Sunday, September 27, 2009

Strikes galore

And now it is the turn of Air India pilots to go on strike. Any strike causes some dislocation in daily life atleast to some sections of society. Therefore, our tendency to blame the people going on strike is natural, though sometimes misplaced. There is a common link among the recent three strikes namely of the pilots of Jet Airways, IIT teahing staff and Air India pilots.

The reason why these strikes materialised is the inept handling by the managements and HRD Ministry. In Jet Airways, some pilots were unceremoniously and summarily sacked without conducting any enquiry and apparently for unlawful reasons. The HRD Ministry failed to respond to repeated requests of the teaching staff for discussions. Mr.Kapil Sibal's public pronouncements of his readiness to discuss coupled with his (deliberate ?) failure to get in touch with the faculty only added insult to injury. It was totally ham-handed. The management of Air India unilaterally effected reductions in allowances payable to pilots. There was no discussion with the pilots before imposing salary cuts.

In all these three instances, principles of natural justice were given the go-by. If only these situations had been handled with tact and reasonableness by the managements and the HRD Ministry, strikes would have become unnecessary. Arrogance is a human failing; it cannot be a business strategy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Justice P.D.Dinakaran : The communal card

The Supreme Court Collegium is still in the process of taking a decision on the allegations levelled against the the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court. Time is a benevolent healer that solves some problems. But in a case where allegations of corruption are made, delay in decision-making leads to a murkier milieu. This is exactly what is happening in the present case.
Initially, Shanti Bhushan made the preposterous claim that the Chief Justice of India was supporting Justice Dinakaran because the latter also was a Dalit. It is surprising that no action has been taken against this inflammatory remark. Now comes an equally absurd canard from Mr.Buta Singh, the Chairman of The National Commission for Scheduled Castes who alleges that the campaign against Justice Dinakaran is motivated because he is a Dalit.
Playing the communal card is a dangerous game. It obfuscates the issue and poisons the atmosphere. Meaningful debate becomes the casualty. Justice gets sidelined.

Minister's rantings

It is unfortunate that Mr.Kapil Sibal continues his outbursts against the IIT faculty. He says that autonomy is only a smokescreen and that they are agitating only for more money. He continues that their agitation is not consistent with the dignity expected of them.
IITs already have a notoriety (perhaps undeserved) of being 'elitist'. Though many would dismiss this criticism as sour-grapism, the fact is that this view does exist. The minister's strident denunciations will only aggravate anti-IIT feelings. Ministers like Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor who are blessed with gift of the gab will do the nation a great favour if they control their utterances and tweets.
One is reminded of a popular couplet from Thirukkural which says, " Even if one does not control any other faculty, one should keep one's tongue in check. Else, one will come to grief through this lapse". It is high time that the minister initiates discussions with the faculty instead of allowing the situation to deteriorate further. Such loquacious ministers need to develop 'soft skills'.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grievances of IIT faculty : Kapil Sibal's misplaced sarcasm

Teaching staff at IITs are on a war path. They are seeking more autonomy and better pay. Justification or otherwise for these demands depends on the eye of the beholder.
HRD Minister, Mr.Kapil Sibal has made two observations which are uncalled for. 1) We do not expect prospective Nobel laureates to go on hunger strike and 2) They get so much from consultancy that salary is only icing on the cake.

Observation 1 : Ridicule is implied in this statement. If the minister is convinced about the high academic standards of IIT faculty, he would not have made this comment. He also ought to know that the infrastructure made available in India can hardly enable anyone to get a Nobel prize. It was a miracle that Sir C.V.Raman could bag a Nobel. But those halcyon days are long past. If IIT faculty or for that matter any academician in India is not considered for Nobel prizes, it only reflects on the disabling environment provided by the government.
Hunger protest is a honourable practice sanctified by the Mahatma. Our minister would not have recommended Nobel peace prize for the Mahatma because he does not expect any honourable person to take to hunger protest.

