Trinamul Maoist Nexus Reconfirmed

THE rally held by the TMC – Trinamul Maoist Combine – at Lalgarh on August 9 reconfirms, if ever such a reconfirmation was required, that the Trinamul Congress and the Maoists have, indeed, been political collaborators in creating mayhem and anarchy in certain areas of West Bengal.

The murderous assaults by this combine has already martyred 255 leaders of the CPI(M). Most, if not all of these, belong to the poorest of the exploited classes and tribals, whose interests, ironically, the Maoists claim to champion drawing the blind romantic adulation by some `intellectuals’ and `social activists’.

An embarrassed and cornered Manmohan Singh-led government tried to duck, unsuccessfully, the issue of one of its cabinet members being caught red handed in the open political collaboration with the Maoists. They took refuge behind the argument that they shall return to both the houses of parliament after having “ascertained the facts”.

Ironically, the very next day, August 11, the minister of state for home affairs stood up in reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha on the involvement of Maoists in railway accidents stating: “Investigation conducted reveals that Police Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (PSBJC/PCPA), a frontal organisation of Maoists, was involved in damaging the railway track, thereby causing the accident.

The CBI has arrested 12 persons so far in this case”. It is the very same minister for railways, whose primary job, under oath of the constitution is to protect the life of passengers traveling on the Indian railways and to improve its safety standards, who is openly collaborating with the Maoists.

She has openly advocated the withdrawal of the operations of the security forces against the Maoist violence. She, in fact, has gone to the extent of asserting that Maoist leader Azad was `murdered’ and not killed in an encounter as claimed by the security forces.

The Trinamul-Maoist nexus became abundantly clear when, according to media reports: “Maoist politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji once again batted for Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Azad issue.

“There is no doubt that our politburo member and central committee spokesperson Charakuri Rajkumar alias Azad was treacherously killed by the members of Andhra Pradesh police special intelligence branch in a fake encounter. Mamata Banerjee spoke the truth and there is no reason behind the furore over the issue in parliament”. This comes from a Maoist leader whose party openly rejects parliamentary democracy and calls for a `people’s war’ against the Indian State!

Unable to defend the role of an important ally and cabinet colleague, the UPA-II government through its minister for home affairs, P Chidambaram, stated in the Rajya Sabha, “No one should support the Maoists and the government will certainly not encourage anybody who does so.”

However, the UPA-II government, in a crass display of political opportunism, requiring the numbers of TMC MPs in the Lok Sabha for the survival of this government, is tolerating such `support to the Maoists’ making a mockery of its commitment to safeguard India’s internal security.

Indeed, there is an irreconcilable contradiction that continues to plague the UPA-II government. The prime minister has repeatedly asserted that Maoist violence constitutes “the gravest threat to India’s internal security”. Yet, its own cabinet colleague, under the leadership of this very prime minister, openly collaborates with Maoist violence and defends the attempted subversion of parliamentary democracy.

The composition of the people gathered in Lalgarh clearly exposes the reasons for organising this meeting. The overwhelming bulk of the people were brought by huge number of transportation vehicles from outside of Lalgarh. The fact that the people of that area stayed away in large numbers shows the growing political isolation of the Trinamul Congress combine. It is precisely in order to strike terror and browbeat the local population into supporting them that this rally was organised.

Clearly, the Trinamul Congress has exposed itself to stooping to the lowest of levels in its quest to gain in the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal. In the bargain, neither the safeguarding of innocent life nor strengthening the unity and integrity of India are of any concern.

If the UPA-II government and prime minister Manmohan Singh continue to turn a deaf ear to this threat, then India will have to pay a heavy price. Brazen political opportunism to continue to remain in office cannot be allowed to sacrifice the interests of India’s unity, integrity and internal security.

From People’s Democracy

UPA Report Card: Drifting From Tragedy To Farce

The Manmohan Singh government completes 6 years in office today. Alas, it has nothing to show by way of achievement except making India an American satellite. As the following assessment by Prakash Karat underlines, if there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves.

The present UPA government is completing one year of its tenure on May 22. Unlike the first UPA government, its second edition did not spell out a common minimum programme. Instead, the Congress-led government began by reiterating its commitment to pursue the neo-liberal agenda. It announced that it would take up those policy measures which it could not push through in its first term in office.

The government also promised to bring in some welfare measures for the aam aadmi. On foreign policy, the government stated that it would adhere to the path taken by the first UPA government of aligning India’s foreign policy in tune with the strategic alliance with the United States of America.

The one-year of the UPA government has been notable for the following:

Firstly, it has totally failed to tackle the relentless price rise of essential commodities particularly food items. This has been the biggest cause for people’s suffering in the past year; for the poor it has meant less food and more hunger and malnutrition.

This is not a “failure” as such but an outcome of the determination to pursue neo-liberal policies. Food items and other essential commodities are traded and speculated in the market in a big way. The forward trading system is the playground for big trading companies and corporates. The government is in the least interested in curbing these interests who are making huge profits.

