NGOs: Voice of Dissent or Agent of Disruption?

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The Foreigners Division in Union Home Ministry seems to be burning midnight oil these days to take on NGOs for the past few months. Since the leakage of an Intelligence Bureau report on NGOs in June last year, the efforts to teach a lesson to those civil society organizations for “putting the clock back” had gathered steam. It is now reaching a crescendo with news spilling out every other day about an NGO coming under the scanner. For authorities, NGOs have suddenly become an “agent of disruption” who should be “contained” even at the cost of facing allegations of muzzling dissent.

On its own, the government apparatus has declared it to be the sole custodian and guardian of “national interest” while those voices of dissent, whether it is an individual or an organization, are branded anti-development and anti-national. No doubt, one has to follow the law of the land. They have to be accountable and transparent. Erring NGOs will have to face music. At the same time, question arises whether the recent overdrive against NGOs stand the question of reason. Does government’s high moral ground on safeguarding country’s interest act as a buffer to stifle rights based protests?

Last two months have witnessed a variety of activities against NGOs despite the Home Ministry having egg on its face after Delhi High Court on at least three occasions ruling against the government. The Ministry was asked to defreeze accounts of Greenpeace at least twice while it also ruled as illegal the offloading of London-bound Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai. Despite the reverses for government, Greenpeace India still faces closure with the government squeezing it with a show cause notice. Ford Foundation has been put on prior permission list while Greenpeace International activist Aaron Gray-Block was denied entry in India, permission to 8,975 NGOs to collect foreign funds were cancelled and draft amendments to make have a real time monitoring of receipt and use of foreign funds – the Home Ministry has been busy throughout this summer.

The latest in this string of actions is the CBI probe into the “misuse” of foreign funds by Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Ltd. If one may find this action curious, he cannot be blamed as Setalvad was in the forefront of a relentless fight against Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister.

One may have a view about the whole NGO concept like CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat who wrote one of the finest critiques in 1984 on such outfits. He emphasized the need for a “sustained ideological campaign” against the “pseudo-radical postures” of such action groups. Their role and the question of what interests they serve should be debated. That exactly is not happening. Over a period of times, governments are using strong-arm tactics to deal with them. Government and political leadership have reasons to fear NGOs and it lies in their failure to connect to people and take up their cause. That is why they fear NGOs, which uses their networking and other skills to reach out to the affected masses. NGOs reach out to people who are otherwise not attended by mainstream parties.

If a mainstream politician does not find time and energy to address the concerns of affected parties in a far-off Mahan or Niyamgiri or Narmada or Kudankulam on the pretext of developmental concerns, the victims will flock to those who provide succor. If a government bulldozes development through the throat of common man, then there would be dissent. It is this dissent that government fears as it can turn into hurricane that can question its very existence.

The problem with the government is that it perceives civil society as an extension of governance structure where it is just meant to help officials with reports and suggestions. Government always wants pliable NGOs. They want to create a pool of NGOs which would be sympathetic to them. They have to understand that civil society is not an extension but an independent arm of any democratic set up. In such a scenario, there will be dissent and government will have to listen.

During UPA regime, the consultation with NGOs was institutionalized through National Advisory Council (NAC) but the relationship with the civil society hit a rock bottom as they took on corruption in the government. The NDA government as a whole shares the distrust Prime Minister Narendra Modi has for NGOs. Modi government has heightened the decibel levels, repeating UPA argument that many NGOs are acting against the economic interests of the country. The question remains whether political leadership is listening to grievances of common man. Instead of addressing the grievances, government is, sadly, trying to muzzle dissent in the name of development in which a majority has little stake and only loss of livelihood.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight on June 28, 2015)

Mahan: Flashpoint for Govt and NGOs in India

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Mahan in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli, where one of oldest Sal forests in Asia is battling for its survival, has become the biggest battleground for the government and corporates on one side and civil society on the other. Government and corporates like Essar and Hindalco are trying to unearth the untapped coal to fuel their power projects while NGOs like Greenpeace are battling possible devastation to lives of men and women as well as flora and fauna, and their livelihood.

Several power projects are envisaged in this region with some estimating that around 35,000 MW of power would be generated from the plants situated in the otherwise nondescript Singrauli. Among them, four projects hog the limelight. The Essar-owned Mahan Super Thermal Power project (Unit 1 operational and Unit 2 under construction), Hindalco-owned Mahan Captive Thermal Power project (3 out of 6 units operationalised) and Mahan Aluminium Ltd as well as their joint venture Mahan coal block, meant to supply coal to their power projects. The coal block allocation was recently scrapped by Supreme Court due to irregularities in its distribution.