Observation 2 : If IIT teachers are getting handsome income from consultancy, it is because they contribute. Does the minister propose that salary need not be paid to them for this reason? Also, not all IIT teachers are busy in consultancy. Those who do consult , become better teachers because of the experience they gain. Is the minister's statement a decent way of treating the faculty?

The demands of IIT faculty may or may not be met. But the faculty has a right to expect the HRD Minister to listen and respond without being sarcastic, insulting or patronising. An eminent lawyer need not continue his antagonistic approach after becoming a minister.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Air India's global search for COO

Air India (NACIL) has released a recruitment ad in The Economist dt.19th Sept for COO. This is perhaps the first time that an Indian public sector unit is casting its net worldwide. Coming so soon after the Finance Minister's fiat to travel cattle class, it is easy to guess the eligibility criteria 1) Cowherds and shepherds are encouraged to apply. 2) Inability to tweet is a prerequisite. 3) Posting is initially for 3 years. Extension may be considered subject to continued inability to tweet and Air India's negative networth. 4) Acquaintance with English is preferable. However, capacity to distinguish between right and left is essential.(Last year, a foreign pilot landed an aircraft at Tambaram instead of Chennai since he mistook directional guidance of control staff.) 5)Applicant is expected to have fire in the belly.If necessary, the applicant should be capable of transferring fire from the engine to one's belly.(Recently, an Air India Airbus had to abort takeoff when fire in the engine was noticed inadvertently! ) Is there a proposal to rechristen Air India subsequent to 'cattle class' solidarity? Yes. The names under consideration are Air Krishna and Air Jesus in solidarity with holy cows and disciplined sheep. To avoid a blatant blot on secularism, Air Chrishna is a more likely choice.____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ __

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Subtle Art of Dharma or the Art of Subtle Dharma ?

Mr.Gurcharan Das' lecture on The Dharma of Capitalism held in Mylapore on 18th Sept. was expectedly interesting. He continues to be an incorrigible capitalist. He has been researching the Mahabharata for more than five years now. He has recently authored a book titled "The difficulty of being good : on the subtle art of dharma".
The earlier best-seller written by him,"India Unbound", was an extremely optimistic account of India's future. The author claims that he did not factor in the absence of governance while releasing "India Unbound".(It is surprising because lack of governance is a defining feature of India.) Therefore his optimism has waned. Yet he remains addicted (sic) to Mahabharata. He emphasises that the epic is not a set of rules, but a treatise on moral dilemmas.
When he refers to the subtle art of dharma, the emphasis is on resolution of conflicting factors that create these dilemmas. Unfortunately, the problems faced by Indians are of a different nature. Dharma has been corrupted in ever so many unimaginable ways that we should talk about a distinct dharma or a subtle dharma.Therefore one may say it is the art of subtle dharma rather the subtle art of dharma.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Judges sans integrity

A shocking news item has appeared in The Hindu today (16th Sept). It is alleged that one of the judges (Justice P.D.Dinakaran presently Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court) whose name has been recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court by a Supreme Court collegium consisting of 5 judges of the Supreme Court has amassed wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. Senior lawyers Fali Nariman and Shanti Bhushan have represented to CJI on the basis of a detailed complaint from several lawyers based in Chennai. Justice Dinakaran has denied the allegations.

Mr.Dinakaran was appointed a permanent judge of the Madras High Court in December 1996 at the age of 46. He became Chief Justice of the Karnataka HC in August 2008. It is too early to say whether the allegations are correct or only motivated and devoid of truth. It is quite likely that his elevation to the Supreme Court will be in limbo for some time.