Secondly, the Congress-led government is in the grip of finance capital and the sway of big business. It believes in cutting taxes for the rich; providing a tax bonanza for big business and maintaining favourable terms for foreign finance speculators.

The Direct Taxes Code which the government proposes to usher in will make India one of the least taxed countries as far as the rich are concerned. In the last financial year, the government provided Rs. 80,000 crore of tax concessions to the corporates. The disinvestment of shares in the profitable public sector units is the favoured agenda of both Indian big business and the US corporate interests.

Every sphere of policy making, whether it concerns the pricing of gas, the allocation of telecom spectrum, opening up of mining and minerals, the financial sector, retail trade or allowing foreign educational institutions into the country – bears the imprint of a government pandering to big business and their foreign finance collaborators.

Thirdly, this type of growth under the neo-liberal regime has spawned crony capitalism. The nexus between big business and politics has become the hallmark of the Congress regime. The legitimacy provided to foreign capital flows from dubious sources through the Mauritius route and other tax havens; the huge illegal mining business flourishing under political protection; the refusal to discipline and penalize law breaking and tax evasions on a large scale on the part of the super rich – all this has promoted a unhealthy and perverted capitalism which is celebrated as India’s growth story.

What this has produced is corruption and illegality on a large scale which affects every sphere of society. The first year of the government has seen the IPL affair, the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers. All this can be directly sourced to the nexus between big business and ruling politicians.

Fourthly, the UPA government’s concern for the aam aadmi has proved to be shallow. The Congress and the UPA government are conscious that some relief has to be provided to the people who are the worst victims of the neo-liberal policies.

During the UPA I tenure, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the farm loan waiver and the Forest Rights Act were some such measures. These were part of the Common Minimum Programme and came into being mainly due to the consistent pressure and struggles waged by the Left parties.

However, under the UPA II, the government has failed to legislate even one substantial measure for relief. The proposed Food Security Bill would have in no way enhanced food security for the people.

After one year, the government is still debating how to bring about such a measure. The Public Distribution System has been further weakened and curtailed. The plight of the farmers does not seem to concern the government which has cut the fertilizer subsidy by Rs. 3000 crore in the current Union budget.

The Common Minimum Programme of the first UPA government had promised to increase public expenditure in education to 6 per cent of the GDP and in the sphere of health to 2 to 3 per cent of the GDP.

As far as education is concerned the combined central and state expenditure is still below 4 per cent. In the case of health the combined budgetary allocation of the Union and state budgets was a meager 1.06 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10, far below the target of 2-3 per cent.

Fifthly, the UPA government has failed to utilize the favourable political atmosphere and the strength of the secular forces in parliament to push for firm anti-communal measures. It seems visibly reluctant to come to terms with the Ranganath Mishra Commission report recommending reservation for the minorities on the basis of their socio-economic backwardness. There has been a noticeable lack of political initiative in dealing with the simmering problem of Kashmir.

As far as tackling the Maoist violence is concerned, the UPA government tends to treat it solely as a law and order problem without realizing that some of its own policies like the licence for indiscriminate mining in the forest areas is alienating the tribal people.

Moreover, it finds itself hampered by its own partner in government, the TMC. Mamata Banerjee has declared that there are no Maoists in West Bengal and therefore there is no need for joint operations against them.

Sixthly, foreign policy under the Manmohan Singh Government has remained steadfast in its fealty to the United States. As a quid pro quo for the nuclear deal, India has agreed to buy billions of dollars of US arms and equipment.

The End Use Monitoring Agreement which would allow American inspections on Indian soil was signed. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill which has been introduced in parliament to meet the demand of the United States is patently against the interests of the Indian people. The growing military and security collaboration with the US and Israel affects the pursuit of an independent policy.

India has gone along with the United States which is targeting Iran on the nuclear issue. It once more voted against Iran in the IAEA, unlike other non-aligned countries. India is not playing the role of a leading non-aligned country.

In contrast, President Lula De Silva of Brazil has stood up to the United States and refused to go along with the campaign for further sanctions on Iran. President Lula has visited Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership to find a way out of the impasse and to come to some agreement with the help of Turkey.

One of the few positive aspects in foreign policy is the Prime Minister’s refusal to adopt a confrontationist stance towards Pakistan despite what sections in his government and party wish.

The great potential of shaping an independent foreign policy and strengthening of multi-polarity by India’s vigorous diplomacy and energising forums like the BRIC, IBSA and the trilateral meetings of the foreign ministers of Russia, China and India is being underplayed.

Politically, the striking outcome of the first year of the UPA government is its increasing vulnerability. In May 2009, the UPA won the elections but failed to get a majority. The Congress leadership ignored this reality and became complacent with the unilateral declaration of support by parties like the BSP, SP, RJD and the JD(S). By the end of the first year that complacency has been shattered.