Both Essar and Hindalco plants plan to draw coal from Mahan coal block, which has some 150 tonnes of coal, but mining cannot be started as clearances are yet to come.

Greenpeace has brought the struggle against the projects in Mahan in international limelight since 2012. “Government is reviewing major environmental laws, including the Forest Rights Act that has been key in protecting forest dwellers. This is why a fight such as Mahan in India is critical,” Greenpeace campaigner Priya Pillai said recently.

In a sense, Pillai became the face of Mahan protests after government offloaded her from a London-bound plane when she was headed to brief UK MPs about the project. It was alleged that Greenpeace used foreign funds to create protests in Mahan and the NGO was acting at the behest of foreign countries to pull back India’s development projects.

The fight is still on in Mahan and one has to wait to see who will have the last laugh. (ENDS)

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on June 28, 2015)

‘Baap’ of entertainment, Maa’ of cricket — IPL for Sony

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IPL has always attracted adverse comments from pure sports enthusiasts for its entertainment quotient and its official broadcaster ‘Sony’ wanted it to be a “biggest block buster event” on TV.

In its presentation before the IPL Governing Council in November 2007 while competing for broadcasting rights, the Sony team said, they “want to make IPL the ‘baap’ of entertainment and ‘maa’ of cricket”. By this, the broadcaster meant they wanted to make the event the ultimate sporting extravaganza.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Sony’s emphasis was that IPL should be “shown as an entertainment and not against any sport”. Sony warned that IPL has the power to “kill any sport and any form of cricket”, the minutes said.

Separate anthems for teams and separate team colour were other suggestions from them who also wanted to pitch franchise fans against each other. “Divide the country into various factions to get local regional support,” they said.

It suggested that one of the keys for success would to move beyond male viewers and take steps to “co-opt kid/family” into viewing matches. While Sony did not want to “acquire a franchise as it may make them biased”, one of its competitors Nimbus said broadcaster might be accorded preferential option to acquire a team.

ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) was another in the ring for broadcast rights but Sony, which later tied up with World Sports Group (WSG) won the rights.

After the presentations, IPL governing council members deliberated on the issue with then BCCI Treasurer N Srinivasan pointed out that the broadcaster should enhance the product and not only be valued on money. Then IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi said IPL is a new product and it was a “do or die situation” for them and the reach of the broadcaster was “very important”.

BCCI member Arun Jaitley, now Finance Minister, said it should be ensured that the criterion set for selecting broadcasters should not be stringent else many bidders will not fit the bill and the “value of the bid can/will come down”. The minutes quoted Jaitley as saying, “Hence we need to be flexible and marketing procedures should be predetermined.

The award of media rights to WSG-Sony later ended in controversy with Enforcement Directorate questioning the BCCI decision to guarantee payment of Rs 425 crore to WSG in case Sony refused to pay the agreed facilitation fee.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 28, 2015)

MHA adamant on handling airport security

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Civil Aviation Ministry may want a dedicated force under its control to man airport security but the Union Home Ministry is opposed to the proposal, expressing fear that a force under civilian control could lead to “unionism” and “questionable” standard of discipline.

The demand for a dedicated airport security force was renewed by Civil Aviation Ministry recently after the incident in Karipur (Kozhikode) airport in Kerala where one CISF personnel was killed following a scuffle with airport staff.

Security sources said the Home Ministry and the CISF, which is presently guarding airports across the country, are against such a move saying it would be detrimental to the whole security scenario in the country and they have opposed it.

The Home Ministry’s argument is that CISF is a central paramilitary force and it has established mechanisms of intelligence sharing through agencies like Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre (SMAC). A new force under a different Ministry, sources said, would find this “extremely difficult” to replicate

Emphasising that establishment of any institution has a long gestation period, the official argued that the CISF over the years established itself as a dedicated aviation security force. Any change in this set up would set the “clock back by more than a decade” and expose these vital and sensitive installations to “unwarranted situations and threats”, it said.

It said airports require a “well-trained, competent, professional and disciplined” force due to prevailing threat scenario.

“Any proposal for a separated dispensation like the ASF would fall short on many counts. As a separate component under civilian control, the standard of discipline would be questionable. Unionism too would be an issue any strike at the Airports would be a bad scenario,” the official warned.

An aviation security force under a different ministry would find it difficult to “act optimally” due to co-ordination issues. CISF being part of Home Ministry would be able to ensure real time response thorough collaboration with other agencies, which also fall under its jurisdiction.