In case his integrity is suspect, some interesting issues arise. As Chief Justice of a High Court , his term will expire in 2012 only. Would he be asked to step down before that? In case he is asked to go, would he oblige? Would our impeachment mechanism work effectively? Is our judicial system incompetent enough to accommodate a judge of doubtful integrity for 13 long years? Are the Supreme Court judges so bereft of any intelligence mechanism that they are not aware of the state of integrity of the Chief Justice of a High Court? Or, are they succumbing to any pressure, political or otherwise? The nation cries for an answer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

(False ?) Report on ICICI Bank

The Economic Times reported on Sunday, the 13th Sept. that ICICI Bank's Rs.10,000 crore bad home loans are under lens. The amount alleged is huge even by ICICI Bank standards. The report talks of sale of bad home loan assets worth over Rs.10,000 crore by the bank to ARCIL (Asset Reconstruction Company of India Limited) of which ICICI Bank is a co-promoter. ICAI
President was quoted as saying ," The regulator should re-audit assets sold to ARCIL". He is also supposed to have said,"In four cases , double loans were issued by ICICI Bank itself. This shows the inability of the bank's IT setup and its due diligence mechanism". Quite damning, if true.

It must have been an aweful Sunday for the bank. The bank has released a prominent advertisement in many newspapers (including a front page ad in the ET) on 14th Sept. calling the impugned article 'baseless'. The advertisement says, inter alia "1. ICAI has clarified that the statements attributed to it are totally incorrect, wrong and completely baseless. 2. The article is grossly inaccurate. The aggregate sales of home loans by the bank to ARCIL since inception are less than Rs.1,500 crore. 3. The article seeks to magnify a Rs.1 crore fraud committed on the bank into a major issue." The ad concludes, " The news item appears to be a deliberate and malicious plant aimed at damaging the bank's reputation. The bank is taking up the matter with regulatory and law enforcement authorities."
It is obvious that the newspaper has gone overboard while publishing an obviously interesting matter. The Economic Times has not published any confirmation or retraction of the contentious report. A delayed response is still possible. In the meantime, the bank has been forced to shell out a lot of money to clarify the matter and has atleast temporarily suffered yet another knock to its reputation.There is an interesting matter of detail here. The report appeared on a Sunday and the bank had enough time to rebut before the stock market opened on Monday. What if the report had been published on a weekday and the bank had been forced to suffer a massive selloff of its shares before any denial could be disseminated?
The newspaper owes it to its readers to explain in detail how it erred or who is to be blamed for the faux-pas. The denial issued by ICAI contains the following difficult-to-understand detail,

"For the purpose of setting the records right, we may mention that the fact of the
mater (sic) has been that when few Mumbai-based chartered accountants approached
the ICAI President CA. Uttam Prakash Agarwal regarding the harassment being
meted out to them, despite they being genuine buyers of the flats in the society
referred to the news item, the latter had advised them to take up the matter with
the authorities in the Bank at their individual level. He had also assured them that if
their plea is genuine and on getting the feedback from them about the authorities’
response, he would take up the matter with the Bank and its regulator at the top
level, if need be".

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Justice Kannan's blog

It is unfortunate that Justice K.Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has decided to withdraw from blogosphere ( atleast for the present. He was championing transparency in an otherwise opaque legal system. He had taken up a hazardous job and had to walk on thin rope lest he became too judgemental. His blog became immensely popular among concerned citizenry after he openly espoused a sensible stand on disclosure of assets by judges. He explained the nitty-gritty of even convoluted judgements in a reader-friendly manner.

He has indicated that his decision was hastened by uncharitable comments made by some. His withdrawal is a loss to blog-readers.

Added on July 12, 2016: It is encouraging to know that Justice Kannan who recently retired has decided to resume blogging.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ministerial ostentation