During the last budget session, the Congress had to adopt the tactic of bargain and striking deals to garner support from amongst these parties. The last three weeks of the budget session have witnessed the manouevres to prop up the government’s majority against the cut motions and the struggle to ensure the passage of legislations.

The cynical use of the CBI for political purposes is undermining the credibility of the agency. The wheeling and dealing that saw the postponement of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and the introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill – all portend a tortuous path for the future.

If there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves. There is growing opposition within parliament.

As far as the people are concerned, their experience is of a government increasingly callous to their sufferings due to price rise, while it showed great solicitude for big business and the corporates when it felt the impact of the global recession.

After the first six months of the government, there has been the rising tempo of popular struggles and movements. A peak in this struggle was reached with the April 27 hartal called by the 13 opposition parties. A spate of struggles of different sections of the working people have taken place. The struggle is on against the harmful policies of the government and to defend the livelihood and the rights of the working people. The question is whether the UPA government has learnt any lessons from its first year in office.

Oppose The Nuclear Liability Bill

The recent radioactive poisoning death in Delhi has once again highlighted the fact that the Civil Nuclear Liability Act being foisted on the nation will only help American companies get away with murder just as Union Carbide did after killing and maiming thousands in Bhopal. In the Mayapuri case one person died after coming into contact with a radioactive pencil that was disposed of by Delhi University as scrap, the vice chancellor appeared on TV to offer only an apology. No talk of compensation. This is going to be repeated on a horrific scale in case of an accident at nuclear power plants proposed to be built across the country. Sitaram Yechury argues why this the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill must be opposed

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, the government hurriedly introduced the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill amid largescale protests by the Opposition.

The Left had opposed the introduction of the Bill itself on the grounds of violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee says, “In view of Supreme Court judgements which are part of Indian jurisprudence and whose thrust is for the protection of victims of accidents as part of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability.”

However, it is precisely such a cap that the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill introduces.
The proposed Bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore.

The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government’s liability. Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million that’s been proposed shows the scant regard the the UPA has for the people.

The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation. Even today, gas victims are suffering and have received only meagre compensation.

It is unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too.

Apart from this, the minuscule liability of Rs 300 crore for the actual operator is tantamount to encouraging the operator to play with plant safety.

The Indian legal regime is quite clear: for hazardous industries, the plant owners have strict liability. Neither does the law accept any limits to liability — the party concerned must not only pay full compensation but also the cost of any environmental damage that any accident may cause. The Oleum leak from Sriram Food and Fertility settled the liability regime in India and any legislation seeking to cap liability will be completely retrogressive.

Contrary to the claims being made, the Vienna Convention — the basis of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill — does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. It also allows countries to operate their liability regimes. For example, Germany, Japan and Finland all have unlimited liability, the same as current Indian law.

The US has a liability cap of $10.2 billion. Not only is the Indian government proposing to cap liability of nuclear plants, but it is also proposing a cap of only $450 million, way below the consequences of any serious nuclear accident. It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power and foreign suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice its own people.

The suppliers’ liability is also being considerably weakened by the proposed Bill. Instead of the normal contract law, where recourse of the operator to claim damages is inherent, the Bill limits this recourse only if it is explicitly mentioned in the contract. Otherwise, the nuclear operator cannot claim compensation from the supplier of equipment even if it is shown to be faulty.

It is evident that contracts for buying US nuclear reactors will explicitly exclude any liability on the part of the suppliers and, therefore, by the law to be adopted, they will go scot-free even if an accident occurs due to a defect in the equipment supplied by a US company.

In fact the UPA-II government wanted such a legislation, which the prime minister could carry with him to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in April. However, following the controversial passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the help of marshals, the crucial support of 47 Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the BSP, SP and RJD was not forthcoming.

This obstacle, however, appears to have been overcome now through possibly some ‘bargain’ similar to what happened at the time of the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The US is insisting that this law be enacted to protect US suppliers of nuclear equipment from liability to pay compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. Currently, only the State-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. under the existing Atomic Energy Act can operate nuclear power plants. But with the opening up of international nuclear commerce, US companies have sought a civil nuclear liability framework to be put in place before they enter.

The US government has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India’s capping of nuclear liability. The UPA-I government, prior to the ratification of the 123 Agreement, had given a written commitment that India will buy nuclear reactors from the US totalling 10,000 megawatt of capacity.

This Bill has now been referred to the parliamentary standing committee for its consideration. It will now be tabled in the monsoon session. It is imperative for all political parties to ensure that the government is not allowed to disregard the life and safety of the Indian people through such a legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution and the various judgements of the Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be violated.


Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Kowtowing Again!

One more accord has been concluded under the much-trumpeted Indo-US nuclear deal. But like the previous two — the 123 bilateral agreement with the US and the safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the latest agreement, too, will escape scrutiny by the Indian Parliament. The newest agreement involves US consent to India to reprocess spent fuel of American origin.

