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Mumbai, 8th February, 2016, Mumbai: So what is going on with RNA Builders? Back in December 2013, those who had purchased flats in RNA Grande, Kandivali West, must have been quite impressed by this notice issued by RNA Universal, signed by Anil Aggarwal himself, proclaiming that flat buyers would be given possession for interior decoration and furniture work in October 2014, subject to force majeure. The passing away of Anil Aggarwal in May 2014 from the complications of bariatric surgery must indeed have been a “force majeure”, because the project is very far from complete, and hundreds of flat purchasers have become “Project Affected People”. It's an old story; shit happens, and it keeps happening in Mumbai. 

So, is RNA Corp the victim of a financial crisis? Or is it a willful defaulter and habitual truant? This auction notice says that RNA Corporate Park owes State Bank of India Rs 61.50 crore, and to realize this amount, parcels of land in Palghar district owned by RNA Corp Pvt. Ltd. will be auctioned. (If you have super-deep pockets and wish to bid in the auction, 23rd February 2016 is the last date for submitting your request letter of participation). But knowledgeable insiders think that SBI has joined the long list of RNA Corp's victims, because the land being auctioned is barely worth even Rs 40 crore, and so Anil's sons Anubhav and Gokul Aggarwal are saving over Rs 21 crore by being willful defaulters and letting the bank take a hit. Anil Aggarwal was a dab hand at fooling the government and the public, and he will now be laughing from the grave as his sons follow in his footsteps, they allege. It certainly looks like they could be right!

The art of selling an 18th floor flat in a 16-storey building is certainly something that the Aggarwals seem to excel at. Even Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis isn't surprised! In October 2015, RNA Corp spent crores on this front-page cover advert in prominent national dailies, showing their closeness to the Maharashtra Chief Minister and the Mira Bhayendar politicos. Barely three months later, in January 2016, the land-grabbing by RNA in Mira-Bhayendar was discovered, and a Stop Work Notice was issued by the District Collector. But did the Chief Minister blush? Nope, he didn't bat an eyelid! Fadnavis must have been thinking, “The Aggarwals made a fool of me, so what's new? It's all right, business-as-usual, because they have been making fools of Maharashtra government for a long time”.

It is indeed a fact of life that the late Anil Aggarwal has frequently given the babaji-ka-thullu to the administration in Maharashtra, and in return, they have kept giving him fresh lifelines. Many powerful people keep raising their voices against RNA, to no avail. A lesser business group would have fled in shame from the construction industry, but RNA Corp and its group companies just keep marching on. Hats off to them!

Some instances of when people and authorities pinpointed RNA's misdoings:

  1. Dr. Bharati Lavekar, BJP MLA from Versova, wrote this letter to CM Fadnavis last week, requesting him to cancel the agreement of Aram Nagar redevelopment project awarded to RNA by MHADA. She wrote that the tenants of Aram Nagar were kept in dark and the project would only benefit only RNA, and not tenants. The CM noted in red ink on the letter that VP MHADA should stay the redevelopment process and examine the issues.

  2. “The SRA scheme was initiated by the government to give a better quality of life to slumdwellers by moving them into well-constructed buildings. But the developer has taken undue advantage of this scheme for the last 12 years and is causing harassment to the Project Affected Persons (PAPs),” wrote Rajya Sabha MP Ramdas Athawale in this letter to Fadnavis in February 2015. In this letter, Athawale complained that although RNA builders had undertaken the redevelopment of Parishram SRA Cooperative Housing Society in Bandra East in 2002, it had completely stopped the construction work for the last two years, stopped paying rent to the displaced persons, and bounced the cheques issued to them. Although RNA was granted Commencement Certificate (CC) in 2004, it delayed construction by continually changing the plans of the sale-component for its undue advantage. As per a CAG report and as per the SRA Act, appropriate action has to be taken against the developer, Athawale said. After the demise of Anil Agarwal, his company was required to submit fresh Annexure-3 (financial capability report), or the developer should be changed by SRA, Athawale pointed out. “The developer has constructed A1 and A2 buildings in which the height of the individual flats is less than 8 ft 3 inches. The developer was given notice to demolish the same. After that, the same buildings were regularized.” said Athawale, pointing out the collusion of the administration with Anil Aggarwal. “The developer has illegally incorporated into his project the areas occupied by shop owners who are not within the scope of the SRA scheme. Also, he has illegally incorporated open plot of market admeasuring 2300 sq. metres. The developer has included 56 bogus Project Affected Persons (PAPs) supported by bogus documents. For the last 10 years, many people were accommodated in the transit camp, in individual units admeasuring around 100 square feet, forcing the families to live in cramped conditions and raising the probability of accidents. An FIR was registered against the builders for various MRTP violations. The offences were explained in a letter to the then Chief Minister Ashok Chavan by project affected persons

