Who allowed Kingfisher Airlines to accumulate dues: Par Paenl asks AAI

A Parliamentary panel has asked the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to fix the responsibility of officers who allowed now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines to accumulate Rs 294.69 crore of dues.

The money owed by Kingfisher Airlines is part of total dues of Rs 4,579.57 crore from various entities, including airlines, at the end of December last year.

Kingfisher Airlines, promoted by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, ran out operations in 2012 following financial difficulties. Mallya, who left India in last March and settled in the United Kingdom, is wanted in India in cases of loan default and money laundering.

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Analysing the functioning of AAI, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture said it was concerned about the huge amount of outstanding dues of AAI for a long time.

The panel minced no words in criticising AAI for “allowing the accumulation of dues (by Kingfisher Airlines) to such a high level in violation of all the existing rules and procedures in practice”.

It asked the AAI to be “cautious in future” to ensure that no individual stakeholder or airlines is accumulating “such high levels of dues”.

“The Committee also recommends that AAI may conduct an internal inquiry (i) to fix the responsibility of AAI officials for the accumulation of dues by Kingfisher Airlines and (ii) to strengthen the systems and procedures to prevent the recurrence of accumulation of dues,” the panel said in its report on Demands for Grants (2017-18) for Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The AAI has filed a legal suit against Kingfisher Airlines to recover its dues.

Of the Rs 4,579.57 crore, Rs 2,905.70 crore is part of traffic dues. Air India owes Rs 2,299.55 crore in traffic dues and Rs 229.89 crore in non-traffic dues while foreign airlines ow Rs 246.53 crore and Rs 11.73 crore respectively.

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‘Child sex abuse cases overwhelmingly under-reported’

Child sex abuses incidents are “overwhelmingly under-reported” and official data points to “extremely poor” law enforcement of such cases, including online abuse, a Parliamentary panel has said.
Only 102 cases of online child abuse were reported in 2015 as against 45 reported in 2014, according to the latest figures available with the government. The UNICEF in its report ‘Child Online Protection in India’ had earlier expressed concerned over the under-reporting of incidents and non-availability of data on online abuse of children.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has now asked the government to take measures to make law enforcement agencies aware of the challenging aspects of cybercrimes against children.
The panel, , headed by former Home Minister P Chidambaram, is of the view that available data indicates the “extremely poor law enforcement” on these crimes, as it only collects information of reported cases and it “fails to give a reflection of true prevalence” of such crimes.
“The Committee is anguished to note the severe under-reporting of crimes related to online child sex abuse in India. Firstly, NCRB does not maintain any separate record of cyber crimes against children. Secondly, whatever data is collected by NCRB presently, however rudimentary it may be, provides an insight into the state of law enforcement in the country as it is unbelievable that in most of the states there is no incidence of any online child sex abuses,” the panel said.
It also recommended that from 2017 itself NCRB should collate all the instances of online child sex abuse and other cyber-crimes against children under a separate category so that performance of law enforcement agencies can be analysed.
While acknowledging that stigma and propensity of parents to not involve police are one of the reasons for under-reporting, it said the process of reporting such crimes needs to be simplified and identity of children involved be protected to ensure that such crimes do not go unreported.
It wanted the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to work towards enhancing capacities of police and cyber forensic agencies. All States should create an Online Cyber Crime Reporting Platform under Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children Scheme.
The MHA has informed the panel that a new scheme ‘Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC)’ will be implemented in 2017-18. The scheme envisages creation of Online Cyber Crime Reporting Platform, National Cyber Forensic Laboratory, research and development for new tools, training and capacity building.
(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 19, 2017)

Are you really interested in AI revival, Par Panel asks FinMin

Unimpressed by the reduction in allocation for Air India, a Parliamentary panel has rapped the Ministry of Finance, saying all factors should be considered before finalising the amount if its intention is to revive the national carrier.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture reduction of equity infusion by Rs 787 crore in 2017-18 Budget will “adversely affect” Air India’s financial and operational performance.

“It may be forced to take loans from banks and financial institutions at a higher interest rate to meet the shortfall, which was not contemplated under the Financial Restructuring Plan,” the panel headed by Trinamool Congress MP Mukul Roy said.

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In 2017-18, the government has allocated Rs 1,800 crore for equity infusion in the national carrier as against Rs 2,587 crore as per the Turn Around Plan and Financial Restructuring Plan (TAP/FRP) envisaged in 2011 to help the carrier.

The Committee said “such short fall”, at this stage when the company is at a
“critical position” in achieving the TAP targets, should be avoided.

“Since the committed financial support from the Government is vital to sustain the momentum of performance of Air India, the Committee strongly recommends that the full amount of equity infusion should be restored to Air India,” it said. The panel also wanted the Ministry to ensure that the amount committed under the TAP should be allocated to Air India.

On Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey’s submission that Air India’s profit was severely dented by around Rs 1,000 crore due to rupee depreciation and foreign exchange variation, the committee said these points were not taken into account while deciding on equity infusion.

The panel said, “if the intention of the Ministry of Finance is the revival of Air India, then the former should seriously consider the factors which are beyond the control of Air India such as depreciation of rupee and foreign exchange variation, while deciding the amount of equity infusion.”

The Ministry informed the panel that the shortfall in equity infusion would create “undue liquidity” issues and would be “unable to meet” its financial commitments and maintain the operational efficiency.

The equity infusion sought by the Ministry included Rs 1,861 crore for payment of principal or interest on government guaranteed loans and debentures.

If Air India Ltd is not able to repay, it may lead to the invocation of the government guarantees and downgrading of credit ratings. The banks had promised support only if the government brings in requisite equity infusions, the Ministry said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 18, 2017)

ParPanel rejects Govt’s rosy depiction of internal sec situation

Rejecting the government’s claim of overall improvement in internal security, a Parliamentary panel on Wednesday expressed anguish over the “vulnerabilities and loopholes” in security apparatus that were exposed by terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by former Home Minister P Chidambaram, minced no words in saying that the panel did “not share the perception” of the Ministry of Home Affairs that the “overall internal security scenario remained under control during 2016”.

It said the Maoist theatre and terrorism in the hinterland were “comparatively muted” but “the opposite is, however, true in the case of cross border terrorism” in Kashmir, which “remained on the boil” throughout 2016.

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(A Kashmiri masked protester throws back an exploded tear gas shell at Indian policemen during a protest. Courtesy: BBC)

A “new trend” of terrorist violence that is visible is targeting of security establishments of paramilitary and armed forces, the panel said referring to the killing of 82 personnel.

The panel also acknowledged that there is a “sinister and complex connection between the simultaneous rise” in stone pelting incidents and suicide attacks on establishments of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

It was also “aware of the disturbing trend of recruitment and training” of local youth by militants in the light of the numerous infiltration bids foiled by the forces.

There has been a rise in the number of law and order incidents, particularly incidents of stone pelting which seems to have become a regular feature in some parts of Kashmir. Numerous incidents of picketing of police stations and snatching of rifles from police and para-military personnel point towards local sourcing of arms,” the panel noted.

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Terrorist Violence in Jammu and Kashmir

Incidents

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Terrorist violence

220

170

222

208

322

Civilians Killed

15

15

28

17

15

Security Forces Killed

15

53

47

39

82*

Militants Killed

72

67

110

108

150

Infiltration Attempts

264

277

222

121

364

Net Infiltration (Estimated)

121

97

65

33

112

* 46 out of 82 were Army/Air Force personnel

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While law and order incidents kept the forces busy, the panel said in its report on Demands for Grants (2017-18), terrorists “found time to reorganise themselves and perpetrate” attacks on the forces.

The committee wanted the Ministry must work towards “comprehensively breaking this nexus” through a multi-pronged strategy that include preventing youth from joining terrorists, choking terror funds and supply of arms. IT should also launch counter insurgency operations.

The MHA must put “rigorous efforts” to completely stop infiltration from across the border and prevent all types of terror activities. The security of the establishments of the forces should be tightened and the incidents of attacks on establishments of the forces should not be allowed to recur, the panel said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 16, 2017)

3,692 fake notes of Rs 2,000 seized since demonetisation

Counterfeiters need little time in copying and the new Rs 2,000 notes introduced soon after demonetisation last November are no different — authorities have so far seized 3,692 such fake notes.

State police, RBI, NIA and BSF have seized these fake notes with a face value of Rs 73.84 lakh in 42 cases where there are around 70 accused.

Gujarat leads the pack in seizures of fake Rs 2,000 notes between November 9 last year, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, and March 7 this year, followed by Delhi and Karnataka.

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Police and banks in Gujarat, the Prime Minister’s home state, have seized with 1,323 fake notes in three cases during this period while the national capital, Delhi, is close behind with seizure of 1,261 notes in two cases.

Karnataka is a distant third with its police detecting 266 such notes in six cases where seven persons are named as accused. In terms of cases, it has the highest number.

In his written reply in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said there have been instances where it has been found that the fake currency has been smuggled from neighbouring countries.

Whether the fake notes are of low quality, such as scanned/photocopies of genuine notes, or whether security features have been compromised, it is determined by investigation,” he said.

The new Rs 2,000 notes were introduced after Modi’s announcement on November 8, 2016 with an intent to take tackle black money, fake currency and terror funding.

According to the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), state police have seized 3,295 fake notes while banks or RBI have detected 51 such notes. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) have seized 198 notes and BSF another 148.

Among the five states that went to Assembly elections, Punjab had one case during the period in which 220 fake notes were detected while one note each was seized in Uttarakhand and Manipur. Uttar Pradesh and Goa did not have any such seizure.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 15, 2017)

Irom Sharmila, elections and our choices

Anti-AFSPA icon Iron Sharmila on Saturday ‘retired hurt’ from politics after she bit the dust in her first electoral battle garnering only 90 votes, that too less than what NOTA polled.