Is it a good advertisement for the world’s most-populous democracy that while the American president will submit the reprocessing agreement to the US Congress for scrutiny, the Indian Parliament will again be shut out from playing any role on this latest accord? How can there be effective checks and balances in a democracy if the executive branch insists that the national legislature has no role to play in any international agreement?

It is only on the nuclear-accident liability issue that the government is coming to Parliament because that involves passing a new law. In fact, it wants Parliament to pass a law that limits liability to a pittance, overturning the doctrine of absolute liability that the Supreme Court has set in response to the Bhopal gas disaster.

The result of blocking Parliament from scrutinising the nuclear deal is that India is now saddled with a deal that does not adequately protect its interests. India has got no legally binding fuel-supply guarantee to avert a Tarapur-style fuel cutoff, and no right to withdraw from its obligations under any circumstance, although the US has reserved the right for itself to suspend or terminate the arrangements.

The terms of the latest reprocessing agreement are in continuation of what the US was able to extract in the 123 bilateral agreement. The US has retained the right to unilaterally suspend its grant of reprocessing consent to India. This is an extension of its right, incorporated in the 123 agreement, to unilaterally suspend or terminate fuel supply to India. That is exactly what the US did in the mid-70s under its previous 123 agreement with India dating back to 1963. As a result, the twin-reactor, US-built Tarapur nuclear power plant near Mumbai, was left high and dry.

In the newest 123 agreement, the US has retained the legal right to unilaterally terminate cooperation but provided political assurances to India that such a right will be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances. A similar approach is mirrored in the reprocessing accord.

Under Article 7 of the reprocessing accord, the reprocessing consent can be suspended on grounds of “national security” or a “serious threat to the physical protection of the facility or of the nuclear material at the facility,” and if the party determines “that suspension is an unavoidable measure.” So the US right to suspend reprocessing consent is unfettered.

Still, the agreement’s article 7 and the accompanying “agreed minute” record political assurances to India that such a right shall be exercised only in special circumstances and after careful thought. But such assurances hold little value when the legal right to suspend reprocessing consent is explicitly recorded in the text.

The actual implementation of the reprocessing agreement is years away, even though US-origin spent fuel has been accumulating in India for nearly 40 years at Tarapur.
India will not be able to reprocess that spent fuel until it has built at least one new dedicated reprocessing facility — a process that will take a number of years. Article 1(3) specifies that the US consent relates to “two new national reprocessing facilities established by the government of India.”

Only in those new facilities, approved by the IAEA, can India reprocess the discharged fuel under international inspection. Any additional reprocessing facility can be added only with prior US agreement.

Another feature of the agreement is that it amplifies India’s reprocessing obligations with the IAEA, including to provide facility-design information in advance and to allow unhindered international monitoring and verification (article 2). But in addition, the accompanying “agreed minute” obligates India to permit US “consultations visits” to each dedicated reprocessing facility. Every “visiting team of not more than 10 persons” will be permitted onsite access “at a time and duration mutually agreed by the parties.”

It is thus apparent that the US has got what it wanted. For example, the state department had earlier notified the US Congress in writing that “the proposed arrangements and procedures with India will provide for withdrawal of reprocessing consent” by the US. That is exactly what the text of the accord provides. Also by providing for US “consultations visits,” it effectively permits IAEA-plus inspections.

Had the Parliament been allowed to play a role, the government would have been able to leverage that to fight back one-sided provisions.

Brahma Chellaney/DNA

Manmohan Singh In Bottom Half Of ‘Most Powerful’ List; Pips Osama bin Laden To Claim #36 Spot

IT’S OFFICIAL. Manmohan Singh is indeed the weakest prime minister India has ever had.

No, I’ve not crossed over to the BJP. My information comes from a source much valued by the Prime Minister himself – the business magazine Forbes.

Forbes’ first ever list of the World’s Most Powerful People has only 67 slots – one for every 100 million people on the planet. And Manmohan Singh, at #36, is in the bottom half of the list. (In the NAM era, the Indian Prime Minister was ALWAYS at the top of the heap.)

Indeed, he ranks way below sundry central bankers, software developers, investment bankers, CEOs of Wal-Mart, GE, Berkshire, ExxonMobil and Toyota, Wall Street brokers, a football club owner, a telecom mogul, Rupert Murdoch, the mayor of New York, and even the propaganda chief of the Communist Party of China!

Saving India the blushes, Manmohan Singh has fortunately managed to beat Osama bin Laden, who’s just one step behind him, by a whisker. (Imagine the fun if the rankings were the other way round!) Indeed, it’s a telling comment from the oracles at Forbes that Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Tenzin Gyato, aka the Dalai Lama, are snapping at Bin Laden’s heels at numbers 38 and 39.

And, hey, at #50, Dawood Ibrahim, described as the CEO of D-Company Inc. (you have to be a CEO in ANY Forbes’ List) hasn’t done too badly either. In fact, he’s ahead of Laxmi Mittal AND Ratan Tata!

Nevertheless, along with Mukesh Ambani, Laxmi Mittal and Ratan Tata, South Asia has done reasonably well. So what if the “most powerful” are actually feeding on crumbs.