Security sources also said CISF has already achieved standardisation in implementation of aviation security rules and procedures across the country, which was “totally” lacking earlier.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 27, 2015)

Don’t bring Congressman to meet NaMo, says Lalit Modi to RR

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‘Rajasthan Royals’ officials, who were looking at Gujarat as its second venue, wanted to meet then Chief Minister Narendra Modi but IPL chief Lalit Modi cautioned them against bringing a man who was perceived to be close to Congress for the meeting.

A well-connected man, Lalit knew the need for not offending prominent personalities and that was why he advised them in September 2009 not to bring one ‘Ranjit’ for a meeting with Modi, who was also the president of Gujarat Cricket Association.

It was not known whether Rajasthan Royals met Narendra Modi following this.

Rajasthan Royals Vice Chairman Santanu Chari wrote an email to Lalit on September 16, 2009 seeking his help in setting up a meeting for ‘Ranjit’ and himself with Narendra Modi and office bearers in the next two weeks to work out key relationships.

They wanted to start interaction with office bearers to work out IPL plans and also hospitality and ticketing issues. Chari said he wanted to check with Lalit his “thoughts or anything that we should consider” as they wanted to meet the newly constituted Gujarat Cricket Association office bearers and build relationships.

Lalit replied two-and-half hours later saying let him meet Modi, whom he projected as someone who was close to him, first. He also said he did not want politics to seep into IPL.

“Let me meet him first. I am meeting him on Sunday. Ranjit – no. Seen as Congressman. Operating team to do that. I don’t want politics here. They will do what’s needed. He is very close to me,” Lalit’s reply said.

The mails were also marked to Rajasthan Royals co-owners Manoj Badale and Suresh Chellaram, who is Lalit’s brother-in-law.

While Chari thanked him for “the advice”, Badale replied to Lalit’s mail saying it “makes sense”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 26, 2015)

BCCI bigwigs never challenged Lalit in IPL meetings!!

Lalit Modi’s colleagues in BCCI seem to have given him a long rope as they “hardly” discussed or expressed dissent on decisions taken by the former IPL Chairman.

Former cricketer Ravi Shastri has told Enforcement Directorate that he does “not remember” any member objecting to any major decision” taken by Modi.

Former BCCI Chairmen Sharad Pawar and Shashank Manohar and other cricket administrators N Srinivasan, Arun Jaitley and Rajiv Shukla were among those who attended IPL Governing Council meetings chaired by Modi.

Shastri, who was inducted into the IPL Governing Council, said he agreed to be part of IPL as he thought it was a “unique and much needed concept for the game to evolve”. Shastri, a former all rounder, is presently Indian cricket team Director.

While recording his statement in August 2011, the ED specifically asked him about the decision making process of IPL Governing Council.

“I was not involved in the minute details of the League and my role was limited to advising the IPL on cricketing issues. The major decisions were taken by Modi since he was the Chairman of the IPL. I can say that there was hardly any discussion regarding the decisions taken by Modi and generally his decisions were ratified by the Governing Council,” Shastri said.

To another question whether any issue was discussed and deliberated in the Governing Council before a final decision was taken, he said till IPL3 (2010), there was “hardly any discussion in the meetings” and the decisions taken by Modi were approved in the meeting.

“Generally the decisions were communicated in the minutes or in the subsequent meeting of the Governing Council. After IPL3, decisions are taken after thorough inspection in the Governing Council,” he said.

Queried whether any objection was raised against any decision taken by Modi, he said he does not remember any member objecting to any major decision taken by the then IPL chief.

Shastri was also asked about agreement signed with domestic and foreign players and negotiations with foreign cricket boards to which he answered that he was not involved in such exercises.

He said Pawar approached informing him, Sunil Gavaskar and M A K Pataudi about the concept of IPL. Modi briefed Shastri in 2007 about IPL.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 25, 2015)

Lalit’s fight with Srini continues

Former IPL chief Lalit Modi has made a sensational allegation in his latest response to Enforcement Directorate that former BCCI president N Srinivasan’s actions cost the cricketing body a whopping Rs 2,882.04 crore.

In his 76-page defence to a 54-page showcause notice on irregularities in awarding media rights of IPL, Modi declined to take responsibility for the actions and sought to shift the blame to Srinivasan and others.

The latest reply filed on April 30 was in response to the showcause notice on the Rs 425 crore facilitation fee paid by MSM Singapore to WSG Mauritius. In this issue, notices were issued to 14 people that included Srinivasan and then COO of IPL Sundar Raman.

