Saturday, November 10, 2012

‘Fearless’ CBI officer Pulsania no more

Pioneer News Service / New Delhi

Nov 9, 2012

The Supreme Court on Thursday mourned the death of CBI DIG Suresh Kumar Palsania, the ace investigator in the 2G spectrum scam. Palsania, 44, was laid to rest at his native village at Jaswantpura in Jaipur this afternoon.

The bench of Justices GS Singhvi and KS Radhakrishnan reminisced the young, dynamic and fearless officer’s contribution, responsible for netting big fishes like former Telecom Minister A Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi. “Just yesterday we mentioned his name. It is so sad he was only 44. What else we can do than to console ourselves to what God demands?” said the bench.

A 1996-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, Palsania battled leukemia till he breathed his last at a private hospital in South Delhi , 20 days after the disease was detected. He is survived by his wife and a 11-year-old son. “We are all shocked and devastated by his sudden demise. He was one of the most outstanding officers of CBI. His ability, competence and complete understanding of the subject were absolutely brilliant. His is a great loss not only to CBI but the whole IPS community,” said CBI Director AP Singh.

Recipient of this year’s Police Medal for meritorious service, Palsania served in Policy Division and Anti-Corruption Branch where he handled major corruption cases like 2G and CWG scam. Palsania had walked out of a meeting with a senior government law officer who wanted to discuss the strategy on 2G case with him along with Raja’s lawyer.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Land grabbing of Chidambarams

[The series published in "The Pioneer" from Sept 7, 10 & 11 - 2012 on land grabbing by Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram's family and his blatant lies exposing discrepancies in several mandatory affidavits to Election Commission in 2004 & 2009 and to PM]
Sept 7, 2012
Chidambaram hid wife's land record
J Gopikrishnan
New Delhi

The statement of annual Assets and Liabilities filed by Finance MinisterP Chidambaram to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not give details of the controversial land off Chennai seashore held by his wife Nalini Chidambaram.

In his statement of Assets and Liabilities as of March 31, 2012, which was uploaded on Tuesday on the PMO website, Chidambaram has not mentioned the quantum of land his wife Nalini owns in Chennai’s prime location off the seashore along the East Coast Road .

The Chennai Police is probing allegations of land grabbing by Nalini and son Karti after several fishermen recently filed a complaint to CM J Jayalalithaa.

Till last year in his annual Assets and Liabilities statement, Chidambaram declared that the land held by his wife was agricultural land, but he did not disclose the details of the area under possession. The statement filed by Chidambaram to PMO, last year, says this land in Muttukad Village in East Coast Road is valued just Rs27 lakh.

The land records of Nalini’s holdings are suspect. According to the records with the Muttukad Village registry, Nalini holds five acres from 1991, but curiously the records do not say how she got the land; the columns to notify the previous owner or seller are blank.

In the thick of controversy over land grabbing charges faced by his wife and son, Chidambaram has changed the status of this controversial land in the latest statement to the PMO. This time he has not claimed this was agricultural land. While there is no mention of the quantum of land in his statement, he has devalued the price of land to Rs25 lakh. The market value of the land in this locality is currently Rs10 crore per acre.

Moreover, in March 2009 during DMK regime, M/s Kaiser Surya Samudra Resorts Pvt Ltd, a company controlled by Karti, got environment clearance for constructing a luxury hotel with 100 rooms on 12 acres, adjacent to Nalini’s properties. But the RoC document of the company is silent about these land holdings. Fishermen complain that this 12 acre land was also grabbed and probe by Chennai Police is still pending.

Sept 7, 2012

PC family sinks in land bog
Kumar Chellappan

Hundreds of fishermen who have levelled serious land grab charges against Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s family, have accused them of illegally capturing major portions of Uppankali, a saltwater lake measuring 98 acres, and a three-kilometre stretch of seafront along the Bay of Bengal coastline near Chennai.

“This is in addition to the 12-acre land annexed by them after the 2004 tsunami devastation,” PS Sanjeevi, 55, a fisherman of Karikattukuppam village, said.

Jaya Palayan, president, South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS), told The Pioneer that according to the land documents under his possession, the Chidambarams have grabbed land coming under survey numbers 113 and 114. “The three-kilometre long and 200-metre wide stretch of land between the lake and ocean has been grabbed by them,”said Palayan.

Fishing, the only livelihood of the entire village with a population of 1,500, has been upset because of the attempts by the Chidambarams to grab the lake and the Government land, they claimed.

“Chidambaram’s family has built a compound wall fortifying the grabbed land, the lake and the entire beach,” said GV Murugan, 41, another fisherman from the village. Both Murugan and Sanjeevi said that because of the compound wall, the entire fishing community has lost access to the sea.

“We are forced to take a detour of three kilometres to reach the beach from where we set out for fishing. We have to keep our boats, nets, heavy machinery and catamarans on a small stretch of land, far away from our dwelling places. The Chidambarams are pressurising us to remove the equipment from that land. They claim the ownership of that stretch of land too. The Chidambarams are planning to build a seaside resort with boating facilities,” said Vinayakam, another fisherman.

The group of fishermen led this reporter to the stretch of land allegedly grabbed by Nalini (wife of P Chidambaram) and Karti P Chidambaram (their only son). Murugan, who speaks English and keeps track of all land dealings in the village, said, “Nalini Chidambaram had reportedly purchased five acres of land in Karikattukuppam Village in 1991. After the 2004 tsunami, all of us were relocated to a distance of three kilometres from the shoreline. We were told to stay a safe distance away from the shore to safeguard against future tsunami attacks.”

“But one morning we found that the land where we were staying till tsunami struck has been occupied by the family of Chidambaram. They also annexed a portion of the lake, which was our only source of livelihood during lean season. Now, we have been asked to keep off the lake because they are going to build a resort. Efforts are on to fill the lake with sand and mud,” claimed Murugan.

“The Chidambaram family could be the only private individuals in the country owning a lake,” the fishermen added.

Mangalam, a fisherwoman, said a part of the lake has been filled with mud and sand. She said tsunami affected them for a day only, but the land grab has destroyed their lives forever.

Though the Finance Minister’s family constructed a three-kilometre long wall fortifying the lake and the seashore, the fishermen demolished a part of the wall. “We have got a stay order from the Madras High Court restraining the Chidambarams from building the wall,” said Sanjeevi.

The fishermen said the lake was three kilometres in length and 200 metres wide. “The entire land grabbed by the Chidambarams is a barren stretch where nothing grows other than Palmyra trees. Nothing could be cultivated there,” said Sanjeevi, who also charged that the Finance Minister in an affidavit to the Prime Minister had described the land as agriculture land.

All the fishermen in the village were born in Karikattukuppam itself. We know each other well and hence, land grabbing of any kind will be immediately detected by us, they said. “Last week, we had a meeting with Nalini Chidambaram at their Chennai residence. She asked us to vacate the land at the earliest and look for other jobs,” Murugan alleged.

Blatant violation of Coastal Regulation Act could be seen at the beach side of the lake where new houses have been built by those with the right kind of political patronage. “As per rules, nobody can build houses in the 100-metre stretch of land on either side of the lake. But the powers that be have turned a blind eye towards this violation,” added Sanjeevi.

Casual enquiries with local real estate dealers revealed that an acre of land in the Karikattukuppam Village costs Rs10 crore and above.

Sept 7, 2012

No land grabbing, says family counsel

Pioneer News Service

R R Arun Natarajan, counsel for the family of P Chidambaram, denied all charges of land grabbing levelled against the latter’s family by a section of the fisherfolk. "The land at Karikkattukuppam near Muttukadu was purchased by Nalini Chidambaram and Karti P Chidambaram  in 1992. They have  the title deeds, pattas and all other documents which confirm the fact that they are the legal owners of the land. They are using the land uninterruptedly since then,” Natarajan told The Pioneer.

He said the charges are baseless and would not stand scrutiny in a court of law. Arun Natarajan was contacted by this newspaper as per the directive of Karti Chidambaram.
He said the fishermen were using the plot of land owned by the Chidambarams for open defecation since the houses provided to them by the State Government post-tsunami did not have toilets or drainage facilities. “My clients were forced to build the compound wall to keep the plot of land neat and clean. They have not trespassed into any Government or poramboke land,” said Natarajan.

According to Natarajan, the local Government did not take any action when his clients complained about trespassing by the fishermen for open defecation in the land. “It is true that they destroyed a portion of the compound wall built by my clients. We have filed a writ petition in the Madras HC and a complaint in the nearby Kanathur police station against these people. Let us see what is in store,” said Natarajan. But the question how a three kilometre long compound wall was constructed between the lake and the sea remains unanswered.