     

  3. Bombay High Court passed an order against GA Builders, an RNA group entity, on 21st September 2015 for not paying rent to tenants and not getting Occupation Certificate (OC). GA Builders Pvt. Ltd. is owned by Gokul Anilkumar Aggarwal, Anubhav Anilkumar Aggarwal and Saranga Anil Aggarwal. The order in “Manjula S. Chauhan V/s. GA Builders Pvt. Ltd. and Others” panned the builder for not getting Occupation Certificate, not paying transit rent and also breach of undertaking given to the court. But this order reveals only the tip of the iceberg; the society in question, namely GA Ganga Sagar CHS of Ghatkopar East, is so full of fraud, forgery and violations committed by GA Builders in collusion with the society's office bearers, that this building can never hope to get MCGM's occupation certificate. There are many criminal and civil suits pending in Metropolitan Court and High court pending in this case.

  4. East & West Builders (RNA Group) with the connivance of MCGM and SRA officials, illegally incorporated the Shastrinagar Municipal Market, Bandra East, and its open plot into an SRA scheme, causing MCGM an estimated loss of over Rs 150 crore. Thirteen shop owners led by Prabhakar M Shetty wrote a letter to CM Devendra Fadnavis in January 2015, explaining their plight. The letter says that in 2012, the developer demolished six shops completely and 21 shops partially, reducing their length by 12 feet and leaving only five feet. The shopkeepers were promised that they would be accommodated in the newly constructed building within six months. But till date, the construction work had not commenced, nor were they given any rent for alternative accommodation. In fact, after giving cheques to the shopkeepers, the builder fraudulently issued stop-payment instructions. All the shopkeepers' efforts to contact the developer on phone and in person have been futile. Although the developer has received IOA and CC as early as 2004, the A4 building that is supposed to be constructed for shop-owners of municipal market has not been started. The site for A4 building is currently an open plot without any obstructions or encumbrances, but the work is at a complete standstill. 

  5. In January 2012, MCGM itself had red-flagged RNA with this show-cause notice. Assistant Commissioner (Estates), MCGM, wrote to RNA's East & West Builders: “Whereas the Pariwar Safalya Cooperative Housing Society formed by the tenants on the subject property have appointed you as the developer for the redevelopment of the property; Whereas your architect has submitted the proposal for redevelopment of above property, the same was approved by Improvement Committee/Corporation under the Resolution no. 174 dated 7th Feb 2005 and No. 113 dated 10th February 2005 respectively, as per the total capitalized value amounting to Rs 29,02,91,270/- in the scheme is required to be paid by you to MCGM; Whereas you were required to complete the project within three years and also to pay remaining 90% capitalized value to MCGM before Occupation Certificate to sale component; Whereas you have failed to complete the project till date as the project completion period is already over on 17th March 2010 and therefore cost delay for payment 90% capitalized value to the MCGM till this date; Whereas it is a failure on your part to complete the project within stipulated period which is causing loss of revenue to the MCGM and hardship to the tenants residing in the old buildings who had consented for this development as per the clause in the tripartite agreement, the project period is fixed as three years from the date of issuance of the commencement certificate by Building Proposal Department. The project period can be extended by the Municipal Corporation for the reason of delay state in your reply letter subject to your consent and payment of capitalized value on revised 20:60:20 basis of approval vide ICR 175 dated 4th February 2009 and CR/1259 dated 9thFebruary 2009 respectively; This office has received orders from Additional Municipal Commissioner to inform you that the Municipal Commissioner will not extend the project period if you are not able to give satisfactory explanation of the delay in completion of the project... You are hereby finally directed to show cause within seven days on receipt of this letter and to pay the 90% capitalized value amounting to Rs 26,12,62,143/- with interest thereon at 18% calculated till 31st December 2011, amounting to Rs 8,43,91,251/-. The total amounting to Rs 34,56,53,394/- within seven days and payment of applicable stamp duty with penalty if any failing which following action will be initiated against you; The Building Proposal Department will be directed to issue stop work notice for the above referred project work and all other projects undertaken by you in MCGM; You and your companies will not be allowed to take up any other MCGM project in future; The law officer will launch prosecution against you for recovery of payment which is due to MCGM. If the building is found occupied in part or full, the building Proposal Department will be asked to issue notice u/s 353 of MMC Act and take further action, which please note”. This letter has a footnote directing Executive Engineer (Building Proposal) City to issue stop work notice to the Pariwar Safalya CHS redevelopment project and “any other project being undertaken by this developer / Notice u/s 353 of MMC Act and not to process any other redevelopment project as per AMC(ES)s order under No. AMC/ES/702/4 dated 26-12-2011.”