The criterion for selection, according to the oracles at Forbes was quite straightforward.

“First, we asked, does the person have influence over lots of other people?… Then we assessed the financial resources controlled by these individuals. Are they relatively large compared with their peers? For heads of state we used GDP, while for CEOs, we looked at a composite ranking of market capitalization, profits, assets and revenues…Next we determined if they are powerful in multiple spheres… Lastly, we insisted that our choices actively use their power…

There are only 67 slots on our list – one for every 100 million people on the planet – so being powerful in just one area is not enough to guarantee a spot. Our picks project their influence in myriad ways…

To calculate the final rankings, five Forbes senior editors ranked all of our candidates in each of these four dimensions of power. Those individual rankings were averaged into a composite score, which determined who placed above (or below) whom…”

Well, the oracles have spoken. And here’s why these worthies from South Asia made it to the coveted List.

#36 Manmohan Singh: Has nuclear arsenal at disposal.

#37 Osama bin Laden: Casus belli of two US-lead wars costing over $1 trillion.

#38 Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani: (Though) less powerful than bin Laden – can’t find him in his own country – still has keys to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

#39 Tenzin Gyatso aka Dalai Lama: Tibetan exile keeps China honest.

#44 Mukesh Ambani: Busy building world’s first $1 billion home.

#50 Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar: As boss of Mumbai-based organized crime syndicate D-Company, reputedly oversees international drug trafficking, counterfeiting, weapons smuggling.

#55 Laxmi Mittal: Romance with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair exposed in 2002 ‘Garbagegate’, when Mittal reportedly sought Blair’s help in cash-for-influence bid for Romanian state steel mills.

#59 Ratan Tata: Calls Nano “The People’s Car”; in nation of a billion, environmentalists call it eco-disaster.

Then there’s an India List (total 7, i.e. one for every 150 million) compiled by Forbes India editor Indrajit Gupta listing the Most Powerful Indians. Sorry, No ‘Paa’, SRK, Tendulkar, Katz, Mayawati, Advani, Pawar etc.

Here are the ‘Magnificent Seven’ and why they matter

#1 Sonia Gandhi: The most powerful Indian is an enigmatic woman of Italian origin. Her command over the Congress, India’s ruling party, is total.

#2 Manmohan Singh: Indians trust (him) to do the right thing – whether it’s economic reforms or the trade-off between development and social equity.

# 3 Nandan Nilekani: UID has fired the public imagination and drawn volunteers from all walks of life.

#4 Ratan Tata: Is India Inc’s best brand ambassador.

#5 Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Offers (Art of Living) practitioners a tool to deal with urban angst.

#6 KG Balakrishnan: (The Chief Justice) ruled political parties cannot call for strikes that disrupt public life.

#7 Aamir Khan: (Surprise, surprise) As an actor and a filmmaker (he) has consistently demonstrated it is possible to break new ground in a business driven by clichés.

The Complete List

Barack Obama
Hu Jintao
Vladimir Putin
Ben S. Bernanke
Sergey Brin and Larry Page
Carlos Slim Helu
Rupert Murdoch
Michael T. Duke
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud
William Gates III
Pope Benedict XVI
Silvio Berlusconi
Jeffrey R. Immelt
Warren Buffett
Angela Merkel
Laurence D. Fink
Hillary Clinton
Lloyd C. Blankfein
Li Changchun
Michael Bloomberg
Timothy Geithner
Rex W. Tillerson
Li Ka-shing
Kim Jong Il
Jean-Claude Trichet
Masaaki Shirakawa
Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al Nahyan
Akio Toyoda
Gordon Brown
James S. Dimon
Bill Clinton
William H. Gross
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Lou Jiwei
Yukio Hatoyama
Manmohan Singh
Osama bin Laden
Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani
Tenzin Gyatso
Ali Hoseini-Khamenei
Joaquin Guzman
Igor Sechin
Dmitry Medvedev
Mukesh Ambani
Oprah Winfrey
Benjamin Netanyahu
Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Zhou Xiaochuan
John Roberts Jr.
Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar
William Keller
Bernard Arnault
Joseph S. Blatter
Wadah Khanfar
Lakshmi Mittal
Nicolas Sarkozy
Steve Jobs
Fujio Mitarai
Ratan Tata
Jacques Rogge
Li Rongrong
Blairo Maggi
Robert B. Zoellick
Antonio Guterres
Mark John Thompson
Klaus Schwab
Hugo Chavez

The Great Spectrum Robbery: More Skeletons Tumble Out Of Manmohan Singh’s Cupboard

Even after the Spectrum Scam came to light, the UPA government made no move to stop this open loot of the public exchequer

The telecom spectrum scam is now back in the news with CBI raiding the Department of Telecom (DoT), reportedly at the request of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The CVC had earlier written to the Department of Telecom on this issue and had made clear that it was not satisfied at the explanation given by DoT.