# Now facing charges of land grab, Nalini Chidambaram had appeared for Murugan, a local fisherman in 2005 asking the Madras High Court to restrain a group of real estate brokers from constructing the same compound wall “She appeared for me in the Public Interest Litigation and argued that the compound wall was being built on the promboke land (free/public land owned by state). Then she made a volte-face and joined hands with the real estate cartel operating here,” said Murugan

# Pointing this out, Jaya Palayan, President, South Indian Fishermen Societies, said that the Court ruled in their favour. But within weeks, Nalini joined the same people who were behind the construction of the wall, said Palayan.

Sept 10, 2012       

PC scales down land's worth

J Gopikrishnan / Kumar Chellappan
New Delhi / Chennai

Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram doesn’t seem above board in the controversy over the alleged capturing of land by his family on Chennai’s East Coast Road . In the mandatory affidavits on assets and liabilities to the Prime Minister and the Election Commission of India, Chidambaram has declared sharply contrasting details of the land “owned” by his wife Nalini.

In his affidavit to the Election Commission in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when he contested the Sivaganga seat, Chidambaram declared that his wife has a total of 3.72 acres in Muttukad and Kannathur villages. The total value of the two properties was quoted as 3.49 crore by Chidambaram. He said Nalini has 2.88 acres of land worth 2.44 crore in survey number 98/7 in Muttukad village, and 0.84 acres, valued at 1.05 crore, in survey number 103/1&2 in the same sea shore stretch in adjacent Kannathur village. Chidambaram stated both the properties as agricultural land. 

However, in affidavit of statement on assets and liabilities to Prime M i n i s t e r M a n m o h a n S i n g h , Chidambaram declared the value of the two prime properties to be just 27 lakh — which means a whopping 3.22 crore depreciation in two years. He continued to claim the agricultural land status, but to the PM he did not bother to provide any specifics of his wife’s controversial properties including survey numbers and land area. 

As if the two starkly contrasting details weren’t enough, in the current assets and liabilities statement (as on March 31, 2012) to the Prime Minister, which was uploaded a few days back on the PMO website, Chidambaram went a step further undervaluing his wife’s property by 2 lakh. The property’s value, which he had quoted as 27 lakh in 2009, has now been shown to be worth 25 lakh. 

Interestingly, this time around he didn’t claim agricultural status of the two properties but continued not to provide the area and survey numbers of the land in Nalini’s possession. As things stand, the current market price of land on the East Coast Road is around 10 crore per acre. According to the land registry records of Muttukad Panchayat, the details of which are with The Pioneer, around 10 acres of land is with Nalini under different sub-clauses of survey number 98. Going by the market value, the around 10-acre property owned by Nalini is worth 100 crore. Even if one were to go strictly by the land details stated by Chidambaram in his affidavits, Nalini's 3.72-acre property is worth over 30 crore as per the current market rate and not 3.49 crore. Also, neither 27 lakh nor 25 lakh! 

Apart from the discrepancies in the area of land that the Chidambarams own and the massive undervaluation, mysteriously, the mandatory columns for providing the details of previous landowners have been left blank. Chidambaram’s family claims these prime properties have been in their possession since 1991. 

But local fishermen allege this is a classic land grab case by the high and the mighty. According to the fishermen, the Chidambarams also hold an adjacent lake and are planning to construct a luxury hotel in the locality. 

In 2009, during the DMK regime, a company called Kaiser Surya Samudra — controlled by Chidambaram’s son Karti’s company Ausbridge Holdings — got environmental clearance for constructing a 100-room luxury hotel in the same locality. 

Though RoC documents of the company are silent about the land details, the State Government’s clearance certificate says the project is coming up on 12 acres in the same controversial locality. 

Both Nalini and Karti are now facing allegations of land grabbing in the sea shore areas of Muttukad and Kannathur village in Chennai’s plush East Coast Road . The State Government has ordered a probe after hundreds of fishermen of the area alleged that the Chidambarams have captured a three-kilometre long seafront. 

Sept 11, 2012

PC lands in more land trouble

J Gopikrishnan / Kumar Chellappan
New Delhi / Chennai

More skeletons have tumbled out of Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s closet. This time it is about the stark discrepancies in the land holding declared in the name of his wife in the affidavits filed before the Election Commission of India in 2004 and 2009.

In 2004 election affidavit, PC declared his wife Nalini held only 1.2 acres on Chennai’s seafront. But in the 2009 election affidavit under the same survey numbers, he declared a holding of 3.72 acres. At the same time, the latest land records in the panchayat register mention Nalini has around 10 acres in the locality since 1991.

Not only both affidavits differ with each other they also differ with his statements on assets and liabilities filed to the Prime Minister in 2011 and 2012 as well as land records register of the concerned panchayat.

In his affidavit filed before Election Commission for the  2004 Lok Sabha election, Chidambaram  declared his wife Nalini had a total of 1.2 acres under different survey numbers of the locality and declared Rs 95 lakh as the value of the properties.

In his affidavit, Chidambaram said, Nalini has 0.2 acres land property worth Rs 60 lakh under survey number 103/1&2 in Kanathur Village . He said that his wife also has 1 acre land worth Rs 35 lakh under survey number 98/7 in the adjoining Muttukadu Village.

But in the 2009 elections, Chidambaram declared his wife has a total of 3.72 acres under the same survey numbers. In his affidavit for the 2009 controversial Sivaganga Lok Sabha polls, Chidambaram said Nalini owned 0.84 acres in Kanathur Village under survey numbers 103/1&2 (same survey numbers mentioned in the 2004 affidavit) and valued the property for Rs 1.05 crore.

He said his wife also has 2.88 acres worth Rs 2.44 crore under survey number 98/7 (same survey number in 2004) in Muttukadu Village . The gross value of both lands was shown as Rs 3.49 crores. In his election affidavits and in his 2011 affidavit to PM on his assets and liabilities, Chidambaram showed as agriculture land which Nalini held near the seashore.

But in 2012, in his statement to the Prime Minister, he did not claim agriculture status to the same land. Chidambaram’s contrasting declarations on his wife’s properties to the Election Commission in 2004 and 2009 does not tally with the land records register of Muttukadu Panchayat.

The land register details available with The Pioneer shows that in the seafront area from 1991 onwards, Nalini had several tracts of land totalling around 10 acres. The land records have no mention of previous owners in most of the transactions.

The question arises as to  why Chidambaram did not mention in his election affidavits the details of the 10 acres held by his wife from 1991 onward as shown by the land records.
The Pioneer had already reported that in his statement to PM in 2011, Chidambaram undervalued the price of Nalini’s holdings in the seafront area to just Rs 27 lakh, without giving any specifics of the land including area wise details. 

In his latest filing to Prime Minister (as on March 31, 2012), while  he did not claim agricultural status to the land, he  further devalued it to Rs 25 lakh. It is a known that the current market price of the land is around Rs 10 crore per acre in Chennai’s East Coast Road . Like his earlier declaration to PM, the Finance Minister also did not give specifics of the land “owned” by his wife, who is facing allegations of land grabbing by fishermen community.

The fisher folk of the locality allege Chidambaram’s family members had encroached three kilometre stretch of the seafront area including a salt lake in the East Coast Road for constructing a luxury hotel. The State Government ordered a probe in this regard against Chidambaram’s wife Nalini and son Karti after fishermen recently lodged a complaint to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Aircel-Maxis deal and Chidambarams

[These series of articles on Chidambarams link in Aircel-Maxis deal appeared in 'The Pioneer' on April-May 2012]

Swamy claims PC used clout to benefit son

April 27, 2012

Janata Party president and 2G scam crusader Subramanian Swamy has alleged that Home Minister P Chidambaram used his office as Finance Minister in 2006 to help his son Karti get a portion of the booty in the Rs 4,000 crore Aircel-Maxis deal. Swamy has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to dismiss Chidambaram from the Union Cabinet and direct CBI to bring the father-son duo under the ambit of on-going probe in the Aircel-Maxis deal.

Addressing a Press conference on Thursday, Swamy released documents of Registrar of Company (RoC) pertaining to “Karti-controlled companies”, and alleged that Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) under Chidambaram cleared the Rs 4,000 crore Aircel-Maxis deal only after his son got “five per cent shares in C Sivasankaran’s Aircel Televenutre Ltd”.

Meanwhile, according to PTI, Karti Chidambaram has dismissed Swamy’s charges. “There is no no truth. None of the companies in which Karti has any interest holds any equity in nor has given any loan to any telecom company,” sources close to Karti said.

Producing a set of documents, Swamy claimed that Karti has 94 per cent shares in a company called Ausbridge Holdings Investments Pvt Ltd, which has majority stakes in two other companies, namely Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd and Kaiser Surya Samudra Resorts Pvt Ltd.

Swamy said RoC documents of Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd, showed that before March 31, 2006, it had transferred Rs 26,00,444 to Siva’s Aircel Televentures Ltd as loans and advances. “This payment was obviously made to acquire shares of Aircel Televentures, which controlled the Aircel Ltd and Aircel Cellular Ltd,” he said.