Sharmila (44), who contested as Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRAJA) candidate, lost to Chief Minister Ibobi Singh in Thoubal, ending a distant fourth.

Her election performance showed that the people have not taken kindly to her decision to end her 16-year-old fast against the “draconian” AFSPA in last August. She was 28-years-old when she started her fast in protest against the massacre of 10 people in Imphal, demanding repeal of AFSPA.

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“I am fed up with the political system. I have decided to quit active politics. I will move to south India as I need to calm my mind. I will continue my fight against AFSPA until and unless it is repealed. But I will fight as a social activist,” she was quoted as saying.

In last August, she had said she wanted to become the Chief Minister of the state where there was “no democracy” and cleanse the system.

If Sharmila could not garner even 143 votes, which the NOTA polled, other PRAJA candidates also did not fare well. Najima Bibi, the first Muslim women candidate in Manipur ended with just 33 votes.

Sharmila had a formidable opponent in the Chief Minister, who was facing trouble towards the end of his nearly 15-year-old rule in the state.

Singh won garnering 18,649 votes while his main opponent BJP’s L Basanta Singh could garner only 8,179. While Singh’s majority was 10,470 votes, Trinamool Congress candidate L S Singh could get 144 and an independent A Manglemjao Singh got 66 and NOTA 143.

Sharmila, a global icon who protested the immunity enjoyed by military personnel while fighting insurgency in her state, had reasoned that people may be negative on her decision but such people do not want any real change and wish to see her just as a symbol of resistance.

However, from the beginning itself, she knew the going was not that easy, as many of her supporters during her fast had left her. Also, she did not have the money power to run an electoral campaign. On Friday, she said everybody knows muscle and money power is being openly used by parties. “In case of my defeat, I want to try in 2019 election,” she had said.

In her affidavit submitted along with her nomination papers, she had declared she had assets worth Rs 2.6 lakh only, with Rs 10,000 in cash and rest in a bank account.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 12, 2017)

Women, Muslim lawmakers’ numbers dwindle

The representation of women and Muslims further dwindled in the country’s legislatures with lesser numbers getting the mandate in the latest edition of Assembly elections.

An initial analysis showed that 50 women were elected to the five Assemblies — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa — compared to 59 in 2012 while the number of Muslim lawmakers had a drastic reduction from 76 to 28.

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The main reason for the sharp decline in Muslim lawmakers was due to the thumping victory of BJP in Uttar Pradesh where it fielded not a single candidate from the minority community.

There were 71 Muslim MLAs in the outgoing UP Assembly, with SP and BSP together accounting for around 60. This has now declined to around 25 despite BSP, predominantly a party of Dalits, fielding nearly 100 candidates out of 403.

Of the newly-elected Muslim MLAs, 16 are from the SP while 7 belong to BSP and Congress 2 in Uttar Pradesh.

Political analysts points to communal polarisation for such a dismal show by Muslim candidates. They accuse both BJP and regional parties Samajwadi Party and BSP as well as Congress for communal polarisation.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau said the BJP victory in UP was due to a “mix of rank communal appeal and by putting together a wide ranging caste coalition”. It said, “while acknowledging the massive mandate that the BJP has received, it also has implications that are dangerous for the country as it will encourage the brand of Hindutva politics which is divisive and harmful for the country.”

Echoing this view, the CPI said the results were a “big setback” to secular and democratic forces in the country.

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Nota Vote

Around 9.34 lakh voters in five states — UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur — felt that none of the over 6,500 candidates were worth their vote. They opted the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option to express their disapproval of the candidates in fray in their respective constituencies.

Of the 9.34 lakh NOTA voters, Goa had the highest proportion with 1.2% followed by 1 per cent in Uttarakhand. While UP had 0.9% of its voters choosing NOTA, Punjab had 0.7% and Manipur 0.5% voters choosing not to vote for any particular candidate. In numbers, UP had 7.56 lakh such voters followed by Punjab 1.08 lakh.

Goa — 10,882 (1.2%)
Manipur — 8,563 (0.5%)
Punjab — 1,08,157 (0.7%)
Uttarakhand — 50,408 (1%)
UP — 7,56,506 (0.9%)

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On the women front, Punjab could elect only six women to its new Assembly while in 2012, it had chosen 16. Uttarakhand chose five women to its Assembly. It had five MLAs in the outgoing Assembly also. Uttar Pradesh has chosen 37 women, up from 35 in the previous assembly.

These elections have seen lesser number of women candidates compared to the previous polls. Manipur had just 11 women while Goa had 18, Uttarakhand 56 and Uttar Pradesh 344. They accounted for less than 7.75% of over 6,500 candidates.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 12, 2o17)

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