTI, asked if the problem was getting worse, he replied, “Yes. It’s just an observation, I have no facts or figures to prove it.” Asked about a statement he made on the erosion of values and ethics in India, especially within the business community, he said, “I hold that view.”

» Indian Parliament has come to a standstill again as reports surface that the US-based retailer Walmart has spent Rs 125 crore since 2008 on ‘lobbying’ in India for market access among other things.

+++

LANJIGARH, ODISHA ~ Since late 2009, when transcripts of the Radia Tapes were published in Open, questions of corporate governance and the influence of business houses over government policy have dominated public discussions in India. But as Ratan Tata’s statement reveals, the problem only seems to be getting worse.

In this report, we focus on the case of Vedanta, and specifically, on its Lanjigarh refinery in Odisha, where despite reports of problems on the ground and consistent local opposition, the government is going out of its way to ensure that the bauxite refinery’s closure is only a temporary setback to the company.

Vedanta Resources, a conglomerate owned by the Patna-born and London-based billionaire Anil Agarwal, has always been controversial. Currently, it is engaged in two cases at the Supreme Court. One is a case involving its purchase of Cairn Energy’s stake in Cairn India, which shares oilwells in Rajasthan with the Government-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp Ltd. On this, The Herald of Scotland has reported: ‘Westminster secretly lobbied the Indian government to give the go-ahead to a controversial multi-billion pound deal with a leading Scottish oil company, internal emails passed to the Sunday Herald reveal… UK government officials, briefed ‘over dinner’ by Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, offered to ‘polish’ and send a letter drafted by the company. At a lunch, they also urged a key Indian government minister to back the deal. The Indian government subsequently gave permission for Cairn’s £5.5 billion agreement to sell off the bulk of its Indian oil business to Vedanta…’

The other is a case filed by the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) challenging a decision of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to withdraw its clearance for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri, a tribal belt in Kalahandi district of Odisha. From the very beginning, mining operations here—by OMC to supply Vedanta—have been controversial, with opposition parties in Odisha and at the national level demanding a CBI probe of all mining agreements, alleging that they violate forest laws and the state’s mineral policy—a sellout of the state’s interests.

The MoEF had cancelled its Niyamgiri forest clearance to the OMC-Vedanta project in 2011, after protests by tribals that got wide media coverage. The Ministry had also admonished Vedanta for its violation of ecological norms and expanding its refinery—a facility to turn bauxite into alumina, used as raw material to yield aluminium via electrolysis—without a mandatory environmental clearance. But no explanation has yet been offered for the ease with which the MoEF let the project go ahead in the first place.

When Vedanta shut its refinery in Lanjigarh on 5 December, it was a move widely seen as aimed at exerting pressure on the state government. Deepak Kumar Mohanty, director of mines in the Odisha government, says that ensuring production at the refinery is a priority for the government as per a 2004 agreement signed by the state with Vedanta, by which it was to supply the refinery with bauxite. “The Karlapat deposit has already been reserved for OMC,” he says, “We are trying to identify new sources of bauxite. It will take three to four months for resumption of supplies.” He refuses to comment on the wisdom of signing the 2004 agreement, claiming that the matter is in court. Mohanty is not the only state government official who appears to have made Vedanta’s concerns his own. At least he is bound by an agreement. But other state officials act under no such constraints. From the state police to the environmental authorities, Odisha’s administration seems keener on acting in the interests of the UK-based conglomerate than that of its citizens. Days before the refinery shut down, Open visited Lanjigarh to assess the scenaro.

THE MYTH OF TRIBAL CONSENT

Vedanta has gone to great lengths to describe the ‘consultative process’ that is undertaken with locals ‘to provide comprehensive details about the potential environmental and social ramifications of the proposed project’. The company claims to have sought the ‘opinion, views and suggestions’ of Dongria Konds—the group of tribals affected—on the project. The company also claims to have got an overwhelming response to its overtures to them: ‘Nearly 3,000 people have voluntarily supported the project and have approved its operations by inscribing their signature/

thumb impressions.’

The latest of these series of consultations was that of the Gram Sabha of Rengopalli, which took place on 15 March this year. This came some weeks after a serious scuffle on 21 January, in which parts of people’s land had forcefully been taken away by Vedanta with the help of the police and local administration. There had been a protest against the acquisition, but it was squashed by a heavy police force that broke up a human chain formed by tribal men, women and children who were trying to block the way of landmovers on the site. The scene was captured on video by local journalist Mohammad Aslam. Tehsildar Sushant Petel is seen in the video telling the protestors in Oriya, “This land belongs to the company and there is Section 144 in force [which prohibits gatherings of people]”. Force was used to disperse the crowd, and as many as 47 people were arrested and put in jail under Section 307 of the IPC on such charges as attempted murder. They were released after 20 days.