Why A Raja of the DMK (the minister concerned), who has self-admittedly been the key figure in this entire exercise, should be outside the investigations of the CBI is the key question?

Is it merely an exercise to find some lowly scapegoats and thereby divert attention from the real figures? If the minister continues to be in charge, he will obviously try and thwart the investigations. Even the prime minister has already given a clean chit to the minister, making CBI investigations even more difficult.

To recapitulate the spectrum swindle, the all-India license and the spectrum for additional cellular operators (2G operators) was given away on a first-come-first-served basis at 2001 prices. TRAI, experts within and outside the government, had all stated then that there was no justification for using 2001 prices when there were barely 4 million mobile subscribers as against 300 million subscribers in 2007.

Soon after this sale, the parties who had secured the licenses sold it at about 6-7 times the price they had paid without doing any development at all. The difference between what the companies paid – a total of Rs 9,000 crore – and what the market price of these licenses were – anything between Rs 60,000 to 100,000 crore – is the scam, making it by far the biggest scam ever in this country.

Who were the companies that benefited from this award of licenses?

There were nine corporate entities who secured 120 licenses, which benefited from this under-valuation of the license fees — Unitech Builders, Venugopal Dhoot’s Videocon, Swan Telecom, Loop Telecom (reportedly owned by Ruias), S Tel, an unknown company owned by a shadowy entity Telecom Investments (Mauritius) Ltd and older players such as Shyam Telelink,, Idea Cellular, Spice and Tatas. Only a few of these were telecom companies or had any real interest in telecom.

The deals struck soon after between UAE’s telecom operator Etisalat and Swan Telecom, and that between Unitech and Talenor (of Norway), brought out the magnitude of the under-valuation. Swan Telecom sold 45 per cent of its stake to Etisalat for $900 million, taking its book value to $ 2 billion (Rs 10,000 crore). This is without putting up any infrastructure, let alone actually starting operations.

The Unitech-Talenor (of Norway) deal was no different: it sold 60 per cent of its stake to Talenor for Rs 6,120 crore while paying only Rs 1,651 crore as license fee. Thus, the new entrants secured licenses for Rs 1,651 that were being valued in excess of Rs 10,000 crore by the market within a few months of their securing the licenses!

A Raja, the minister concerned, has provided two defences to the charge that his actions led to a huge loss to the exchequer. One is the argument that he had no alternative as first-come-first-served was some kind of internal law that all telecom ministers had to obey and all his predecessors had also followed. He has not referred to any document or policy which suggests that all new licenses had to be given only on a first-come-first-served basis.

Both the TRAI and officials in the Department of Telecom had in fact suggested a bidding procedure for award of licenses. The second argument that Raja has advanced is that the license fee of Rs 1,651 crore was somehow written in stone by TRAI, a contention that TRAI has since denied.

Let us look at this absurd first-come-first-served argument. The minister has referred to National Telecom Policy (NTP) 99 and the TRAI recommendations of 2003 to justify his first-come-first-served principle. The simple fact is that after NTP 99, there was an auction in 2001 for the 4th GSM license and therefore referring to NTP 99 for justifying this principle does not hold water.

In fact, the DoT had referred this matter to TRAI and TRAI had recommended in June 23, 2000 that a multi-stage bidding process be followed with auctioning for the license fee, which is what was finally followed. Secondly, the 2003 TRAI recommendations regarding first-come-first-served principle that Raja talks about, referred to those parties who had secured licenses and were awaiting spectrum and not to issuance of new licenses.

What the minister is deliberately obfuscating here is that in India, we have bundled the spectrum with the license and not auctioned them separately. So giving spectrum on a first-come-first-served basis to parties that have already secured licenses is quite different from that of award of new licenses and spectrum on a first-come-first-served basis.

The then TRAI chairman Nripen Mishra had had rebutted the minister’s claim that TRAI had recommended first-come-first-served with 2001 pieces and clarified their recommendations had asked that new entrants be brought in through a multi stage bidding process. The  TRAI’s recommendations in “Review of License Terms and Conditions and Number of Access Providers” dated August 28, 2008, in para 2.73, had made clear:

The allocation of spectrum is after the payment of entry fee and the grant of license. The entry fee as it exists today is in fact price discovered through a market based mechanism applicable for the grant to the 4th cellular operator. In today’s dynamism and unprecedented growth of the telecom sector, the entry fee determined then is not the realistic price for obtaining a license.

On both counts then, Raja’s defence that he was merely following what TRAI had told him or earlier ministers had done bears no credibility.

But this is not all. There was a detailed note prepared in 2007 by the secretary telecom, DS Mathur, which had evaluated three options regarding award of licenses. It had considered first-come-first-served with 2001 license fee, and two different ways of auctioning the licenses/spectrum.

The note also made clear that the first-come-first-served basis with an old license fee was not the best way of giving out licenses and made no reference to this so-called iron rule of giving licenses on a first-come-first-served basis that Raja keeps talking about. It is interesting to note that as long as DS Mathur was the secretary, no licenses were issued and only after his retirement in December 2007, were the new licenses issued.