What is bizarre is the fact the loan amounted to Rs 26,00,444 where as in normal cases such transaction should have been a round figure.

After Maxis acquired majority stakes in Aircel by paying Rs 4,000 crore to the holding company Aircel Televentures, the latter changed its name to Siva Ventures Ltd. Swamy said that for its five per cent shares, Karti’s company must have pocketed Rs 200 crore from this Malaysian booty.

“Chidambaram approved the FIPB clearance of Aircel-Maxis deal in May 2006 after his son got around five per cent shares in Siva’s company. The accounts of Siva Ventures showed that after the transfer of money from Maxis, the company gave a loan of Rs 1,300 crore to certain associate companies without specifying their names. This is a mystery. Where did such huge amount go?”

In a letter to the Prime Minister seeking dismissal of Chidambaram, Swamy said that CBI’s ongoing probe in the Aircel-Maxis deal is limited only to Maran brothers. “During March first week this year, at a Press conference in Chennai, I announced the names and details of several companies where Karti P Chidambaram is a director. Within few days on March 9, 2012, Karti resigned from the Directorship of one company called Ausbridge Holding and Investments Pvt Ltd, where he had more than 94% shares.

“After I checked the accounts of this company, I found that his company has majority shares in two companies, namely : Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd and Kaiser Surya Samudra Resorts Pvt Ltd. The accounts of these companies were totally manipulated and some Balance Sheets were filed even after five year,” wrote Swamy to Prime Minister in his three-page letter detailing the “doubtful financial transactions of list of Karti controlled companies and their dubious operations.”

“It is not possible for the CBI officers who mainly belong to IPS cadre to probe into Home Minister and his son’s role, even though they have solid proof. In the ongoing probe on the Aircel-Maxis deal, where CBI had registered FIR, the role of P Chidambaram and his son Karti should also be through probe. Such kind of impartial probe is not possible for CBI Officials, when P Chidambaram is Home Minister, who controls their cadre-IPS,” said Swamy.

The 2G crusader announced that he would soon approach courts, demanding to probe Chidambaram and son. “My case is reserved for orders on making him as co-accused along with A Raja in Supreme Court. Now I have produced Chidambaram’s son’s financial transactions during the Aircel-Maxis deal period. If CBI can fix Karunanidhi’s daughter for having financial transactions with Balwa related company, the same rule will apply to Chidambaram’s son also. CBI is aware of Karti’s link in the Aircel-Maxis deal. That is why they are going slow in Maran case,” said Swamy.

Swamy also produced the RBI’s monthly report for the month of September 2011 about outward FDI flow. According to this report, Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd has a wholly owned subsidiary in Singapore, named as Advantage Strategic Consulting Singapore Pte Ltd. The report shows a transaction of 1.8625 Million US dollar from Indian parent company to Singapore based subsidy. “This is only a transaction of just a month. I had sought RBI for the entire transaction from 2006. These huge transactions are not shown in the RoC documents of Indian company,” he said.

Swamy also produced documents of another “Karti controlled company” Kaiser Surya Samudra, which owns 4.62 hectares near the Mahabalipuram beach, near Chennai. “This transaction took place during Kanimozhi’s financial transaction with Balwa during 2008-2009. This company got approval from Karunanidhi government in lighting speed in the sensitive beach resort to construct 100 luxurious room,” alleged Swamy.

“But the RoC documents are silent on the source funds of this Rs.100 crore worth project. It shows only a pittance of Rs.1.5 lakh as loan from Home Minister’s wife Nalini Chidambaram,” added Swamy, urging Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to order a probe on the huge land purchase in the sensitive beach area.

Ministry babus roped in for propaganda

April 28, 2012

While Home Minister P Chidambaram continued his stony silence on Friday over Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy’s allegations against him and his son Karti on Aircel-Maxis deal, the Home Ministry’s Media Wing distributed a Press release on behalf of a Chartered Accountant representing a company allegedly controlled by Karti. Swamy has alleged that this company benefitted from the deal.

Interestingly, the handout of the Chartered Accountant distributed from the Home Ministry’s North Block office also included a PTI report on the CA’s version on Swamy’s allegations and plans to file a defamation case.

The journalists were asked to collect CA’s version from the MHA media wing’s office. The officials who called the reporters refused to fax or email the handout. Obviously, this was a clever ploy to avoid any proof of Home Ministry’s involvement in putting out Karti’s defence.

The Press note was signed by R Balachandran, Chartered Accountant of Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Ltd. This company was controlled by another company called Ausbridge Holdings and Investments Private Limited, where Karti has more than 94 per cent shares. Swamy alleged that the Advantage Strategic Consulting Pvt Ltd “got five per cent stakes in C Sivasankaran’s company to share the booty of Rs 4,000 crores from sell of Aircel.”

“My client M/s. Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited had taken notice of the press meet held by Mr Subramanian Swamy, on April 26, 2012. The company states that they have placed the matter in the hands of their lawyers to take appropriate legal action immediately,” said R Balachandan, the Chartered Accountant. The questions is why Home Ministry officials were forced to distribute the press note of a private person, while the Government of India rules of conduct of civil servants strictly prohibit such activities.

Meanwhile, ridiculing the “defamation notice threat”, Swamy, said that he would welcome it as opportunity cross-examine Karti in the court of law. Swamy also said that he would soon reveal more documents on “Nalini Chidambaram (Home Minister’s wife) and Karti link in Aircel-Maxis deal”.

“The threat of a defamation case issued by company officials on behalf of Mr Karti Chidambaram with regard to my allegation of his involvement in the 2G Spectrum Scam is laughable. I would welcome an opportunity to cross-examine Karti in the court of law which will save me the trouble of approaching the Special 2G Spectrum court for filing a fresh private complaint.

“In the meantime I demand that the mother and son duo of Mrs Nalini Chidambaram and Karti to explain the number of trips they have made to Malaysia during 2005-2007, and whether the CEO or any other official of Maxis received them and put them in hotels,” said Swamy in statement issued here.

Govt’s defence of Chidambaram rings hollow

May 8, 2012

The Government’s claim that as Finance Minister, P Chidambaram did not delay Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval to the Rs 4,000 crore Aircel-Maxis deal is far from the truth. While the actual clearance was given on October 3, 2006, the Government on April 28 claimed that FIPB cleared the Maxis acquisition of Aircel on March 7, 2006 itself.

The Government’s latest defence of the Home Minister came in response to Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy’s allegations that under Chidambaram as Finance Minister in 2006, the FIPB sat on the Aircel-Maxis deal for several months.

Dismissing the allegations as “totally baseless”, the Ministry of Finance on April 28 said the FIPB recommended the proposal to acquire Aircel in the meeting held on March 7, 2006 and a formal letter of approval by the Ministry was issued on March 20, 2006.

“From the fact stated above, it will abundantly clear that there was no delay whatsoever. It is unfortunate that the baseless allegations should be made without verifying facts,” said the Ministry of Finance on April 28 giving the entire timeline of approval.

However, inquiry by The Pioneer revealed that it was the Government, which either did not verify the facts or deliberately concealed it to save Chidambaram.

The documents show that the FIPB recommended the deal only on October 3, 2006 in its meeting chaired by Chidambaram and the related Press release was issued only on October 17, 2006.

The documents available with The Pioneer and Press releases on the FIPB approvals, still available on the website of Press Information Bureau, have put the Government in a spot. No one from the Finance Ministry has come forward to respond to clarifications sought by The Pioneer through an email questionnaire sent five days ago to the Joint Secretary of Infrastructure of Investment division, who heads the FIPB.

A senior official of the FIPB said: “Please don’t drag us into this politically sensitive issue.”

Coming out with a fresh expose into the deal where former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran’s role is under CBI probe, Swamy alleged that a company controlled by Chidambaram’s son Karti got five per cent stake in Sivasankaran’s Aircel Televentures to corner part of Rs 4,000 crore that the Maxis paid for 74 per cent stake in Aircel.

It was alleged that Chidambaram withheld the FIPB clearance to the deal till his son got the five per cent shares in Siva’s company.

Reacting to the allegations, the Finance Ministry issued a detailed Press release titled — “Government denies allegations.”

“Allegations have been made that the proposal of M/s Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd, Mauritius (a wholly owned subsidiary of M/s Maxis Communications Berhad) to acquire 73.99 per cent equity in M/s Aircel Ltd was delayed by the then Finance Minister in order to benefit certain persons.

“On 7.3.2006, the matter was placed before the meeting of the FIPB. DoT conveyed its support to the proposal at the meeting. FIPB recommended the proposal for approval on 7.3.2006 and file was moved by Deputy Secretary on 10.3.2006. The minutes of the FIPB meeting were placed before the then Finance Minister on 13.3.2006 and he approved the same. The formal letter of approval was issued by the Ministry of Finance on 20.3.2006. From the facts stated above, it will be abundantly clear that there was no delay whatsoever. It is unfortunate that baseless allegations should be made without verifying the facts,” claimed the Government Press release. According to this Press release, the FIPB, under Chidambaram, approved the proposal in just two-and-a-half months.