What happened at the 15 March ‘public hearing’ has been captured on video by Aslam as well. Operating on a shoestring from a backhouse in his family home in Bhawanipatna, he makes it a point to document such interactions between the state and its people. His video of the ‘public hearing’ reveals exactly how local consent is manufactured in this tribal zone. It has to be seen to be believed. A large tent is set up and snacks are served to officials. Among those who are present are the local Block Development Officer (BDO), Tehsildar and village Sarpanch, and Vedanta’s law officer. There is also a big gathering of villagers. The proceedings start with residents of the village asked to put their thumb impressions on blank sheets of paper in a register. This is even before they are told anything, as if this is some sort of roll call for attendance being taken. The BDO then prompts the Sarpanch to say something. He does not have much to say beyond “You will get jobs”. Vedanta’s law officer, Nabal Kishore Sharma, has more to say. He speaks of the proposed rehabilitation of those willing to part with their land, and then in Oriya, offers to have all pending criminal cases against the 47 arrested withdrawn if they go along with the company.

District Magistrate Gobind Chandra Sethi, contacted by Open to discuss complaints of locals about police atrocities, non-payment of land compensation and unkept promises of jobs in Vedanta, refuses to comment on any of it. “I am too busy with an assignment from Bhubaneswar,” is his brusque response, “[I have] no time to talk on these issues.”

Aslam is worried about the fallout of his video. “They may declare me a ‘Maoist sympathiser’ one day and put me behind bars. I have no influence or support.” It is a valid fear, given what has been happening here.

CRIMINAL CASES AS ACTS OF COERCION

Many tribals opposed to the project have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, on such charges as theft of scrap iron from construction sites, and put behind bars for months. In villages like Belamba, Turigurha, Boringpada, Chattarpur and Kendiguda, there is hardly anyone left who has not gone to jail on some unproven charge or the other.

Chattarpur village lies about a kilometre from the Lanjigarh refinery. As we walk into the village, we are soon surrounded by a small crowd of youngsters keen to tell us of their suffering. All of them have been to jail and are now out on bail. Apart from theft, some have been slapped with charges as serious as dacoity, which can have them sent to prison on life sentences. Their real crime, they say, is that some of them have been fighting for their due compensation, while others have refused to part with their land for the project. At the time of our visit, four residents of Chattarpur—Senapati Naik, Karuna Naik, Barik Takari and Nilamber Harijan—were still in jail.

Others, such as Nain Majhi, 35, who lost part of his land to the project, have been waiting for compensation since 2003. Majhi was instead sent to jail on another false charge two years ago. Nelkantha Bisal, 40, who has spent 45 days in jail, has no illusions about the state. “The police is with the company,” he says, “They will sell us to the company.”

Two brothers from the village Bandiguda, Deka and Prapula Majhi, both in their late thirties, have become symbols of local resistance against the company’s move to usurp their land. They have refused to part with their plots, which lie along the route of a conveyor belt being built to transport bauxite from Niyamgiri hills to the refinery. The yawning gap in the conveyor belt is a source of local pride, upset as they are with Vedanta’s apparent failure to deliver on its promises of job creation and prosperity in the area.

“The collector and the commissioner and other high officials visited me,” says Deka, “They offered money and then when we refused, threatened us.” His brother shows us a copy of the police complaint they have made on these threats, a complaint that has not been registered so far. “They will send us to jail and then forcefully take the land,” says a fearful Deka, explaining the standard operating procedure used for errant tribals like him.

Despite thousands of complaints filed by locals—of various kinds, though broadly about the pressure being mounted on them by Vedanta—not a single first information report (FIR) has been registered against the company or any of its functionaries.

THE PROMISE OF JOBS

By Vedanta’s count, 121 families have been relocated, of which 76 have a family member employed by it, while the rest have opted for cash instead. Of the 1,846 project affected people—who lost part of their agriculture land but not homestead—1,372 were provided one-off monetary compensation, 110 of them opted for employment training schemes, and 87 got jobs. The report makes no mention of the other 364.

The case of Manjo Mahapatra is interesting. He is a resident of the village Bandiguda right next to the refinery. From the village’s only educated family, he saw merit in the company’s campaign that promised jobs and a better life, and became a vocal supporter of the project. He was not employed by the company, but made money on some contracts it gave him during the project’s construction phase. He soon moved to the nearest city Bhawanipatna. But after three years, he found himself at a loose end with no source of income. “No locals who lost their land to the company have got jobs, with the exception of six,” he says.