  6. RTI Activist Sulaiman Bhimani, who is also a Project Affected Person (PAP), recently made a detailed complaint to the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police regarding the corrupt misdoings of Skyline Construction Company of RNA Group at its SRA project at Oshiwara District Centre (ODC), Jogeshwari West. Highlights of this complaint: “MMRDA has spent almost Rs 9 crore for repairing the substandard work in PAP building in lieu of which TDR was released, and MMRDA has not recovered any amount from the developer, the MMRDA officials accepted the substandard work without any verification. The plumber has certified that he has used AC pipes but on site very low quality and substandard PVC pipes have been used and the engineer who accepted this certificate has not put any note on it for the change of material nor raised any objection for substandard work. The Project Management Consultant (PMC) certified that Plumbing and Drainage work is done as per approved plan, but on site the story is different. The Chambers as per approved plan have been shown 1.5mts away from the building line but onsite they are touching the building line as well as the underground water tank. Due to this shoddy work the water gets contaminated and even after spending Rs 9 crores this defect still exists. The Developer was issued IOA and CC on the same day, which is very unusual. Normally IOA is issued to the developer with 38 conditions to comply and it takes almost 45 days to comply all the conditions of IOA and the developer after complying all the conditions applies for CC and the MMRDA officials visit the site to verify all the compliance but in this case the IOA and CC were issued on the same day. There is open space violation which is in violation of fire safety norms, but MMRDA officials have turned Nelson eyes even after repeated complaints. The Recreation which as per Agreement was supposed to be developed by developer not been handed over to MMRDA for Public Use even after 10 years. Pedestrian Plaza as per Agreement and IOA condition and LOI was supposed to be developed by developer, but the same is not constructed. But TDR/FSI of 55000 sft is released for the same to the developer.” The so-called pedestrian plaza is a scam whereby, without laying a single brick or redeveloping a single inch of slum land, RNA earned 55,000 square feet of TDR, worth over Rs 4,000/- per square foot. That alone means a free gift of over Rs 22 crore for the Aggarwal family. He has also pointed out how RNA Exotica in ODC has gobbled up a 25-metre public road and used it for RNA's site office.

  7. In the case of RNA Palazzo in Kandivali West, which is being advertised as “space, Luxury and lifestyle all packed into your customized 2 BHK apartments”, 24 investors and flat purchasers have filed a complaint to EOW of Mumbai Police of outright cheating and fraud. After cumulatively paying more than Rs 50 crore (some have paid 50 percent, and other 100 percent of the value of the flat purchase), these purchasers are left high and dry, because the construction work stopped in September 2011, and has not resumed till date. The completion date was December 2012, and more thanthree years later, the Aggarwals have nothing to offer their buyers other than false assurances.

There are at least a dozen such stories about RNA Corp in Mumbai, still waiting to be told. One keeps getting calls from victims all the time – many of them so demoralized that they are unlikely to ever lift a finger to even write a letter of complaint.