But The Pioneer’s investigation shows that no such proposal was tabled in the March 7, 2006 meeting of the FIPB. A Press release dated March 14, 2006 still on the PIB website, has no mention of the Aircel-Maxis deal.

The vital information that Government concealed is that at the March 7, 2006 meeting of the FIPB, clearances were given to another company with a similar name. The company was BT Global Communication (Mauritius) Ltd.

It was only on October 3, 2006 that the FIPB meeting, chaired by Chidambaram, cleared the deal. Item number 15 and 16 of the October 17, 2006 Press release available at the PIB website states about the FIPB clearance to the Maxis investment in Sivasankaran’s companies Aircel and Dishnet.

The FIPB also did not show the amount of foreign investment and kept the concerned column blank. Normally, all FIPB clearances would specify the value of foreign investment.

Govt trapped in own web of deceit

May 9, 2012

The UPA Government finds itself caught in a web of deception in its bid to defend Home Minister P Chidambaram’s role in the Aircel-Maxis deal. On Tuesday, reacting to The Pioneer report on the gross discrepancies on the FIPB approval timing and delay of Aircel-Maxis deal, the Government insisted that the first approval was given on March 7, 2006 and second one for downstream investment on October 3, 2006. Maxis’ subsidiary of Mauritius-based Global Communication Services Holding Ltd invested in Aircel, as claimed by the Government.

However, records nail the Government lie. The facts remain that on March 7, 2006, the Government gave approval to two companies — from USA and Singapore — to raise their stake in Aircel/Global Communication Services Holding Ltd, both Indian firms.

This is established by a PIB Press release dated March 14, 2006 which states that under ‘Economic Affairs’ category (item no : 7 of the PIB Press release on FIPB approvals), M/s Century Telephone Enterprise Inc of USA and M/s Rediongton Pte Ltd were given sanction to enhance their foreign equity of 49 per cent in Aircel/Global Communication Services Holding Ltd to 74%. The value of foreign investment was shown as only Rs 180 crore. Curiously, in this case, Global Communication Services Holding Ltd is shown as an Indian investor along with Aircel.

The PIB release dated March 14, 2006 has no mention of Global Communication Services Holding Ltd acquiring any stake in Aircel. The Pioneer on Tuesday reported that the FIPB approval for the acquisition of Aircel by Global Communication Services Holding Ltd was given only on October 3, 2006.

While insisting that the first FIBP clearance was given to deal on March 7, Government’s Tuesday release claimed that on October 3, FIPB gave subsequent approval for downstream investment by Global Communication Services Holding Ltd in Aircel.

But, throughout the controversy, the Government has not come out with any documents to show that the FIPB under Chidambaram on March 7 gave any clearance to Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd to make any investment in Aircel. Unless the Government comes out with clear evidence to establish this, Chidambaram will find it difficult to deny allegations levelled by the Opposition that he purposefully delayed the clearance to benefit his son Karti.

Terming The Pioneer report on Tuesday as “factually incorrect and totally baseless” the Government on behalf of Ministry of Finance reiterated that FIPB chaired by Chidambaram as Finance Minister approved the deal on March 7, 2006. “Government had earlier issued a Press release on April 28, 2012 regarding the foreign investment made by M/s Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd, Mauritius to acquire 73.99 per cent equity in M/s Aircel Ltd. The contents of that statement are correct and are reiterated,” said the Press release titled “Clarification on AIRCEL issue”.

The Government must also clarify on the companies — Century Telephone Enterprise from USA and Rediongton Pte Ltd. According to the CBI FIR, Maxis invested around Rs 4,000 crore in Aircel by May 2006. Then how did FIPB arrive at foreign investment figure of just Rs 180 crore for increased 25 per cent shares?

Meanwhile, on the same day, March 7, 2006, FIPB under “Telecommunication” category (item No: 19) approved foreign investment of similar named company called BT Global Communication (Mauritius) Ltd. This company got approval to acquire 74 per cent in an unnamed Delhi-based company’s landline telephone operations for around Rs 9 crore.

It is also a mystery how in October 3, 2006, Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd, which was shown as an Indian entity on March 7, became a foreign investor in Aircel and Dishnet on October 3.

Maxis’ stake declaration demolishes PC defence

May 15, 2012

For days Home Minister P Chidambaram has pleaded innocence in the Aircel-Maxis deal, but new facts show that the acquisition of Aircel by the Maxis in 2006 was illegal. The deal, which took place when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister, violates Indian laws. While domestic laws place a cap of 74 per cent on foreign investment in telecom sector, in the Aircel-Maxis deal, the latter acquired nearly 100 per cent stake in three tranches.

Equally shocking is the fact that a probe instituted by the Finance Minister and Department of Telecom in early 2007 to look into this violation, has reached nowhere. The Government has so far not initiated any action against Maxis.

On March 15, 2006, Maxis declared to the Malaysian Stock Exchange that it proposed to acquire 99.714 per cent in Aircel. This was before the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) — under Chidambaram — cleared the so-called final acquisition on October 3, 2006.

“Aircel Transactions comprising:

(I) Proposed acquisition by Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd (GCSHL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maxis, and Deccan Digital Networks Private Limited (JVC), a proposed joint venture company of Maxis in the Republic of India, of 94,864,865 and 85,135,135 equity shares of 10 Indian Rupees each in Aircel Limited (Aircel), a company incorporated in the Republic of India (“Aircel Shares”), representing 39% and 35% respectively, of the enlarged issued and paid-up share capital of Aircel from Aircel Televentures Limited for a cash consideration of $422 million and $378 million respectively.

(II) Proposed joint venture between GCSHL and Sindya Securities & Investments Private Limited in relation to their participation in the JVC.

III) Proposed put and call options over GCSHL’s 63,243,243 Aircel Shares representing 26% of the enlarged issued and paid-up share capital of Aircel for a cash consideration of US$280 million (“collectively Aircel Transactions”),” said the declaration made by Maxis to Malaysian Stock Exchange (Bursa Malaysia) on March 15, 2006.

Maxis filed this declaration to stock exchange through their banker RHB Sakura Merchant Bankers. This declaration shows that Maxis proposed to purchase Aircel shares in three tranches --- first 39 per cent and then 35 per cent and last 26 per cent, at around Rs 4,000 crore. But another document filed by the Maxis to the Malaysian stock exchange says the last tranche was proposed to be of 25.714 per cent share in Aircel.

The declaration also shows that apart from direct purchase, Maxis acquired Aircel shares through Joint Ventures with Deccan Digital Networks Private Ltd and Sindya Securities and Investments. These two Indian companies were controlled by Sunita Reddy, who belongs to Appolo Hospital Group.

The Maxis declaration itself could be a prima facie evidence to cancel the license of Aircel, apart from initiation of cases for cheating the Government. But even after six years of the deal, the Government has not acted on it. Reacting to violation of the Indian law by Maxis, Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, “Let law take its own course.”

Maxis CEO stares at arrest, Interpol Red Corner Notice

May 21, 2012

In a new twist to the controversial Aircel-Maxis deal, the Indonesian Police has issued arrest warrant against Ralph Marshall, the CEO of Maxis Group and Astro All Asia Network. Ralph Marshall’s name figured as accused in the CBI’s FIR along with former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran.

Indonesian newspapers, quoting top National Police official Brig M Taufik, recently reported that Marshall’s name figures in the Wanted List for cheating, forgery, fraud and money laundering.

Marshall, a Sri Lankan of Tamil origin, holds Canadian citizenship and is residing in Malaysia. He is considered No 2 in the vast business empire floated by the Malaysian tycoon T Ananda Krishnan, popularly known as TAK. Both figured as No 3 and No 4 in the CBI’s FIR along with Maran brothers in the Aircel-Maxis deal.

According to CBI, for facilitating the acquisition of Aircel by Maxis, Maran brothers received quid-pro-quo through Maxis subsidiary Astro. This company later invested around `600 crore in Maran brothers controlled Sun Networks, CBI’s FIR says.

“Headquarters of the Indonesian National Police (Police Headquarters) confirmed that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Astro Malaysia, Ralph Marshall, entered the Wanted Persons List (DPO ) related to cases of alleged criminal forgery. Determination of DPO was issued since 18 April 2012 through a letter numbered DPO/05/IV/2012/DIT General Crime (Pidum) signed Ari Dono Sukmanto Brig,” reported Indonesian newspapers Republica and Antara News, quoting Chief of Bureau of Public Information Headquarters, Brig M Taufik.

In Indonesia, Wanted Persons List is known as DPO (Daftar Pencarian Orang) and it is issued on fugitives after police fails to arrest them.

