Saturday, October 30, 2010

Supreme Court on 2G spectrum allocation

On Oct 29th, the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure over footdragging by investigative agencies on the alleged scandal in allocation of 2G spectrum. So far so good.

However what is worrisome is that the apex court went on to say, "The CBI has not done anything. The matter is serious. THE SAME MINISTER IS STILL CONTINUNG TODAY."

Judiciary has every right, and in fact the duty also, to stress that investigations should be expedited. But is the court justified in jumping to the conclusion that the minister is guilty even before the investigation and court  proceedings are completed?

The following was blogged a year back on 27th Oct 2009. Nonetheless the supreme court is not expected to prejudge the issue. That right is available for lesser mortals only !

" October 27, 2009

Scam, what scam?

The whole country may be talking about the telecom loot in which new licences were issued and spectrum allocated at throwaway prices duping the exchequer of Rs.22000 crore or Rs.60000 crore depending on whether you trust the CBI or the opposition parties. But Mr.A.Raja, the Communications and IT minister, is unfazed. He has rhetorically asked, "Where is the question of any scam? I ONLY FOLLOWED MY PREDECESSORS and carried out the entire process as per laid norms ------". I was wondering who the predecessor could be.

Former Communications minister, Sukh Ram was sentenced to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs.1 lac by a CBI special court in New Delhi on 5th July 2002 for indulging in corruption by favouring a private party at the cost of Rs.1.68 crore to the public exchequer. The judge said, "Being the head of the ministry, he was expected to act in public interest , but he betrayed the trust imposed upon him---If the minister himself abuses his position, it will hardly be possible for him to check abuse by the other public servants working under him."

Poor Sukh Ram! He was defrauding the nation by a paltry Rs.1.68 crore. He did not belong to a party that had enough leverage in the cabinet to claim as Mr.Raja has done,"All decisions were taken in consultation with the Prime Minister. Let the CBI investigate and if anyone is found guilty, law will take its own course." In other words, if the minister is guilty, so too is the prime minister! If the minister is to be arrested, the prime minister also should accompany him to the prison!

Should the minister resign since the CBI has raided his ministry? The minister has answered himself. "Where is the question of resignation? I have done no wrong." Touche! "

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Supreme Court's queer logic

On 18th Oct., a Division Bench of the Supreme Court was hearing a public interest litigation petition on streamlining the public distribution system. Justice Dalveer Bhandari observed during the hearing,"If the foodgrains are not fit for human consumption, they should not be given even to animals." Strange logic, isn't it ?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Microfinance shenanigans

Microfinance institutions exist only because commercal banks have abdicated their responsiblity to extend productive loans to the economically poor. Insistence on collateral security makes bank loans non est for the underprivileged. MFIs utilise this opportunity to make predatory loans to weaker sections of society.

Dr.Vikram Akola, the controversial executive chairman of SKS Microfinance has now claimed that his company is ready to cut lending rates by 2% from the present 26%  SKS has come under spotlight on account of its hugely successful IPO and subsequent dubious ouster of its CEO, Suresh Gurumani. Unable to bear the strong-arm methods adopted by SKS and similar MFIs, more than 25 penurious persons have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh in the recent past.

N.R.Narayana Murthy's venture capital fund, Catamaran has invested in SKS Microfinance. He has so far abstained from commenting on alleged corporate malpractices in SKS. Vikram Akola claims that Gurumani was sacked due to inter-personal issues between Gurumani and other members of the Board. His refusal to clarify what these issues are has rendered the ouster episode intriguing. Suresh Gurumani was earlier associated with the Standard Chartered Bank and Barclay's Bank. Akola was working for Mckinsey for some time. His book "A Fistful of Rice: My unexpected quest to end poverty through profitability" wll soon be published by Harvard Business Press.

In the meanwhile, Malini M.Byanna, the former wife of Vikram Akula has alleged that the latter had misused SKS corporate resources to terrorise her. If the allegations are true, corporate governance has received yet another mortal blow. Is Vikram Akula a Ramalinga Raju in the making ?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Inchoate justice

The "Fast Track Sessions Court" at Bengaluru has at last delivered its judgement in the HP GlobalSoft BPO case. A lady staffer in this company was kidnapped, raped and murdered on December 13, 2005 by the driver of one of the cars assigned to transport staff.