Well done, Anil Aggarwal. Your legacy is in safe hands. Lagey raho!

WANT TO HEAR ABOUT RNA'S SCAMS FROM THE HORSES' MOUTH? 

CONTACTS:

a) For details on GA Ganga Sagar in Ghatkopar East, call Mukesh Chauhan 9324526890

b) For details on RNA Grande in Kandivali West, call Mr Mihir 75060940. 

c) For details on RNA's SRA project at Sewri, call Sujata Vijay Kumar 9869286842

d) For details on RNA's Aram Nagar redevelopment project in Versova, call Shaikh Nasreen 9833639370 

e) For details of RNA Palazzo project, Kandivali West, call Advocate Ameet Mehta 9821283232

f) For details of RNA's redevelopment project in Kalina (where the building was demolished five years ago, and rent for alternative accommodation stopped getting paid), 

g) For details of RNA's multifaceted cheating in the SRA project at Oshiwara District Centre, RNA Exotica and many other RNA projects in Mumbai,call Sulaiman Bhimani 9323642081

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY

KRISHNARAJ RAO

9821588114

The Election Commission has issued notice to Ashok Chavan for fudging poll expenses and asking him why he should not be disqualified (a pointless question, me thinks - what possible answer could be there?).

"The commission is of the considered view that respondent (Ashok Chavan) cannot validly claim ignorance about the publication of the above-mentioned 25 advertisements in which his name, the name of his constituency and also his photograph prominently appeared."

If you remember, this was the case broken in The Hindu by Sainath and others in 2009 that put "paid news" on our attention maps (leading to further delicious scandals, but little action).

A quick reminder of the creative accounting involved:

 

Ashok Chavan (of Adarsh Scam fame) submitted election expenses to the Eletion Commission of India stated that he spent less than 7 lakh on his total election campaign, inluding Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements (for 6 ads in one minor daily) and Rs.6,000 on cable television ads. Burst out laughing, didja? The Hindu stated that it had collected 47 full page color advertisements in newspapers (including at least one full front page and major dailies ) like Lokmat (which is among the 10 largest newspapers in India and top in Maharashtra -NRS 2006). Essentially, Chavan submitted acounts that would give him a full color page in a newspaper for less than Rs. 200.

It opened a whole new can of worms that culminated in the Supreme Court drawing the line and issuing a deadline in the peak of the Election frenzy.

P. Sainath and others in The Hindu had covered painstakingly over a series of 21 exposes dogging every development in the case and collecting full page after full page of color advertisements in investigations, with this notice to Ashok Chavan.

It is unclear what reply the Election Commission now expects, but no surprises are anticipated and we may finally see a precedent that sets they way for further action in controlling this open secret of media-political corruption.

Absurdly, Ashok Chavan seems to have lost his sanity, as he seems to see himself being found guilty a vindication of the Congress stand - whatever that means, since the Congress had actually tried to disempower the Election Commission to protect him - and failed. For what it is worth, this is what he reportedly said:

"Our stand on the paid news issue has been confirmed by the Election Commission. Even the High court and Supreme court had taken a similar stand when our opponents had filed a petition. The courts had rejected their petition. Now this (EC) order is also very clear. There is no question of paid news,"

Or perhaps he means that he has been found guilty of fudging his bills for paid advertisements and not news. One never knows what fig leaf a politician will grab.

This comes at a particularly sentimental moment, as P. Sainath, the senior journalist who broke the case ends his career at The Hindu with a sense of closure on one of the major long investigations he did there.

Disclosure: I manage P. Sainath's blog with his writing in a technical and administrative capacity.

3

Modi came to power unelected. Soon after his becoming Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Gujarat Riots happened. Shamelessly defending the massacres as a righteous "reaction" Modi successfully polarized the majority against the minority to win in 2002.

For the younger readers, who don't remember the Vinash Purush speeches that preceeded the Vikas Purush speeches, here are some excerpts (Apologies for poorly edited video. Will try to replace with better version when I figure out the video editor):

While these speeches can get him elected by a majority just recovering from unrest and not wanting threats, this is not possible to recreate for every election.