The Indonesian Police officials also said hey have already sent arrest warrant against Marshall through diplomatic channels to Malaysia. The top cops also added they would soon approach Interpol to issue Red Corner Notice against “fugitive Marshall” to force the member countries to arrest him.

The same was confirmed in Malaysian newspapers like The Edge, Business Times and The Malaysian Insider. “Indonesian Police are looking to arrest Ralph Marshall, the right hand man of Malaysian multi-billionaire T Ananda Krishnan, over fraud and money laundering charges,” reported The Malaysian Insider, adding a report on the forthcoming revamp of Maxis Group following criminal charges faced by Marshall.

Astro All Asia Networks is the subsidiary of Maxis and have shareholding in several media organisations across the continent including India. Astro has entered into an alliance with Indonesian media company Lippo Group and also has sizeable shares in it.

The problem started when Astro sold its shares to Saudi Global telecom, without consulting the Indonesian partner Lippo. The Indonesian police have charged Marshall with money laundering, fraud and forgery cases and sued him for a compensation to the tune of $300 mn.

“Their (Indonesian government) calculation is that if they can exploit the criminal law to cause confusion and fear, they can avoid paying the damages,” Astro’s lawyer Hafzan Taher said in the statement, reported by the Malaysian newspaper Edge.

CBI, which registered FIR, eight months ago has not been able to question foreign nationals Ananda Krishnan and Marshall. Last week, a CBI team visited Malaysia and sources say Attorney General of Malaysia promised “all help” in relation to Aircel-Maxis deal.

However, the probe on Maxis violating the Indian foreign investment rules has reached no where. According to norms, maximum permissible level of foreign investment in telecom sector is 74 per cent. Contrary to the FIPB records, Maxis’ declaration to Malaysian stock exchange reveals that they have acquired almost 100 percent shares in Aircel in violation to Indian laws.

Kerala's Politics of Violence

[This Op-Ed artilce published in 'The Pioneer' on June 2, 2012]

Being born and having lived in Kerala for 37 years, I often feel like laughing when home is described as “God’s own country”. This is how advertisement catch words infiltrate, invade and come to possess our minds. This decorative catch word was first used by Kerala Tourism’s advertisement campaign 15 years ago by, ironically, a Uttar Pradesh based Kerala cadre IAS officer — his name was Amitabh Kant.

We Malayalis lap up every honour, earned or otherwise, but are notoriously reluctant to recall perceptive albeit unflattering remarks made by distinguished observers. About 120 years back, Swami Vivekananda, while travelling through Travancore princely state, was horrified by the caste hierarchy in the province. He was so moved by the abuse of the backward communities by the self-styled “upper castes” that he left a label for Kerala which has somehow stuck — “lunatic asylum”.

Whether or not thanks to Swamy Vivekananda’s criticism, a process of change took momentum. This might have started the series of transformations in the social scene. Casteism, though still formidable, is today, in the second decade of the 21st century, a little less visible perhaps. “Progress”, as defined by Leftists and Marxist-Leninists, took shape through trade unionism and self-cleansing reform movements from the middle of the 20th century.

But the political arena failed to democraticise in the true sense of the term. Fractious caste politics, marked by a degree of violence matched only by the West Bengal experience, mocked the Malayalis’ claim to high status as a progressive people. Wherever the Communists went in India, they firmly planted the banner of “revolution” in the most convoluted sense of the term. To them, “change” meant destruction of body and soul of society, without a viable alternative in tow.

Thanks to the information revolution of the 1990s, the “little secrets” of Kerala politics have become national touchstones for political degradation. The brutal murder of Kannur schoolteacher and BJP leader Jayakrishnan Master right before his young students in December 1999 will always be counted as one of the lows of Indian democracy. Strangely, the CPI(M) defended the murderers all through.

The revelations of a district secretary, MM Mani, take the cake. This creature of Communist politics, did not think twice before boasting in full glare of TV cameras that his party

regularly used murder against political opponents. This only proves that somewhere in the corner of the collective Malayali mind, a devilish corner exists.

The Communist movement had a great impact in Kerala. The movement which started in the 1920s, worked through workers’ unions and caste relations reforms. But in northern Kerala, the citadel of Communism, nobody quite noticed the gradual barricading of the political consciousness. Though caste politics and religion based fundamentalism did not affect the core of the political scene, a much worse ogre consumed Kerala’s nascent democracy — Stalinism.

From the early 1970s on, it was quite usual to see people in Kerala die for their political beliefs. Stalinism and its alternative, Maoism, were fashionable among the generation of the mid-1970s, especially in northern Kerala. In their ignorance of the true nature of how these horrific ideologies actually played out, the Malayali perhaps mirrored the Bengalis. Both imitated systems they barely understood, rejecting, in the process, their own culture.

The “Calcutta thesis” of the Communist party in 1949, which sought for elimination of class (now read as political) enemies is still a fashionable theory in party classes of the CPI(M) in northern Kerala. As person belong to Thalassery in Kannur District, one of the birth places of Communism in Kerala I can vouch for this. The leaders of the party who dominated the discourse were fired by bloodlust. They justified every crime in the name of the party.

The character of the CPI(M) underwent change in the mid-1970s. The party decided to be strict towards the so-called “ultra-revolutionary movements.” CPI(M) elders from that era recall how dour party meetings suddenly became. Gone was the role of humour and sarcasm from in-door conferences. None would have a smiling face. The dangerous seriousness started shadowing in the internal meetings and smiling leaders became a rare species.

The murder of rebel CPI(M) leader TP Chandrasekharan early May exposed how deep the rot had set in. The exposition by Mani, which followed, therefore came as no surprise. He revealed the earlier planned eliminations of political opponents in the early 1980s in order to justify the murder of “renegade” Chandrasekharan.

The State Government, run by the Congress-led UDF, showed courage to initiate criminal action by reopening the old murder cases. But a big question hangs over the Congress’ will to take the matter to its logical end. Many feel that interest would die out after the current Assembly session is concluded.

Unlike West Bengal, where hard figures from the Home Ministry state that more than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them anti-Congress activists, were killed during the three decades of Communist domination. In Kerala, it is estimated that about 200 people lost their lives in politically motivated killings. The vast majority of these were victims of tit-for-tat murders committed in the never-ending turf war between the CPI(M) and the RSS in Kannur. Often times, the victims or perpetrators were Muslim League or Congress. But the CPI(M) has always been the constant. As a newspaper reporter in Kerala for more than 13 years, I have heard several Mani-kind of speeches by very senior CPI(M) leaders. Fortunately somehow Mani’s speech gone international and the law set in motion. I have often wondered, how is it possible for educated, talented and otherwise sensitive people to transform into murderers for narrow political profit? Distance from Kerala and experience in the north Indian scene, which is so vacuous of ideology, has opened my eyes to what I believe is the core deficiency of the Malayali mind.

His slavery - in body and soul — to the party line. Humanism pales before the party dictum. And also, the deep politicisation of society and every edifice of the state.

But today, thankfully, there is a silver lining. The crusader for political reform and former Chief Minister, VS Achuthanandan, has come out publicly against Mani. He has written a letter to the party leadership in Delhi questioning the morality of defending these actions. In the second week of June, we expect to see a thorough debate on this at AKG Bhawan in Gole Market. Unless of course, the self-deluding Malayali prefers to live in the lunatic asylum.

Manmohan's PPP model with tainted Ravi Rishi

[These articles appeared on 'The Pioneer on April 6 & 11, 2012]

Tatra- tainted Rishi has lion’s share in Govt’s expo hub

April 11, 2012

Controversial arms dealer Ravinder Kumar Rishi’s Vectra Investments is a major stakeholder in Central Government’s mega handicrafts hub and export venture, India Expo Centre and Mart. This project spread over 58 hectares in Greater Noida with 1,800 shops was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006.

According to statements submitted to SEBI by Rishi’s Global Vectra Helicorp, the India Exposition Mart Limited, where Rishi’s Vectra Investments has a 20-per cent share, is the biggest share holder in India Expo Centre & Mart. The Government, through Export

Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) under Textile Ministry, subscribed to 9.02 per cent share in this Rishi-controlled project, which operates across the world, dealing with handicrafts sale, export and import.

Apart from Vectra Investments and EPCH, the remaining stakes in the company are held by minority individual share holders on rotation basis, mostly the handicrafts exporters and traders basically from Moradabad.

Inaugurating the India Expo Centre on January 6, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed this project as a classical example of Public-Private Partnership success.

“The Prime Minister complimented the Textile Minister for the performance of the industry and lauded its contribution to the export earnings as well as employment generation in the country. He also congratulated the promoters of the Mart and EPCH for timely completion of the project. He said that patterned on the PPP model, this Mart would set an example for many others,” said a supplement issued by EPCH in connection with the inauguration.

