Another day, another balloon goes pffft

The Adarsh Housing Society scam first hit the headlines in 2010. Eight years later, today, the Bombay High Court set aside the sanction, given in February 2016, by Maharashtra governor Vidyasagar Rao to prosecute former state Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. Here is the part that should make you sit up and take notice:

A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Sadhana Jadhav ruled that though the CBI had claimed to be in possession of fresh evidence against Mr. Chavan at the time of seeking the sanction, it “failed to present any fresh evidence”.

So here we go again. A scam is unearthed – and make no mistake, there was much about how bureaucrats, politicians of various parties, and senior military officers conspired to bend FSI, zoning and ownership rules in exchange for flats that was patently fraudulent.

 

With much fanfare, the CBI steps in. Media houses vie with each other to quote ‘unnamed CBI sources’ making a series of sensational claims of proof. The case drags its way through the courts at a pace any self-respecting snail would scorn. And finally, when the verdict is in, it turns out the investigation was shoddy (it is increasingly difficult to avoid the suspicion that often it is deliberately so),  no real proof was presented, and yet another scam gets buried. The media for its part moves on to the next narrative — have you ever seen an instance where the media went to its ‘sources’ and demanded an explanation for all the tall claims?

 

Just a passing thought, on a busy day.

1.76 lakh crore and other fictions

For those interested, here is the full text of the CBI special court’s judgment in the case of CBI vs A Raja and Ors. It is a lot to read and unpack, particularly if you want (as I do) to go back in time and check out the original reporting/statements at each point, on each issue and allegation.

There is also a lot of commentary surrounding the verdict; people are also exhuming cautionary articles from the past and going ‘I told you so’. I have, as time permits, been collecting these and will do a roundup soon. For now, though, on a day of many meetings, I’ll leave you with two pieces.

#1. An excerpt from Vinod Rai’s book, Not Just An Accountant, where he attempts to justify his notional 1.76 lakh crore figure.

#2. A piece by Shekhar Gupta where he talks of the harm caused by intemperate calculations of various scams, and why none of these scams will ever result in judgments in the courts. A relevant clip, from a piece you need to read in its entirety:

So here I am again. Rs 1.76 lakh crore, the popularly peddled and believed size of the 2G scam in 2007 was 4.41 per cent of India’s GDP. It was a couple of billion dollars more than twice our entire defence budget for that year.

….

The reason is simple. When the CAG offered different figures of notional loss in 2G spectrum, from Rs 57,000 crore to Rs 1.76 lakh crore, everybody, from Modi to almost all of the media, jumped for the highest amount. The media has been slowly getting off that kerb. But the BJP is stuck. With every round of spectrum release, it faces the same embarrassing challenge, to justify its Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss fallacy as new auctions yield no more than a fraction of that. That’s why the shyness in freeing up more spectrum, a textbook case of shooting yourself in the foot. It was a touching speech a couple of years ago when speaking at a CAG event, Arun Jaitley cautioned it against exaggeration and drew the line between activism and sensationalism.

The argument here is simple: Once the BJP latched on to the 1.76 crore figure and rode it for all its political worth, it inadvertently established a benchmark, to which it remains shackled now that it is in power. Thus, in the 2015 auction (full details here), the government realized a total of Rs 1,09,874 crore (less than the 1.76 crore notional loss touted for the earlier auction, so does this mean the government undersold?), and 11% of the available spectrum remained unsold because the government, held captive to the ‘scam’ figure it had propagated when in opposition, was forced to set the base price too high.

The story repeated in 2016. Only 40% of the available spectrum was bought at auction; only Rs 65,789 crore was realized. . In other words, a valuable resource that could materially speed up the information superhighway remains unsold because the government of the day is forced to live with the valuation it touted to “prove” a scam. And, over two auctions spread over two years, the government has not yet raised the figure it had claimed, when in opposition, the previous government could have realized.

The only outcome? As Gupta argues in his piece:

India’s telecom growth has been held to ransom by that mythology and the BJP government will spend embarrassing months dismounting that tiger.

Maybe it will manage a clean dismount. Maybe not. How, though, do you calculate the enormous damage done in the interim, just so a party could win an election? What is the “notional value” of that scam?

But never mind all that: Remember Judge Loya? Remember the Caravan story that first threw his mysterious death into the spotlight?

Here is the follow-up, and it is equally scary.

 

Amusing ourselves to death

For the two weeks that I have been away, I lived a pre-internet life. I consumed “news”, such as it is, through the morning papers and ignored the internet; I avoided calls except for a couple of absolutely urgent ones; I left messages unresponded to; I refrained from obsessively checking my mailbox, and limited mail time to 15 minutes at the end of each day.

 

In this time I went for long walks; I met a couple of friends for long conversations over breakfast/lunch; I caught up with my wife who, too, had put her phone away for the duration; I learned to breathe again.
Then, yesterday, I reverted to type. I scrolled through the main Twitter timeline and my curated news links; paged through the few dozen news websites I’ve bookmarked in my ‘dailies’ file; checked messages and DMs as they came in, and I realized just how much the internet shrinks the time and the mind-space available for everything else.