Enter APCO - in 2006 - supposedly to promote a vibrant Gujarat (remember India shining in 2004?) but very conveniently in time for the 2007 elections.

APCO has a rich history of making ugly people better (Read: Mechanics of Narendra Modi’s PR agency : APCO Worldwide – Orchestrating our Future). Considering the ruling party's penchant for snowing people under avalanche of FIRs, I thought it prudent to use infographics reported by media. Here are some of APCO's clients.

APCO clients Infographic: Economic Times
APCO clients Infographic: Economic Times

The task was to show that Gujarat under Modi had become an ideal state that people worldwide would want to invest in and visit. APCO's advisory council is illustrious.

APCO Advisory Council Infographic: Economic Times
APCO Advisory Council Infographic: Economic Times

Of course, this was happening on the state budget. Or as elite economists like to call it, on the Gujarati tax payer's money.

We saw the "Vibrant Gujarat" campaign emerge even more strongly in 2010 and 2011 in time for Gujarat Assembly Elections 2012. Also an election Modi won.

And now here is the strange part. Gujarat Government spent massive amounts of money in 2013 to polish up Gujarat image. Incidentally, the Gujarat image was a key part of Modi's election campaign for the Lok Sabha Elections. Additionally, moving from APCO to Indian PR firms probably allowed money to deliver more as well, now that the formula was established.

One wonders why the Gujarat Government needs PR firms based in Delhi in the run up to the Lok Sabha Elections. Also, the PR firms were not just expected to promote Gujarat, but to ensure positive coverage in News media - and this is in official government documents requesting tenders.

For example, Request for proposal for Selection of Public Relations Firm from June 2013 is interesting in "Scope of work" - Page 23 onwards. It desires the following from the providers.

Official Gujarat Government proposal requests for paid news
Official Gujarat Government proposal requests for paid news
One wonders why Gujarat Government needs news coverate nationwide
One wonders why Gujarat Government needs news coverate nationwide

Put together, this is a request for tenders for paid news Nationwide - not even in Gujarat. Now why in the world would Gujarat government want to acquaint people Nationwide of what is happening in Gujarat in the year before National Elections? Particularly when the Chief Minister was to use Gujarat as an advertisement of himself in his National Campaign more than BJP achievements? All pretending to be on some other budget of course - sometimes Gujarat Government, sometimes hiding behind the party being allowed unlimited expenses. Narendra Modi's speeches have constantly referred to the information spread about Gujarat by these paid campaigns as resounding praise for Gujarat (in other words, his leadership) and built his campaign around it. So not only is it use of government funds to undermine the media and fool people into thinking Gujarat gets spoken well more than other states, but also to aid personal and party campaign in National elections.

But this is hardly the only such request for tenders. Here is another similar one from November 2013 asking for arrangements for Indian and foreign media visits including number of media personnel with expenses paid. It doesn't get more paid news than this, does it?

Official Gujarat Government document requests paid presence of media
Official Gujarat Government document requests paid presence of media

But wait. It gets better. Here's one from 2012 asking for Facebook 3,00,000 Facebook likes (from 8,000) for the IEC page (which sings virtues of Gujarat under Modi). Remember Modi's popularity boom on the internet? And yes, it wants likes in very specific ways - from Gujarat, target cities of India, target countries worldwide, etc. Page 20 onwards. You're welcome.

Then you have Request for proposal from Total Solution Provider of Multi Media work including short video, documentaries, social media communications along with web portal design and mobile application development and maintenance work for I.E.C. Activities from June 2013.

These requests for proposals are just a few from the first page of search results.

Quite clearly, there is a boom in advertisement of Gujarat in the build up to National Elections, ON GUJARAT GOVERNMENT FUNDS. The promotion is well beyond the state of Gujarat and the purpose it serves is unclear.

Of course the Gujarat Government has a right to market itself as an investment destination, but the use of this material in Modi's campaigns needs to be reviewed as well, considering the timing and the abundant use of exactly these kinds of services in his campaign.

There are other examples of paid news including the excellent reporting in Caravan Magazine about the right wing influence in Network 18 and a brazen instance of paid news - which ought to be verified by the Election Commission. Surely an individual's budget cannot afford Prime Time TV and still be within limits?