In lieu of its 9.02- per cent share, two Government nominees are on the board of this company having worldwide presence. A joint secretary in-charge of exports in the Textile Ministry and another official nominated by Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) are the two directors of the Rishi-controlled company. The records of the Registrar of Company show that after setting up the headquarters in Greater Noida, the India Exposition Mart Limited nominated on its board two officials from Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority.

India Exposition Mart Limited, where Rishi and his family members have controlling stakes, has either set up or is in the process of setting up centralised export centres in Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Utrecht in the Netherlands and Shanghai. Like in his other companies, in India Expo Mart also several retired Army officials hold key posts.

In Vectra Investments Private Limited, registered in Bangalore in 1997, which controls all Rishi’s ventures including the India Expo Mart, his close family members Deepti Rishi, Suruchi Rishi, Swati Rishi, Rati Rishi and Hemang Rishi are share holders along with him.

With Rishi on the CBI radar in Tatra truck deal, the disclosure will be embarrassing for the Government, which will find it difficult to explain why they selected him as a key partner in handicrafts development in local and international market when he did not have any expertise in the field.

Sources said CBI was probing Rishi’s proximity to suspended IAS couple Arvind Kumar Joshi and Tinoo Joshi. Recently investigators seized Rs 360 crore from the Bhopal residence of this couple. During 1999-2004, Arvind was a Joint Secretary level officer in Defence Ministry. More importantly, Tinoo was Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) during this period, when EPCH under her decided to partner with Rishi’s expo mart project.

Vectra’ Ravi Rishi no stranger to controversy

April 6, 2012-06-02

Arms dealer Ravi Rishi’s Vectra is not new to controversy. His companies were also at the centre of a scandal leading to the cancellation of the multi-billion Eurocopter deal for purchase of 197 choppers for the Indian Army in 2007.

Vectra’s subsidiary Global Vectra Helicorp is headed by one Lt Gen (rtd) SJS Sehgal, who was also a director of the Vectra Aviation, sole distributor of the Eurocopter choppers. He was also former head of the Army’s aviation wing. Incidentally, his younger brother, then serving Lt General HS Sehgal, was involved in the trials of the Bell and Eurocopter choppers for more than a year to select the bidder.

The deal was cancelled after Bell complained to the Ministry of Defence on the role of Sehgal brothers and Rishi’s companies in trying to swing the deal in favour of the Eurocopter.

Hoping to get the deal in favour of Eurocopter, at one point Vectra Aviation was planning to set up a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) for Eurocopter choppers in India at an estimated investment of 6 million Euros.

In their complaint, Bell pointed to the clash of interest and role of middlemen. It cited that younger Sehgal was involved in the field evaluation and preparation of trial reports for the two helicopter companies whereas the senior Sehgal was lobbying for Eurocopter .

However, Rishi’s name did not figure in the controversy as media focus remained on the two brothers.

A series of financial statements filed by Rishi in 2006 to SEBI for floating IPO for Global Vectra Helicorp shows that several retired top Army officials were associated with the slew of companies floated by him over the past 14 years. Apart from this several retired middle level officers from the forces and their relatives are holding managerial positions in Rishi’s companies.

Lt General RIS Kahlon, who recently passed away, was the Director of Tetra Trucks India Limited and Vectra Advanced Engineering.

Montek's doubtful games on Rail and Road

[These two articles appeared on 'The Pioneer' on March 19 & 21, 2012]

US loco giant pits Montek against planners

March 19, 2012

In the midst of political turmoil over the railway fare hike, an intense fight is going on in higher echelons of bureaucracy over the selection of bidders for two locomotive factories that then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had announced for his parliamentary constituency in Bihar in 2009. In the 2009 Railway Budget, Lalu had announced setting up of one electric locomotive factory at Madhepura and another diesel loco factory in Marhowra on PPP model.

The process of selection of bidders has pitched two key Ministries — Railways and Finance — against the Planning Commission. Top officials of Railway Board and Finance Ministry have objected to the proposals of Plan panel to change the Cabinet-approved bidding process and supply conditions for these two pending projects, which have reached nowhere in three years.

The official communication and file notings available with The Pioneer show that top officials of Railway Board and Finance Ministry protested over the changing of the Cabinet decisions to favour certain bidders by Plan panel deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s Advisor Gajendra Haldea. For executing the bidding process, the Cabinet in 2009 formed an Empowered Committee consisting of officials drawn from Railway Board, Finance Ministry and Planning Commission. The controversies started when Haldea mooted some changes last year in the Cabinet-approved proposal.

In case of Madhepura project, senior officials of the Railway Board and Finance Ministry noted down that the minutes of the meeting were also “changed” and “misquoted” to propose major changes in the bidding documents to favour the US giant, General Electric.

In a series of communications between the Empowered Committee members, Finance Ministry and Railway Board officials have stated that Haldea’s proposal to change the Cabinet approved bidding procedures and supply conditions would place an extra burden of more than Rs16,405 crore.

Sources told The Pioneer, in several meetings of the empowered group, heated exchanges took place and some members alleged that these changes were introduced to suit General Electric — the lone bidder for the project. In the bidding process of Marhowra project also, top officials of the Railways and Finance Ministries protested Haldea’s high-handedness. “Haldea apparently thinks that India is a Banana Republic that can be forced to accept a con game….,” noted Sanjiv Handa Member (Mechanical) of Railway Board in a note seen by the Railway Board Chairman.

In the same note, Additional Member (Production Unit) SK Sharma of the Railways wrote that “it is unfortunate that professionalism, probity and regard for highest standards of integrity of the mechanical directorate are being questioned by resorting to sensationalism, misinformation and slander, rather than reasoned debate. It is for the investigators to determine whether this was part of a larger agenda aimed at compromising the Indian Railways interest.”

The Finance Ministry officials also expressed displeasure on changing of Cabinet-approved bidding and supply conditions. A Railway Board note of June 28, 2011 read, “Economic Affairs Secretary R Gopalan specifically asked financial commissioner the decisions of the Empowered Committee at the behest of the bidders will need to be seen with regard to their financial aspects so as to ensure that gaming by the bidders is ruled out and Railways interest will not be compromised. The minutes do not include these concerns of the Secretary, Economic Affairs.”

In a communication to Montek on February 9, Planning Commission Member Secretary Sudha Pillai questioned the authority of Haldea for approving the changed proposals, which he himself mooted. “Subsequently, several amendments that were proposed to the terms approved by the Cabinet were also admittedly authored by him. These proposals altering the terms of the proposed contracts in significant ways were quickly endorsed by the Infrastructure Division (headed by Haldea), bypassing me on some occasions.

“However, these amendments when subjected to detailed discussion and scrutiny by the Empowered Committee were found to have serious implications which had not been adequately addressed. It was clear that these amendments were not subjected to independent and impartial scrutiny. This created a very embarrassing situation for me as a member of the Empowered Committee,” said Sudha Pillai in a communication to Montek.

Plan panel tweaks toll to favour developer

March 21, 2012

Ignoring the directions of Supreme Court’s Monitoring Committee and overruling strong objections from Planning Commission Members, the plan panel has approved a 1.5-time increase in toll rates for Eastern Peripheral Expressway. This increase was proposed by CP Joshi, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, and the proposal was mooted by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s advisor Gajendra Haldea.

The documents available with The Pioneer show that on several occasions, NHAI (National Highway Authority of India) officials objected to the proposal to increase EPE toll rates and said it was an attempt to help the developer of Western Peripheral Expressway (WPE), whose toll rates were less. The decision to create these two expressways followed a Supreme Court order in 1984 on a Public Interest Litigation on heavy traffic congestion and frequent road accidents in Delhi.

The WPE starts from Kundli and via Manesar, it reaches Palwal. The EPE too starts from Kundli and via Bagpat, Gaziabad and Noida, it reaches Palwal. Both expressways meant to de-congest Delhi have equal length of 135 km and were decided to be constructed on Build Operate Transfer (BOT) system.

The implementing agency of WPE, also known as KMP (Kundli-Manesar-Palwal) is the Haryana Government-run HSIIDC. The developer of this expressway is DSC Limited, owned by HS Narula and MS Narula. The construction started on 2007 and was supposed to be completed by 2010. But till date only 60 per cent of work has been completed, and it may take three more years for fruition. The toll rate of a car fixed for WPE is Rs 170.

The EPE’s implementing agency is Central Government’s NHAI. The project is still on paper and even bidding process has not started. Ignoring the direction of the Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee, the new toll policy, which came into existence in 2008, raised the toll rate of EPE for cars to Rs 230. NHAI officials and Finance Ministry on several notes observed that the toll rates of the WPE and EPE should be equal.

“The toll rates of WPE and EPE should be kept at par to ensure that there is no diversion of traffic along WPE. Higher toll rates of EPE will lead to diversion of traffic towards WPE resulting in non-viability of the project and undue benefit to the concessionaire (DSC Limited) of WPE,” said an NHAI communication to Ministry on December 3, 2010, citing the direction of the SC’s monitoring committee.