Ministers S.M.Krishna and Shashi Tharoor of the External Affairs ministry have been staying in the Presidential suite of The ITC Maurya and The Taj respectively for the past 3 months. Reason? The bungalows allotted to them are under renovation. They have confirmed that the government is not footing the hotel bills.
Is there any issue here? Tharoor thinks no. Krishna is not alive to the possibility of any public concern over this. Yet this conspicuous ostentation raises quite a few issues of public importance. Krishna's bill is around Rs.10 million and Tharoor's nearly Rs.4 million.Are they paying from their kitty or is there any sponsor a.k.a. vested interest?
Tharoor has referred to two existential reasons for his inability to stay in Bhavans which are guest houses of state governments located in the national capital. Gym and privacy are not available in state guest houses !
Politicians who are not embarrassed in eking out such extravagant living can never understand the plight of aam adhmi.
The Indian Express has exposed this prodigality. We do not know how many such instances remain unknown to the public. Performance of these two ministers so far has been far from exemplary.One can only sympathise with the Prime Minister.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Judicial Trinity

There are three judges who have covered themselves with glory in the recent controversy over disclosure of assets by judges. They are K.Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, D.V.Shylendra Kumar of the Karnataka High Court and K.Chandru of the Madras High Court. It is reported that all three are persons of impeccable integrity and are around 55 years of age which means they will continue to serve on the Bench for some more years and hopefully may get elevated to the Supreme Court also. Judges like these form an oasis in the venal justice system. One hopes that age and the overwhelming system will not tame them into submission to corrosive political influences.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dr.Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy

Dr.Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy , Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh who was killed in a helicopter crash on 2nd Sept. was of course a politician. His government was notoriously corrupt. However, certain facts about him stand out.

1) He had his schooling in the Besant Theosophical High School run by Kalakshetra Foundation. This should have had atleast some impact on his value system.

2) He was a broadminded Christian equally at home in Bethlehem and Tirumala, as noted by The Hindu.

3) He was a medical doctor and he always empathised with the poor.

We have lost an assertive and confident politician.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Public arguments

Public arguments among the well-known are becoming more frequent. For example, a sitting judge of the Karnataka High Court, Mr.Shailendra Kumar recently openly contested the authority of the Chief Justice of India to represent the views of all judges. CJI in turn snubbed him as publicity-crazy. Open discussions are welcome, but the bitterness evident in some arguments is eminently avoidable.
Now comes Mr.Homi Sethna's outburst against Mr.Kalam, former President who had earlier endorsed the success of Pokhran atomic test. This debate has been triggered by Mr.K.Santhanam, a former DRDO scientist who once again questioned the success of the test. While endorsing Mr.Santhanam's views, Mr.Sethna argued, "Mr.Kalam was not a scientist and Mr.Santhanam is a phycisist and he knew what he was talking. What does Mr.Kalam understand about physics? What did he know about extracting, making explosive grade? He did not know a thing. By being a President, he appeared to wear the stature. He relied on atomic energy to gain additional stature."
Mr.Sethna may be correct in his views regarding the atomic test. The tenor of arguments reminds us of what Krishna says in the Bagavad Gita, chapter 10, stanza 33. He says,"Among those who debate, I am Vaada i.e. the open-minded discussion for determining the truth." It is said that there are three types of debates -- jalpa, vitandaa and vaada. Jalpa is a kind of debate in which both parties seek to establish their own view point and ignore the merits of the counter-view. In vitandaa, one party understands his view is demolished and yet takes up extraneous arguments, draws red herrings and insults the counter-view. Vaada is open-minded discussion wherein the only objective of the participants is to grasp the truth. Vaada is welcome; the other two formats are dysfunctional.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Auditors' Report : Provogue ( India ) Limited

Auditors' Reports never cease to entertain. It is a pity that they are rarely read. Annexure to Auditors' Report of Provogue (India) Limited for the year 2008-09 says that " The Fixed Assets register was maintained by the company till the previous year. However during the year the same has been misplaced and the Company is in the process of compiling the new fixed assets register". The Annexure goes on to add, "There are adequate internal control systems commensurate with the size of the Company and the nature of its business with regard to purchase of inventories and FIXED ASSETS and for the sale of goods and services".

If the internal control systems are adequate, how come the Fixed Assets Register was lost? How long will it take to compile the new fixed assets register? Do you think that a company that takes a long time to compile a duplicate register will have a credible 'Disaster Recovery Plan'?