Mahapatra does not direct his ire at the company; he blames the government for misinforming people of Vedanta’s real intentions. He mentions the former District Magistrate of Kalahandi, Sharswat Mishra. “He promised us jobs and other benefits on behalf of the company. I want to ask the district magistrate, have they ever tried to verify how many locals actually got jobs? If so, where is the data, why not make it public?” He accuses Mishra of working as an agent of the company, something that won him the dubious title of ‘Sterlite Mishra’ (Sterlite being a Vedanta group company). As widely reported, Mishra had told locals in Oriya that they had no claim to anything more than a foot deeper than the surface of their land. “What’s below that belongs to the state,” he had told them.

Mishra, coincidentally, is managing director of OMC, which holds a mining lease for Niyamgiri hills and has an exclusive sale agreement by which it must supply Vedanta bauxite at a preset price. “This issue has been extensively reported by the media all over the world…,” he says, “Since the matter is in the apex court, I am not interested in a story at this point of time.” He refuses to comment on any specific charges.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

The land acquired at Rengopalli—the village featured in Aslam’s ‘public hearing’ video—was used by Vedanta to construct an extension of the refinery’s red mud pond. This pond is used to store about 92 billion litres of toxic residue from the bauxite refining process that reportedly includes some heavy metals and even radioactive traces.

It was subsequently reported that the red mud pond developed a crack on its western side, resulting in the dangerous residue leaking into nearby water bodies—a serious health hazard to the people of Lanjigarh. The matter was investigated by various government agencies of Odisha, including the State Pollution Control Board, whose team was led by member secretary Siddharth Das.

The video footage recorded by Aslam of Das’ interaction with the engineers representing Vedanta is revealing. Das reprimands Vedanta’s representatives for raising the height of the embankments of the red mud pond without the required permission. An unidentified man believed to be a representative of Vedanta informs Das that the company hardly ever takes permission. Work is usually done first and permission taken later, he says, making it sound like a mere formality. He then says that this particular move to raise the height of the embankment was taken on the advice of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). To this, Das retorts, “Are they the statutory authority to do that?” There is silence. Das then tells them that the company will have to stop work until further orders. They look at him with bewilderment.

But the official record is different. The work never stopped. Das confirms over the telephone that he had inspected the site, and says that he did not find any violation of norms, and that no crack appeared and no leakage occurred. On the question of the embankment’s height being raised without permission, Das says, “It was done on the basis of a scientific study by the IISc to seal the pool inwards—so there is no issue.”

THE COMPANY

For Dongria Kond tribals, Vedanta is just ‘the company’. They claim the company’s writ runs everywhere in the region.

I am accompanied to the Vedanta refinery site by a local journalist called Kailash who works for a local daily. While visiting the villages of Lanjigarh block, I had noticed he was in regular touch with the public relations officer of Vedanta, Sandeep Sethi. Kailash had informed Sethi that someone from Delhi would be talking to people and taking pictures. Kailash, I found, was instructed to get details on the purpose of my visit and to get me to meet him. I declined to do so at Kailash’s behest, but called Sethi the same evening and asked for a meeting.

“I exactly know the set of people you met and what they told you,” says Sethi when I meet him. It turns out to be untrue. The people of Chattarpur village, he surmises, had complained to me of widespread skin diseases and held the company responsible for their ailments. They had not; they had actually discussed the false cases against them. Sethi then expresses regret that Kailash was not discreet enough in following his brief, and then justifies the surveillance of outsiders by saying that the media in Delhi and the foreign press are biased against the company, and that its version of events is never reflected in their reports.

For the company’s viewpoint, I also track down Dr Mukesh Kumar, president and chief operating officer of Lanjigarh Alumina Refineries . The meeting takes place in the lobby of Bhubaneswar’s Hotel Mayfair Lagoon at 11:30 at night.

Kumar launches into a diatribe against what he sees as a campaign against the company designed to “create panic” . He displays little interest in what I have seen or answering my questions. “We have nothing to hide,” he says. “Vedanta meets the highest global environment safety parameters. The Vedanta alumina plant is a zero-discharge plant. Not one drop of treated or untreated effluent mixes with outside water. Not only that, good water management practices have ensured that water consumption of the plant has gone down by 40 per cent.” He says that the red mud pond is a place where dry red ash is collected carefully so that it does not mix with the surroundings. “Where is the question of pollution?”

“Why are we in the firing line?” wonders Kumar, “OMC is the project owner and the mining lease owner. We have just entered a sole purchase agreement with OMC at a predetermined price.”

In the meantime, Vedanta has come out with a 150-page report titled The Lanjigarh Development Story: Vedanta’s Perspective that attempts to present a comprehensive counterview. According to this report, ‘The Lanjigarh project is regarded by the local population as a significant opportunity of progress and growth’ in a region that has seen ‘virtually no major development interventions since independence.’