One year ago Montek’s advisor Gajendra Haldea, who rules the roost in the powerful Infrastructure Division, mooted the proposal to the Road Transport and Highways to treat the EPE as a bypass. This was a clever ploy by Haldea, because as per the new toll policy, toll rates for a bypass can be 1.5-times higher than expressways. Sources say, after CP Joshi became the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, this proposal gained momentum. Several engineers objected to this proposal and said EPE was a new expressway and a 135-kilometre road could never be treated as bypass.

Treating the EPE as a bypass and increasing the toll rate 1.5 times would cost a car Rs 340 to cross the EPE, while the WPE, which has equal length, has only Rs 170 as toll for the same vehicle. This would lead to two situations. First, all the traffic would divert to WPE. Second, no bidder would come for construction of EPE, and give complete traffic monopoly to WPE. Strongly objecting to this dubious proposal, which clearly intends to favour the developer of WPE, Planning Commission Member BK Chaturvedi wrote to Montek that this proposal should go to Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) for approval.

“If the PPPAC (Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee) are to be overturned and matters which are delegated to it are to go to Cabinet afresh, we might as well abolish the PPAC….if higher toll rates are charged, naturally the bids will be better. But to that extent, people will be taxed more. There is also the worry that its usage may get limited and the purpose of making the bypass may not fulfilled.

“In view of above, I do not agree with the proposal in principle to review any decision of the PPPAC unless there is mala fides intension in it. I find none in the instant case. I feel that the project has already been delayed and we should go ahead with the current process,” said Chaturvedi on February 1, 2012.

Agreeing with Chaturvedi’s observations, Commission’s Member Secretary Sudha Pillai in a note to Montek on the very next day blamed Haldea for misquoting her. “I must also place on record my objection to the statement at para 9 of the note of Advisor to DCH (Haldea)…that I have supported the higher rate of 1.5 times. ….imposition of a higher toll rate will be contrary to Government policy and will not be in public interest…..The EPE is not a bypass but an Expressway….the draft OM (Office Memorandum) placed below is premature and full of wrong reasoning,” she wrote.

But after 11 days, ignoring the views of Finance Ministry officials and NHAI engineers and overruling the objections of his colleagues, Montek approved the dubious proposal mooted by Haldea to increase the toll rate of EPE, which would help the developer of WPE.

However Minister RTH (CP Joshi) has decided to take a different view which he is entitled to do. PPAC is an official level committee and Minister is not bound by it in going back to the Cabinet…..I feel we should apply the relevant rule, but we have to leave it to the Ministry to decide whether it is indeed a bypass.

“The Ministry has proposed treating it as a bypass and applies the relevant rule. Planning Commission concurs with the proposal,” wrote Montek on February 13, 2012, giving green signal to increase the toll rate of EPE. This literally makes EPE non-viable and offers a bumper bonanza to DSC Limited, the developer of Western Peripheral Expressway.

Investigators go easy on US-indicted middleman Sanjay Pasari

[This report published in 'The Pioneer' on December 7, 2011. Everybody talk on blackmoney stashed in foreign banks. But no action from India, even while foreign governments and courts fix such Indian illegal account holders]

Indian investigating and enforcement agencies have not cracked down on a politically connected middleman even after the US counterparts provided them with details of his ‘frozen’ unaccounted deposit of around $400 million in several Swiss Bank accounts.

The middleman, Sanjay Pasari, operating mainly in the coal and mining sector, was implicated by the US Justice Department and Securities & Exchange Commission in late 2010 in a probe related to bribing of Indian officials, while acting as an agent of multinational mining giant Bucyrus, which has now merged with Caterpillar.

A Geneva court order passed on February 16, 2011 upon the alert issued by US authorities under International Criminal Mutual Aid, froze (probative sequestration) accounts of Sanjay Pasari (No. 2952334), his brother Rajiv Pasari (a/c no : 1996090), their firm Savan Foundation (a/c no : 1159024) and his company Infotech Guernsey (a/c no : 189502) at Lloyds TSB Bank in Switzerland.

The court order available with The Pioneer shows that the Swiss Government also blocked accounts linked to Pasari in the name of Vishwa Industrial Co Pvt Ltd, VT Industries Ltd Squirrel Developers, Niraj Kumar Pasari, Davind Lee, the former director of Bucyrus’ Indian subsidiary and CET Consulting Engineering Trading Anstalt Vaduz.Most of these companies are registered in Pasari’s home turf, Kolkata.

Even after getting such sensitive and concrete information of huge black money stash of an Indian citizen in foreign banks, the Government here has done precious little to proceed against Pasari. The CBI has only issued alerts to Ministries connected with coal, mining, steel and fertilisers by placing Pasari on the ‘Undesirable Contact Men’ list, which warns Government officials to avoid contact with such persons.

The Government’s inaction against Pasari comes in the backdrop of the fact that he is closely associated with political heavyweights, including a former Cabinet Minister in the UPA-I and politicians from Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and the North East. “US authorities are in the process of also seizing his accounts in Dubai, London, Mauritius and Guernsey Islands. By mid-2012, US authorities would finish the seizure procedures in London,” said a highly placed official.

Pasari’s name also surfaced in Madhu Koda’s scam, following which the Enforcement Directorate had also initiated probe against him. In 2006, he was wanted in some cases when Jharkhand cracked down on illegal miners, added a source. Pasari’s role in bribing Indian PSUs and their officials first was detected by the auditors of the Caterpillar engaged for finalising Bucyrus merger with it. When Pasari was questioned by US authorities, he is reported to have admitted of paying $ 2 million as bribe on behalf of Bucyrus to officials of a coal sector PSU during 2009-10 for striking a big mining deal. Pasari made this disclosure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of America, according to sources.

Pasari was also asked to submit all documents and bank accounts relating to his operations. According to documents available with The Pioneer, apart from Coal India, Pasari has dealings with several PSUs like National Mineral Development Corporation, Bharat Earth Movers, Power Finance Corporation and McNally Bharat Engineering Company Ltd.

“The US investigations proved that he had parked ill gotten wealth in all tax havens across the world. He even formed charity organizations like Savan Foundation for alleged money laundering,” said sources. Savan’s account has also been frozen in Switzerland.

According to the notice served by US investigators, Pasari operated from three locations — 62A Hazara Road, Kolkata; B-21 Rashidiya. PO Box 51031, Dubai; and Anson Court, Les Campus, St.Martin’s in Guernsey Island, a British crown dependency in the English Channel.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Battles won, but the WAR is not over

At last fraud 122 telecom licenses granted by former tainted Telecom A.Raja is cancelled by Supreme Court. The Congress and UPA Government have not yet learned lessons. That is why they filed review petition without any remorse. The motive of the review petition simply exposes that A.Raja is not the lone beneficiary of the 2G Scandal. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have not yet learned lessons from UP poll results.

Congress party even failed to make advantage from Punjab and Uttarakhand, where Akali Dal and BJP were facing severe anti-incumbency, allegations of corruption and headaches from dissidents. Such was the Tsunami waves lashed nationwide by the agitations of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev against the corruption in Central Government after CAG and Supreme Court took stern steps on 2G Scandal in the last months of 2010.

But the arrogant Congress leadership thought they can manage pubic mandate by fooling Muslim voters. The things became worse, when the Government and party leadership run by corporate advocates turned ministers.

Ideally advocates should advice the clients on right things. Unfortunately they tried to appease the clients by tendering illegal advices and try to become the protectors of crime. Now in the legal world, for minting money none enlightens the client. The 2G cases are open and shut ones. But for minting money the advocates engaged by accused give wrong advices. Similar is the case of corporate advocates turned ministers in the central government. Mom and Son likes this kind of characters and electoral drubbings continues to happen and will happen in future also.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi still keeping mum on 2G Spectrum Scandal. So naturally people will have tendency to believe the non-countered allegations. One thing sure this humongous scandal is not Raja’s lone operation. They should explain or counter. But the review petitions against cancellation of 122 licenses strengthen the allegations against them. If this is the case one day the 2G ghost would reach their door step.

Some corporate cheer leaders and fraud legal eagles consoles, if review petition fails, Government would go for Presidential intervention like in the case of presidential pardon to Nixon in Watergate scandal by his successor Gerald Ford in 1974. Hearing this dirty decision reporter Bob Woodward was awakened by his colleague Carl Bernstein over phone: “…the son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch.”

Any way Indian laws are different from US and people have empowered a lot. None of the people in power dare to do such things now, especially after the gory images on the end of Libyan dictator Gaddafi.

Home Minister P.Chidambaram too keeps mum and never comes out open to defend. During his tenure as Finance Minister 2G Scam happened. As a custodian of public exchequer he should have intervened to stop the scam. Those days he was giving rejoinders to each and every news item on other subjects. But in spectrum allocation he kept quiet. Is it just due to compulsions of coalition politics syndrome as excused by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?