Raja has also made another claim in his defence. This is that he broke the cartel of telecom operators. If this were so, then the consumer should have seen his telecom bills drop. This has not happened. What Raja has achieved is that he has enlarged the telecom cartel with his favourite companies.

The claim that he has broken the telecom cartel has also another problem. If his defence is that he was only following existing policy and TRAI recommendations, he cannot take credit for his actions – according to him, he had no other choice. So he is either responsible for taking a decision to break the telecom cartel, and therefore also directly responsible for the loss to the exchequer or he is responsible for merely following existing procedures. He cannot have it both ways.

The other element of the scam is the license terms and conditions. If there was indeed a genuine desire to keep license fees low and thereby benefit the ultimate customer, there should have been strict clauses locking-in share-holding and sale of licenses. Not only was this not done, the Merger and Acquisition Guidelines issued by DoT on 22 April, 2008 superseding its earlier guidelines, deliberately omitted all mention of acquisitions and only talked of mergers.

The ministry seems to have gone out of its way to facilitate the immediate selling of these licenses for speculative gains. Without any lock-in measures, the gross undervaluation of the spectrum could only lead to windfall profits for the new licensees.

The first-come-first-served policy for award of licenses was further compounded by entirely arbitrary operation of even this principle. The cut off dates for submission of applications were announced with only a 72 hour notice; an entirely new date for capping the applicants were chosen without any basis; and the awards of licenses were made in a free-for-all melee, in which the parties depositing the cheques earlier were given preference.

Media reports then talked of CEOs of companies, who were in the know of this capricious principle, coming to Sanchar Bhavan with bouncers to elbow out other competitors and jumping the queue. Never before have we seen such an unedifying spectacle in the award of licenses in the telecom sector. The entire exercise was one of playing favourites and not awarding licenses in an open and transparent manner.

Even after the scam had come to light, the UPA government had made no move to stop this open loot of the public exchequer.

The CPI(M) had demanded a set of immediate measures by which licenses given at such low prices should be locked-in for a specified period. It had also asked that windfall tax should be levied on all such sale of licenses. On both these counts, the UPA government then took the position that this was a corporate issue and the government had no role to play, never mind the fact that they were the ones who had issued licenses at such ridiculously low prices.

It is time that the minister concerned and the government take note that their defence on the spectrum issue has no takers. Raja must go if this government is even half-way serious of addressing the issue of probity in public life.

Prabir Purkayastha

Indo-US Nuclear Deal: An Overrated Initiative

On the first anniversary of its coming to fruition, the much-trumpeted Indo-U.S. nuclear deal stands out as an overrated initiative whose conclusion through patent political partisanship holds sobering lessons for India, writes Brahma Chellaney

For United States President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the nuclear deal was a prized legacy-building issue. Mr. Bush ensured the deal wasn’t a divisive subject at home by forging an impressive bipartisan consensus.

By contrast, Dr. Singh’s polarising single-mindedness on the ballyhooed deal and refusal to permit parliamentary scrutiny injected intense partisan rancour into the debate. Given that India may have to assume new international legal obligations on other fronts too — from climate change to the Doha Round of world-trade talks — the noxious precedent set by the deal must be corrected in national interest.

The deal indeed was a milestone, symbolising the deepening ties between the world’s oldest democracy and largest democracy. But on the first anniversary of its coming to fruition, the deal stands out as an overvalued venture whose larger benefits remain distant for India, including an end to dual-use technology controls and greater U.S. support in regional and global matters.

The deal offers more tangible benefits to the U.S. While significantly advancing U.S. non-proliferation interests, the deal — embedded in a larger strategic framework — fashions an instrumentality to help co-opt India in a “soft alliance.” It also carries attractive commercial benefits for the U.S. in sectors extending from commercial nuclear power to arms trade.

To be sure, the deal-making was a tortuous, three-year process, involving multiple stages and difficult-to-achieve compromises. At its core, the deal-making centred on India’s resolve to safeguard its nuclear military autonomy and America’s insistence on imposing stringent non-proliferation conditions, including a quantifiable cap on Indian weapons-related capabilities.

Eventually, a deal was sealed that gave India the semblance of autonomy and America some Indian commitments to flaunt, best epitomised by the decision to shut down Cirus — one of India’s two research reactors producing weapons-grade plutonium. No sooner had Congress ratified the deal package than the White House made clear the deal was predicated on India not testing again, with “serious consequences” to follow a breach of that understanding.

The more recent G-8 action barring the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment or technology to non-NPT signatories even under safeguards is a fresh reminder that while New Delhi is taking on legally irrevocable obligations that tie the hands of future Indian generations, America’s own obligations under the deal are unequivocally anchored in the primacy of its domestic law and thus mutable.