The reality, it appears, is rather different.

 

Four Suspects Detained in #Delhi Gang-rape Case #Vaw


New Delhi, Dec 17 (IANS): Four suspects have been detained by Delhi Police for the gang-rape of a girl in a moving bus, police said Monday. The condition of the girl is critical.

“We have detained four people and have impounded two buses,” said a police official.

The incident took place Sunday night, when the victim, a para-medical student and her boyfriend, boarded the bus from Munirka to go to Dwarka, after watching a movie.

Police said that around five to seven bus crew started misbehaving with the girl a few minutes after she boarded the bus, which had no other passengers.

The victim’s boyfriend tried to prevent the men from molesting her, but the men beat him up and sexually assaulted the girl.

The accused then threw the girl and her boyfriend out of the bus near Mahipalpur in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area.

Both victims were rushed to Safdarjung Hospital by a PCR van. While the girl battles for life, her boyfriend was discharged and police have recorded his statement and registered a case.

The boy’s uncle said, “Five to seven persons attacked the couple.”

“When my nephew tried to save the girl, he was beaten with iron rods… the girl was then gang-raped,” he said.

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Mamta Sharma, said she would talk to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on the issue.

“We will talk to the chief minister, take cognizance of the matter and inquire into it, as also keep tabs on the police investigations,” Sharma said.

“Such incidents are on the rise in the capital and this is due to the ignorance of the government as well the police force. If an incident like this can take place in the thickly populated Munirka area, it just shows that the police is not alert,” she said.

Sharma said the girl’s “male friend may have been involved with the accused.”

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that “neither the home ministry nor Delhi Police are able to check such incidents” which have been on the rise.

“Delhi’s law and order is being handled very irresponsibly by the Delhi government,” he said.

 

 

#Kerala to track school kids with #Aadhaar card , seriously #WTFnews #UID



Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, December 16
The Kerala Government has decided to track schoolchildren by issuing them Aadhaar cards much to the concern of rights activists who believe the move would jeopardise children’s privacy and subject them to needless discrimination.

The apex body monitoring child rights — National Commission for Protection of Child Rights — agrees with these fears and has put the state on notice over the issue asking it to explain “what measures it would be taking to safeguard children’s right to privacy and dignity in the use of Unique Identification (UID)”.

“We have not yet heard from the state,” Chairperson of the commission Shanta Sinha told The Tribune, disagreeing with the use of Aadhaar cards for schoolchildren.

The state, however, is clear about what it wants to do. In a circular detailing the issuance of Aadhaar cards to schoolchildren, the state government directed its Public Education Department to deploy online school management software called Sampoorna in schools across Kerala and to bring the same in line with UID.

Issued by Director, Public Education, Kerala, the circular states, “We have been tasked with providing Central Government’s UID to school students. Hence, schools should provide mechanisms to implement UID and Sampoorna in conjunction.

“Details of all the students in the school should be collected in the forms on the basis of their class and division. Headmasters should ensure that all students have filled in these forms. Education officers are directed to monitor these explicitly. Details of monetary compensation for teachers who conduct UID verification would be notified separately.”

The Aadhaar cards are sought to be issued to as many as 60 lakh students from Class I to XII spanning close to 15,000 schools in the state.

“When all schoolchildren have UIDs, their movements in educational institutions can be tracked so also their academic performance. The circular is coercive and violates the privacy of children,” said Usha Ramanathan, a Delhi-based lawyer who has complained to NCPCR against Kerala.

The concerns stem from the challenges of UID verification in case of children. Collecting and de-duplicating the biometrics of children is a challenge, admits Unique Identification Authority of India’s own “Working paper on UID and iris”.

“Children’s face and fingerprints are not stable until the age of 16 years. The lack of de-duplication of a child’s biometrics would require that a child’s UID be linked to the parents’ UID in the database and the child’s ID is not issued on the basis of de-duplication of his own biometrics. This increases the risk of fakes among UIDs for children,” Ramanathan told The Tribune.

Activists further argue that UIDs don’t have parliamentary mandate as the UID Bill has not been passed by the House. “There are no protocols about who can access UID information, how UID number may be used, what will happen if there is identity loss and theft. There is no protection against tracking and profiling,” the complaint to NCPCR says.

Experts say that iris presents a potential means to issue the majority of children a unique number linked to their biometrics because the iris stabilises at a very young age. “But the limitation on iris capture is the child’s inability to follow instructions to keep eyes open before the camera. Normally, children understand such instructions after the age of four. Moreover, what is the purpose in tracking kids?” Ramanathan said.