Last year, Vivian Fernandes, who co-wrote Bahl’s book, was dispatched to Gujarat to interview the chief minister, Narendra Modi. A person involved with the production of the interview recalled that Fernandes asked Modi a difficult question about water conservation in Gujarat. Modi’s organisers had asked to see the questions before the interview, and demanded the water conservation question’s removal. When Fernandes sprung it on him anyway, Modi broke away from the camera and glared at a public relations executive in the room. “Why is he talking like this?” the person recalled Modi saying. “Are we not paying for this interview?” The production crew realised that the interview was part of a promotion for Modi. When Bahl heard about the curtailed interview, he reportedly told Fernandes, “We should have a clear line between marketing and editorial.” - See more at: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/network-effect?page=0,1

It should not be so difficult to verify whether any such interview marked as marketing appeared on TV. And, if the ones that did appear on TV after Modi filed his nomination appear in Modi's accounts. Surely one on one interviews of Prime Ministerial candidate cannot be put on a BJP budget?

CMS Media Labs analysis also shows that Modi got 33.21% of Prime Time coverage on five channels (Aaj Tak, ABP News, Zee News, NDTV 24x7 and CNN IBN) monitored (not including India TV or Times Now - where Modi interviews appeared). Modi received nearly 7.5 times more coverage than Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during prime time. Kejriwal got about 10.31% of total coverage (much of it criticism), Gandhi got only about 4.33%. In party-wise coverage, BJP had nearly 38% or about 1,507 minutes, while about 1,101 minutes or 27.75% of television news coverage went to Congress.

Additionally, several exposes that showed BJP in bad light - putting up false candidates, seats, votes and more got silenced by media.

Paid news nailed Ashok Chavan. Should Modi be an exception? Election Commission should examine details of the work furnished through hires of such PR firms on Gujarat Government funds and verify that they have not been used for National campaigning by official party and leaders accounts and that Narendra Modi's campaigns do indeed fit the 70 lakh he is legally allowed after all the loopholes or expenses have run out. Manufactured popularity must not subvert the principles of free and fair elections.

3

In June, the CIC, which ensures the RTI Act is implemented and public queries are answered by government departments, ruled that the six major national parties (NCP, Congress, BJPCPIBSPCPI(M)) are public authorities under the Right to Information Act and as such must respond to RTI applications. The parties were directed to appoint PIOs and appellate authorities within six weeks as required to be compliant with the RTI Act.

The Bench, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioners Annapurna Dixit and M.L. Sharma, held that the six political parties had been substantially financed by the Central government. Section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act states that “public authority” includes any non-governmental organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government.

Large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi had been placed at the disposal of the political parties that are respondents at exceptionally low ratesHuge government accommodations have been placed at the disposal of political parties at very cheap ratesIncome tax exemptions granted and the free air time allotted on All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to the financing of the political parties by the Central government. Political parties affect the lives of citizens, directly or indirectly, in every conceivable way and are continuously engaged in performing public duty.

“It is, therefore, important that they became accountable to the public,”

Transparency and accountability of public Authorities is the backbone of a democracy. And the CIC has batted a huge one for the public when they pointed out:

“It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the state,”

It is a reflection on the state of rule of law and order in India that none of the parties have done so. Instead, having failed to make a convincing case to keep them out of the purview of the RTI Act, they are doing what they do best. Change law, so that the CIC has no authority over them.

This isn't the only way they are using law to protect their interests that are directly against national interest. The UPA is trying to build a consensus to create a law overturning a Supreme Court verdict that an elected representative convicted of a crime cannot continue in office, even if they appeal to a higher court of law. The method used by politicians convicted of crimes was to file appeals and continue in their roles with the excuse that their case was under appeal. This obviously suits political parties, considering that there is a higher percentage of people with criminal cases against them in Assemblies and the Parliament than on the streets. So, they are trying to bring about a law that will sabotage this landmark judgment by the highest court in India.