The cab driver has been sentenced for life. Explaining why capital punishment was not given, the Judge has said,"The act has not been committed by a hired assassin, nor was it cold-blooded. There was no dominating control over the deceased. She was not a helpless woman. The crime was not enormous in nature and not in the "rarest of rare" bracket. This was not a case of bride-burning and not against a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or minority religion." The judge has also opined that the accused must be given the opportunity to reform himself.

Very strange reasoning indeed. You expect a kidnapper cum rapist cum murderer to reform himself ? If our law is like this, the law needs to be revised. Soft state and a softer judiciary will only ensure that we bequeath a violence-prone future to our posterity. Nothing can be more unjust.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Ayodhya judgment

"Ayodhya" means 'without bellicosity'. The judgment delivered by the three member Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has been variously interpreted as "Solomonic Resolution" (by the NewYork Times) , "Force of faith trumping law and reason" (by Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu) and "Annulment of respect for history and seeking to replace it with religious faith" (by Romila Thapar, a distinguished historian).

The three judges have delivered three separate judgments. On a cursory reading of the judgments, the one delivered by the senior-most judge Sibghat Ullah Khan seems to be the most coherent. His pronouncement highlights the solemnity and gravity of the issue that desiderates resolution. "Here is a small piece of land (1,500 square yards) where angels fear to tread. It is full of innumerable landmines. We are required to clear it.----- Some very sane elements advised us not to attempt that. We do not propose to rush in like fools lest we are blown. However, we have to take risk. It is said that the greatest risk in life is not daring to take risk when the occasion for the same arises." The prelude could not have been more apt !

Siddharth Varadarajan argues that the judgment is based on "an unverified and unsubstantiated reference to the 'faith and belief of Hindus' ". In other words, the criticism is that the judgment is not evidence-based. Justice Khan has in fact based his conclusions on solid evidence. He says,"Both the parties have failed to prove commencement of their title. Hence by virtue of Section 110 of Evidence Act both are held to be joint title holders on the basis of joint possession". Joint possession has been proved because "Much before 1855 Ram Chabutra and Seeta Rasoi had come into existence and Hindus were worshipping in the same. It was very very unique and absolutely unprecedented situation that inside the boundary wall and compound of the mosque Hindu religious places were there which were actually being worshipped alongwith offerings of Namaz by Muslims in the mosque". In view of this finding, Justice Khan has held that Muslims as well as Hindus were in joint possession of the premises in dispute. Such hard evidence cannot be dismissed as matters of faith.

All three judges have stated that as per the faith and belief of the Hindus the place under the central dome of the Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram. Siddharth Varadarajan's comment that "For every Hindu who believes the spot under the central dome of the Babri Masjid is the precise spot where Lord Ram was born there is another who believes something else" smacks of rebellion without cause. Multiplicity of opinions is not ipso facto negation of a preponderant opinion. Further, reference to faith and belief should not be condemned as reliance on the same. It may be true that Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas in 16th century Ayodhya but made no reference to the birthplace of Rama. This does not mean,as Siddharth Varadarajan argues, that the court's reference to Ram's birthplace is vitiated.

Siddharth Varadarajan's scepticism regarding the finding of the Archaeological Survey of India that there was a massive Hindu religious structure below the masjid is suggestive of selective acceptance of evidence. In his espousal of a particular view, he has accused the judges of not having  relied on evidence (when in fact they have, as already shown above) while he seems to be oblivious of his own discomfort with evidence.

P.P.Rao, a distinguished jurist wonders how the court can divide the disputed land into three portions when none of the petitioners asked for division of land. Justice Khan has clarified this aspect quoting an earlier judgment. He has opined that though there was no specific prayer made by the plaintiffs seeking partition, this should not come in the way of granting a decree for partition and separate possession of the share of the plaintiff. Denial of relief would only lead to another suit. Multiplicity of proceedings should normally be avoided as the same tends to delay justice.

Justice Khan has amply explained why he has not delved deep into history and archaeology. He did not want to be caught in the crossfire of historians. As the Supreme Court has held in Karnataka Board of Wakfs vs.Government of India , there is no room for historical facts and claims in a title suit of civil nature.