Continue reading

Oops!

It is not that the Delhi High Court dismissed Subramanian Swamy’s PIL seeking a court-monitored SIT investigation into the death of Sunanda Pushkar, though there is that.

It is not that an acerbic, and clearly annoyed, high court called out the PIL as a “political interest litigation” — though there is that, too.

What should make you sit up and take notice is this:

The court also said Swamy appears to have concealed data or information which he should have disclosed at the first instance. The central government, as well as the Delhi Police, told the high court that they did not subscribe to the views expressed by Swamy that the probe in the case has been influenced by Tharoor.

And this:

It was also observed by the Court that Swamy, on being specifically asked about the basis of his allegations, says that he shall file another affidavit regarding the same, thus admitting that he has information that was not filed before and which ought to have been filed.

Which is to say, having first filed a PIL where facts in his position relevant to the case were not disclosed, and having been pulled up severely by the court, Swamy now wants a do-over.

All that has been achieved so far, meanwhile, is that the new lexicon for a New India acquires another phrase: political interest litigation.

Update, 6:45 PM: Here in PDF form is the full order by the Delhi High Court. Elsewhere, predictably:

 

 

BCCI: the Man Piaba edition

A few news items caught my eye in sequence.

#1. The BCCI will issue another notice (because he blithely ignored the earlier one) to its GM (Operations) MV Sridhar, in matters relating to conflict of interest and possible corruption.

#2. Javagal Srinath to inspect new cricket venues for suitability — his fact-finding trips to be planned by MV Sridhar.

Huh? I’d imagine that if I was employed by a company and it had reason to question me about acts of malfeasance, the first thing that would happen is I would be blocked from playing a role in daily operations. No?

Meanwhile: the Committee of Administrators in a submission to the Supreme Court spoke among other things about the huge expenses being run up by senior board officials. The board’s response? ‘I am not expensive. You are expensive. Nyaaah!’

Elsewhere, the Supreme Court has issued show cause notices to the head honchos of the board, for deliberately flouting their orders.

It’s looking like one of those farcical scenes in old time Westerns, where everyone is holding a gun to everyone else’s head. And in the background, Harry Belafonte’s Man Piaba plays on, softly.

It was clear as mud but it covered the ground
And the confusion made the brain go ’round.

PostScript: In my most recent Scroll column, I had made a tangential point about women’s cricket:

Recent media reports talk of the money officials of the rump BCCI have been spending on themselves. Which reminds me of a point made in an earlier column about women’s cricket. The last time our women cricketers had a contract – in fact, the only time they had a contract – the total annual outlay on 11 players was Rs 1.3 crore. Compare that to the amount of money being spent on acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary and treasurer Anirudh Choudhary.

A question: Have our women cricketers, whose contracts expired in November 2016, gotten their new contracts yet? No? Oh?

Seems a no-brainer, no? Contracts expire, you either renew, or cancel, and whichever it is, you inform the concerned people? How hard can that be to understand, and practice?

The reason the BCCI drags its feet on the question? This.

“Even now, I would still say that it is not yet well accepted within BCCI that women’s cricket is doing well. It is very difficult for them (some BCCI members) to accept the fact that this team has done very well,” said (Diana) Edulji.

Recalling her first meeting with former BCCI president N Srinivasan after he took over the reins in 2011, she said, “When Mr Srinivasan became president, I would like to say that I went to congratulate him at the Wankhede Stadium. He said, ‘If I had my way, I wouldn’t let women’s cricket happen’. He hates women’s cricket.”

 

 

 

Due process: the sequel

In Madhya Pradesh, two young men were jailed for “hurting the sentiments of the Hindus” — to wit, sharing a morphed image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Elsewhere, others manufacture and share morphed images and it is not they but the subjects of the faked videos that get arrested — but never mind that now).

Here’s the sequel: having arrested them under the provisions of a law the Supreme Court had struck down as “unconstitutional” a year ago, the police now have no idea what to do with them. (Emphasis mine)

“We don’t know how to proceed because we came to know later that the Section 66(A) was struck down by the SC. We have sent the case details to the district prosecution office,’’ in-charge of Kotwali Police Station Satish Singh Chouhan told The Indian Express Sunday.

We arrested him because local RSS cadres were angry about his post and came in large number to register a case,’’ said Chouhan.

That is what usually happens when the law bends to interest groups. You are supposed to arrest people if there is grounds to believe they broke the law — not because someone is pissed and flexes muscles.

But do they learn? Not a hope in hell. From the same report:

While the Sheopur police are still clueless, their counterparts in Anuppur have booked another Muslim youth under the same section of the IT Act for his Facebook comment against the RSS chief.

Update, via a friend on Facebook: Girish Shahane on why police in India are focussed more on maintaining order rather than upholding the law is worth your time.

That cost includes official backing given to conservative community leaders, and a tolerance for groups that break the law, stopping trains and blocking roads in protest, for instance. This tolerance nudges groups that might have preferred less intrusive forms of demonstration toward civil disobedience, for only the threat of the mob gains the attention and respect of the authorities.