If there were any doubts on that score, they were set at rest by the American ratification legislation that gave effect to the deal, the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-Proliferation Enhancement Act of 2008, or NCANEA. This Hyde Act-plus legislation unabashedly declares that the bilateral 123 Agreement is subservient to existing U.S. law and “ any other applicable United States law” enacted henceforth.

That the U.S. has used the G-8 mechanism to deny India the “full” cooperation it bilaterally pledged shouldn’t come as a surprise because the NCANEA obligates Washington to spearhead a Nuclear Suppliers Group ban on ENR transfers. Having formally proposed such a ban in the NSG, Washington got the G-8 to act first — a move that puts pressure on the NSG to follow suit and, more importantly, brings on board in advance all potential ENR-technology suppliers to India.

Even on the unrelated and unresolved issue of granting India an operational right to reprocess U.S.-origin spent fuel, the U.S. government has notified Congress that such permission, while subject to congressional approval, would be revocable.

For years to come, the deal will generate eclectic controversies because it is rife with unsettled issues, ambiguities and the avowed supremacy of one party’s variable domestic law.

To help the beleaguered Indian government save face, some issues — ranging from a test prohibition to the political nature of fuel-supply assurances — were spelled out not in the bilateral 123 Agreement but in the subsequent U.S. presidential statements and NCANEA. As a result, the final deal gives America specific rights while saddling India with onerous obligations.

Politically, the deal was oversold as the centrepiece, if not the touchstone, of the new Indo-U.S. partnership to the extent that, a year later, New Delhi seems genuinely concerned about India’s declining profile in American policy. Clearly, New Delhi had over-expectations about what the deal would deliver.

Still, there are some key lessons New Delhi must draw from the way it handled the deal. The first is the importance of building political bipartisanship on critical national matters. Had the Prime Minister done what he repeatedly promised — “build a broad national consensus” — India would have strengthened its negotiating leverage and forestalled political acrimony.

Dr. Singh’s approach was to play his cards close to his chest and rely on a few chosen bureaucrats. Not a single all-party meeting was called. Consequently, the government presented itself as deal-desperate on whom additional conditions could be thrust.

A second lesson relates to Parliament’s role. Even if there is a lacuna in the Indian Constitution that allows the executive branch to sign and ratify an international agreement without any legislative scrutiny, a forward-looking course would be to plug that gap by introducing a constitutional amendment in Parliament, rather than seek to exploit that weakness.

Sadly, the government chose not to place the final deal before Parliament even for a no-vote debate before it rushed to sign the 123 Agreement on September 10, 2008, just two days after Mr. Bush signed NCANEA into law. This extraordinary haste occurred despite Dr. Singh’s July 22, 2008 assurance in the Lok Sabha that after the entire process was complete, he would bring the final deal to Parliament and “abide” by its decision.

But no sooner had the process been over than the government proceeded to sign the 123 Agreement without involving Parliament, although the deal imposes external inspections in perpetuity and leaves no leeway for succeeding governments. A year later, Dr. Singh has yet to make a single statement in Parliament on the terms of the concluded deal, lest he face questions on the promises he couldn’t keep, including the elaborate benchmarks he had defined on August 17, 2006.

In the future, Parliament must not be reduced to being a mere spectator on India’s accession to another international agreement, even as the same pact is subject to rigorous legislative examination elsewhere. In fact, when the government tables the nuclear-accident liability bill, Parliament ought to seize that opportunity to examine the nuclear deal and its subsidiary arrangements.

The bill — intended to provide cover mainly to American firms, which, unlike France’s Areva and Russia’s Atomstroyexport, are in the private sector — seeks to cap foreign vendors’ maximum accident liability to a mere $62 million, although each nuclear power station is to cost several billion dollars.

Yet another lesson is to stem the creeping politicisation of top scientists. This trend has drawn encouragement from two successive governments’ short-sighted use of topmost scientists for political purpose. Such politicisation was on full display during the nuclear deal process. The top atomic leadership made scripted political statements in support of deal-related moves, only to be rewarded with special post-superannuation extensions beyond established norms.

The current unsavoury controversy among scientists over India’s sole thermonuclear test in 1998 — and the atomic establishment’s frustration over the attention dissenting views are receiving — is a reflection of the damage to official scientific credibility wrought by the deal politics. All this only underscores the need to bring the cosseted nuclear programme under oversight.

If truth be told, national institutions have been the main losers from the partisan approach and divisive politics that the deal came to embody. The deal divided the country like no other strategic issue since Indian independence, with the deteriorating national discourse reaching a new low. Such divisiveness, in turn, seriously weakened India’s hand in the deal-related diplomacy. A new brand of post-partisan politics must define India’s approach in Copenhagen and the Doha Round.

A final sobering lesson: Key national decisions must flow from professional inputs and institutional deliberations, not from gut opinions in which near-term considerations or personal feelings and predilections of those in office prevail over the long view of national interest. The lodestar to avoid disconnect between perception and reality is to ensure that any agreement bears the imprint of institutional thinking, not personal fancy.

(Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.)