After recording statements of several officials of BCCI, Sony, WSG and others, the ED said Modi was “actively involved” in the negotiations on media rights. The ED complaint has also spoken about Modi trying to circumvent procedures to help WSG Mauritius get facilitation fee, which agencies are investigating whether it went to Modi’s coffers.

In the written response prepared by his lawyers that was posted on his website late Monday night, Modi claimed that Srinivasan reduced the number of IPL matches, gave up free commercial time of 150 second per match as well as theatre rights to help MSM.

According to Modi, BCCI lost Rs 1,255.44 crore due to reducing number of matches, Rs 869.60 crore due to loss caused giving commercial exploitation of commercial time, Rs 560 crore by giving up entertainment rights and another Rs 197 crore for giving theatrical rights. Modi arrived at these figures using his own calculations.

Srinivasan could not be reached for his comments on the fresh allegations. While recording his statement with ED in July 2010, Srinivasan said that Modi handled the media rights issue on his own and the IPL Governing Council had no role in it.

Modi, in a post in his website, claimed the ED has not found any “misdemeanour on my part” and “concluded responsibility in BCCI was collective rather than individual”. He said 16 show cause notices were served on him and he has replied to every single one.

Modi’s fight with Srinivasan is not new, as both had crossed swords earlier also. However, in earlier responses to ED notices, Modi had not made such allegations though he had put the onus on Srinivasan for the irregularities in other issues like receiving performance deposits from franchise deposit.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on June 24, 2015)

It is not all that ‘Lalit’ for Modi

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Thirty years ago on April 2, a young Indian student of Duke University was waiting to hear from a US court what turn his future would take. He was staring at a jail term for trafficking cocaine and assault. The 22-year-old Indian landed in police custody after he and his three friends went to buy cocaine for USD 10,000. The seller robbed them and did not give cocaine. They   suspected a college mate set them up and beat him up. The friends did get five-year probation. But a year later in 1986, the Indian boy entered into a plea bargain and was allowed to travel to his homeland on condition that he would do 200 hours of community service.

That was Lalit Modi’s first brush with law. He came to India then to avoid further trouble in the US while he now stays away from India to evade law here. Modi, considered the architect of IPL, now faces around two dozen investigations by agencies like Enforcement Directorate and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. In many cases, notices have also been issued to ex-BCCI colleagues like N Srinivasan.

Modi’s trouble began as skeletons tumbled out before IPL’s third edition. Rivals in BCCI were looking for an opportunity. They found plenty to target him, as Modi was not a man of procedures. Modi ran IPL as his fiefdom. He took decisions that were given a blanket clearance by IPL Governing Council later in “good faith”.

The 52-year-old flew out of India on May 13, 2010 not to set his legs again in India as he got a feeling that he may end up in jail. Summons and show cause notices did reach him but his lawyers cited “elevated” security threats did not allow them to meet him in person. Several agreements were in question for violation of foreign exchange laws. An unofficial assessment showed that the cases run into a value of over Rs 2,000 crore.

Take the case of FEMA violations in IPL’s dealings with IMG, payments to Cricket South Africa for conducting 2009 IPL and performance deposits by bidders. Modi and others were show caused by ED for doing forex business without RBI approval. Neither Modi nor others felt the need to take RBI approval. The IMG, engaged by Modi to help him in IPL management, was remitted Rs 88.48 crore without RBI approval.

In performance deposit case, BCCI accepted Rs 20 crore from UK-based Emerging Media, which was part of Rajasthan Royals. As per law, one has to take RBI permission before accepting such deposits.

After shifting IPL-2 to South Africa, transactions to the tune of Rs 243.45 crore were conducted with Cricket South Africa (CSA) by opening a dedicated bank account but not in the name of BCCI. For opening the account, according to the ED, IPL SA Pty Ltd was created as a front.

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In all these three cases, the ED has issued show cause notices to Modi, Srinivasan and others. Modi puts the blame on Srinivasan saying he played a key role as the latter BCCI Treasurer and later Secretary. However, cricket administrator Chirayu Amin said they approved Modi’s proposals in ‘good faith” as he had been “directly involved in concept of IPL”.

Another case that has become a Damocles’ sword for the former IPL czar is the Rs 425 crore IPL media rights deal with MSM-WSG. Here too, RBI approval was not sought in some transactions while Modi also faces an allegation that he pocketed USD 25 million out of USD 80 million paid by MSM to WSG to withdraw from telecast rights.

Issuance of guarantees for foreign players, foreign exchange components in digital and website rights are also under the scanner.