The fact was Chidambaram overruled the Finance Ministry officials who objected Raja’s designs. Otherwise the2009 Lok Sabha election result of Sivaganga constituency would have been different.

One good thing in the Special CBI Court Judge OP Saini’s order is - it says Chidambaram consented with Raja in spectrum allocation at seven year old damn cheap prices and share offloading of tainted companies to Multi Nationals at whopping rates. It is not the job of Dr.Swamy to find the money trail or conspiracy angle on Chidambaram. It is the job of investigators. But in India, the investigators should be empowered by courts to act boldly.

Unfortunately, even during Supreme Court monitored probe, DMK's Ministers like SS Palanimanickam, Minister of State for Finance tries to do dirty tricks. My information is he is directing Income Tax officials to issue notices to relatives of key witnesses in the 2G trial in order to arm-twist the witnesses for changing their deposition against his party colleagues Raja and Kanimozhi. For the past eight years this key portfolio (read money minting), which controls Income Tax, Customs and Excise is under DMK.

Any way Subramanian Swamy and Prashant Bhushan have taken the matter to Supreme Court. I wish them all success and expect more exposes. I wish all success to anti-corruption crusaders. My heart is with them - Only with real crusaders, not with Ram Jethmalani kind of characters who talks against corruption and at last appears in court for corrupt people. I really doubt his so called fight against black money.

Raja is spending his second summer in Tihar jail. Hope more people to come in future. Obviously fraud advocates will be the ultimate beneficiaries of each scam. India’s Advocates Act, need to be thoroughly amended to fix these frauds. The corporate cheerleaders try to ignore the merits of Justice GS Singhvi and Justice AK Ganguly on cancelling the tainted licenses which open the doors for auction to fill our cash strapped public exchequer. More over the order automatically confiscated around Rs.14,000 crores, the amount dubiously remitted by these fraud licenses. Unfortunately some people in media want to highlight the agony of the corporate due to this boldest order. None is learning lessons even after the leakage of Nira Radia tapes.

Kapil Sibal’s Zero Loss theory started making Zero Gains for Congress in elections. Salman Khurshid’s crocodile tears for Muslims kicked his wife to fifth position in the assembly elections. Muslims in UP wanted a Musalman leader, but Congress leadership gave them Salman. More is waiting for him for manipulating and giving clean chits to Reliance-Swan and Essar-Loop deals, just before CBI filing chargesheets on these companies. Everybody’s number will come one by one.

Any way Battles won, but the WAR against corruption is still ON.

The Pioneer’s 2G scam whistleblower bags Goenka Award

The Pioneer News Service
New Delhi January 17, 2012

The Pioneer’s special correspondent J Gopikrishnan won yet another laurel when he received the Ramnath Goenka Journalist of the Year Award in print category here on Monday. CNBC managing editor Udayan Mukherjee was adjudged best journalist of the year in broadcast category . Both of these prestigious awards were for the year 2009.
The two awards, introduced by The Indian Express Group in 2006, carried a cash prize of Rs 2.5 lakh each. The awards were bestowed by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta presided over the well-attended function at Taj Hotel here. Thirty nine other winners in 17 other categories received a prize of Rs.One lakh each.

Popular as Gopi among his colleagues, Gopikrishnan had also won the last year’s CNN-IBN special achievement award and several other felicitations for his remarkable series of stories on the 2G spectrum scam, which shook the UPA Government and led to the arrest of several political biggies and bureaucrats. Dedicating his award to The Pioneer, his colleagues, and Editor-in-Chief Chandan Mitra, Gopi said, “I wanted to name several other people who helped in my pursuit, but since the trial is on, I could not reveal their identities.”

Congratulating Gopi, Chandan Mitra said he rarely met a journalist who achieved so much and yet remained so humble. “He has put on no airs despite the accolades he has received and the many awards he has won. He remains committed to his profession, and profession alone,” Mitra said, adding, “The Pioneer is proud to have such a journalist in our team.”

Gopi first brought the nation’s attention to the massive irregularities in the award of spectrum in early 2008 when a few had heard of the well-crafted conspiracy to plunder the nation’s resources and shortchange the exchequer to tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crore by an unholy nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and corporates. Unmindful of the fact that a few newspapers or TV channels cared to follow up his stories, Gopi persisted with his hard work. While he focuses on specifics, he always came out with additional materials to spice up his stories.

In a scam of this magnitude many of the juicy side stories that he shared in the news room could not be published for want of evidence, but they showed his remarkable grasp of the subject and the vast network of his contacts. From personal life of the accused persons to their professional indiscretions, Gopi knew it all. His approach was so professional and meticulous that a few could ever contradict his stories - or accuse him of bias.

Needless to say that in the scam of this proportion, he faced pulls and pressure from different quarters, which he withstood like a true professional, never blinking, never compromising. For someone who started his foray in Delhi journalism four years ago as a little known Kerala stringer, Gopi’s career is not limited to exposing the 2G scam. Consistency has been the hallmark of Gopi, who has regularly come out with front page stories on a diverse range of issues.

The high-point of his 2G scam reporting was the expose of Nira Radia tape that created a sensation and forced the media to take note of the scam. When the CAG report on 2G scam, endorsed nearly every aspect of the scandal so vividly captured by Gopi in his write-ups, the political establishment was forced to act. The then Telecom Minister A Raja had to be ousted from the Union Cabinet, and the Centre had to order CBI probe in the scam.

Speaking on the occasion, Vice-President Ansari said that in a changed and changing world, it would be useful to remember that vibrant journalism in a democracy is watchdog journalism. “It monitors the exercise of power and influence in society and stands for the rights and freedoms of citizens. It informs and empowers citizens rather than entertains and titillates them,” he said.

He added, “Our media, and democracy, are fortunate that we have shining examples of journalists who not only embody the ethical dimension, but sadly, also laid down their life for the same.”

The Year 2011, the finest year of fights against corruption

The year 2011 can be remembered as the year of uprising against corruption in India. The year started with nationwide raids of CBI on 2G Spectrum Scam and the arrest of tainted former telecom minister A.Raja, leading to the arrest of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, when caught up with crystal clear evidence. Unprecedented things like the subsequent arrests and chargesheeting of corporate honchos, though some escaped boosted the morale of common man to rally against the corruption.

2011 summer was real hot summer for the Government and the Rulers, when Anna Hazare kick-started his strikes from April. Raja, Kanimozhi, CWG’s selectively caught scamster Suresh Kalmadi and corporates must had thought of non-validity of money at least once in their life, when hearing the protest of masses assembled in front of Tihar jail, demanding the release of Anna Hazare in August. Atleast for politicians it was a surprise on the assembling large gathering, without spending single paisa for such kind of crowd flow.

The year 2011 also saw the collapse of mining barons Bellary brothers, after the Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde cracked the whip. Ofcourse there are still some persons waiting in the league to rally to jails. The credit goes to the Judiciary for getting up from its more than five year long hibernation and the persons who tirelessly fought against corruption in the streets as well as in courts.

However, we should not forget the existence of some mighty forces, which protect the corrupt people and collapse the probe and cases against corruption. Remember the CBI’s U-turn in the Special Court by not opposing the bail of Kanimozhi, just 48 hours after her father M Karunanidhi met Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Shockingly CBI was forced to change its stand, even after it pledged in the Supreme Court that they will oppose the bail plea of all the accused in the Spectrum Scam.

In CWG investigation, CBI action was similar to the surgical strike of a commando opeartion by fixing only Suresh Kalmadi, who had only dealt with around five percent of the expenditure on the administration and execution of the games. The saved persons can breathe till none crusades like what Subramanian Swamy or Prashant Bhushan did to expose the spectrum scam. Same is the case of KG Basin scandal, where Mukesh Ambani minted money. Somehow his brother Anil Ambani saved though his top officials caught in 2G scam. I defer from CBI findings on this issue like Chidambaram’s involvement or reasons behind the silence in spectrum allocation.

The year 2011 also witnessed the dirty tricks from government side against crusaders, especially belong to Team Anna with help of certain media. CDs were created to defame people, hit squads were bought in. Look at the way Delhi Police being demonised to deal Baba Ramdev.

In India the law enforcement is still in nascent stages, when compared to civilised countries. Here the Law acts person to person and case to case basis. No media persons involved in the Nira Radia were questioned any agency or any forum. There was a hue and cry from certain quarters when Public Accounts Committee made an attempt to call media persons like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi on Radia gate. I envy on the courage of British Parliament panel which summoned the mighty media mogul Rupert Murdoch and brought to books. When will our Parliament and Parliamentarians get such courage?

Certain politicians only make false claim that “Parliament is supreme” and force us to believe so, though the fact of the matter is – We the people made Constitution is supreme. Battles have won. But the war is still on. Let us expect more victories in 2012.