The trouble does not end there for Modi, who is now planning to buy stakes in a UK football club. His critics allege that Modi manipulated the bidding process for franchises by asking selective bidders how much to bid for a particular franchise. Opponents point to the narrow difference in amounts between the winner and the loser in one of the cases to point fingers and prompt ED to look into it.

A private jet he bought through a company based in Cayman Island is also under scanner of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). The latest to join this list is Modi’s Rs 11.63 crore investments in the company of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhare Raje’s son Dushyant.

Five years have gone by after the irregularities have come to light. However, it is yet to reach logical conclusions. After fresh revelations on #Lalitgate, the agencies have once again on a fast track mode as government is facing flak. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in December last had lambasted agencies for not concluding even a single case. The government and agencies will have to show some result soon.

(An edited version appeared Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on June 21, 2015)

LalitModi v/s Srini

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Lalit Modi had put the onus on N Srinivasan for violation of forex laws while organising the T20 league but the former BCCI chief believes they were “taken for a ride” by the ex-IPL chief, their interactions with law enforcement agencies showed.

The animosity they harbour for each other is evident in Modi’s responses to agencies like Enforcement Directorate and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. Srinivasan’s remarks against his rival are recorded in a Parliamentary Standing Committee report and a complaint he filed against Modi in Chennai.

In almost all responses to agencies, lawyers on behalf of Modi harped on same themes, saying there were no personal allegations against Modi and that Srinivasan played a “key role” in decision-making.

The cases included remittance of Rs 88.48 crore to International Management Group (IMG) without RBI permission, transaction of Rs 243.45 crore between BCCI and Cricket South Africa without RBI permission and acceptance of Performance Deposit from an NRI investor in Rajasthan Royal without RBI permission. Irregularities in awarding media rights to MSM-WSG were also probed by agencies.

Modi Srinivasan and other BCCI officials were also issued show cause notices related to FEMA violations.

An ED report said Modi was responsible for the conduct of IPL and had “full knowledge and awareness of the nature of transactions between BCCI and foreign parties”. It also found fault with Srinivasan, saying he failed to take prior permission of the RBI as required under FEMA before accepting deposit from persons residing abroad.

Modi’s stock argument was that Srinivasan was the Treasurer of BCCI when IPL was formed. “Without his being at the centre of decision making being in-charge of and responsible for all financial matters, none of these decisions could have been made,” he said adding taking permission from RBI was his responsibility.

He also goes on to say Srinivasan as defacto owner of Chennai Super Kings and BCCI office bearer knew about the working of IPL and was at all times “personally interested in its pecuniary and financial matters”.

Modi also went on to say that after becoming BCCI Secretary, Srinivasan routed all financial matters to Treasurer through his office.

On his part, while deposing before Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in 2011, Srinivasan said, “We were taken for a ride. Unfortunately, there was too much of power given to him. Was he above the IPL at that time? The powers given to him were like that and that is how he acted. It is no defence for me to say that some of us objected to it. We just put our heads down.”

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 20)

IndiGo, SpiceJet tops May performance

Low-cost carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet recorded an impressive over 90 per cent seat occupancy in May but Jet Airways witnessed a slip as it flew with more seats that are vacant.

The latest report from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also showed that Vistara, which had not-so-impressive seat occupancy in the past months, has also shown improvement compared to April.

SpiceJet improved its seat occupancy to 93.1 per cent in May from 88.7 per cent in April to be the first on list followed by IndiGo, which had 91.9 per cent seats filled as against 85.7 per cent. Vistara improved its seat occupancy to 71.1 per cent from 67.3 per cent.

“The passenger load factor in the month of May 2015 has shown increasing trend compared to previous month primarily due to the onset of tourist season,” the DGCA report said.

On the market share, IndiGo continued to be the topper with a spread of 38.9 per cent. While it was 36.4 per cent share in March, it rose to 37.8 per cent in April.

Jet Airways was a distant second with 18.3 per cent and Air India 15.8 per cent. Market shares of both these airline fell in May compared to that of April.

Bengaluru-based Air Pegassus, which started operations last month, flew 6,000 passengers in May and clocked a market share of 0.1 per cent.

Overall, domestic air traffic rose by 18.35 per cent in May over the same period last year. Domestic airlines together flew 71.27 lakh passengers in May as compared to 60.22 lakh passengers during May 2014.

In May, the DGCA received 858 complaints against nine airlines. Of these 793 were disposed off while investigations were going on in the remaining 65 complaints, the DGCA said.

DGCA had received 211 complaints against Jet Airways, besides 191 against IndiGo, 187 against SpiceJet and 173 against Air India.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 20, 2015)

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