Incidentally, the current government probably holds some kind of record for pending bills, but these "save-your-ass" bills seem to anticipate no trouble getting passed. Even the Walkout Party (BJP) is expected to support them, in the longstanding tradition that the laws most harmful to people and profitable to corrupt politicians have been passed unanimously and with minimum debate.

Coming back to the original point, do you know what this joker UPA sarkar gave as a reason to deny any need for RTI for political parties?

Political parties and candidates including MLAs and MPs are accountable to the Election Commission, Income Tax authority and the law of the land

This, is a massive LIE! Flashback to 2009. Ashok Chavan (of Adarsh Scam fame) submitted election expenses to the Eletion Commission of India stated that he spent less than 7 lakh on his total election campaign, inluding Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements (for 6 ads in one minor daily) and Rs.6,000 on cable television ads. Burst out laughing, didja? The Hindu stated that it had collected 47 full page color advertisements in newspapers (including at least one full front page and major dailies ) like Lokmat (which is among the 10 largest newspapers in India and top in Maharashtra -NRS 2006). Essentially, Chavan submitted acounts that would give him a full color page in a newspaper for less than Rs. 200. Of course this is absurd, and the Election Commission wanted to disqualify him for bogus accounts.

Ashok Chavan challenged the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India to disqualify him in the Supreme Court. In a counter-affidavit to the Election Commission's stand, the UPA argued that the “correctness or otherwise” of the accounts is no concern of the body that conducts and regulates elections and held that the ECI's authority to disqualify a candidate “arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason…”. In other words, as long as accounts were submitted, however bogus, the Election Commission of India had no authority to disqualify candidates for outright fakery. So much for accountable to the Election Commission of India.

Accountable to the law of the land? This counter affidavit also went against an earlier Supreme Court judgement in the R. Shivarama Gowde vs. P.M. Chandrashekar case (AIR 1999 SC. 252) where, a full Bench ruled “The commissioncan go into the correctness of election expenses filed by the candidate and disqualify a candidate under section 10A of Representation of the People Act 1951.” The court had further held that even if the candidate had not exceeded theelection expenditure limit, the ECI could still disqualify him if he had not lodged those accounts in a true and correct manner.

That was Supreme Court then. This is Parliament now and UPA is also going on record saying that MPs and MLAs are accountable to the Election Commission of India as a reason for why there is no need for RTI into political parties. In essence, UPA is a "double dhol" to borrow quaint Mumbai street slang. By faking facts on whim, it is merrily sabotaging law and eroding the right of people to demand accountability from entities that lie behind all government policies.

Also as Professor Jagdeep S Chhokar writes in the DNA:

Myth No. 3:    Political parties give all necessary information to the ECI and income tax authorities, and citizens can get it from them.

Reality
: This is not true. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) got copies of income tax returns of political parties through a long-drawn RTI process in 2008. It was discovered from the IT returns that sources of only 20 per cent of the total income, on average, were disclosed in the IT returns. The sources of the balance 80 per cent remain shrouded in mystery. This is what led ADR to seek more information from political parties.

They refused saying they would not do so as they were not public authorities. This is what led to ADR’s complaint to the CIC. All appropriate information is not available to citizens.

A report titled a report titled 'analysis of income, expenditure and donations of MP's major political parties' released by National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) shows that more than 75% of funding to political parties is from unknown sources. Companies like DOW Chemicals and Vedanta have contributed to political parties in a violation of Foreign Contribution Act (FCRA). The article is worth a read to understand where the money comes from that designs governance that impacts our lives. One only has to remember Bhopal to remember how DOW and the Congress government colluded to deny the victims of the ghastly disaster adequate compensation and prevent prosecution of the management. One only has to see the monumental struggle the tribals of Niyamgiri have to fight to protect their land from Vedanta (also represented by a top Congress politician in courts). It is incestuous, it is opaque and it is against the interest of Indians.

If we let this pass, we will be left with a government that thinks nothing of fooling us to profit itself and hold on to power.

Save India. Save RTI.

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11 June 2012, Mumbai: This isn’t about Ratnakar Gaikwad, who was sworn in as Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra last Friday in the teeth of widespread opposition from RTI activists. This is about the decision-making environment in Mantralaya, MMRDA and many other government offices. It is about how government documents are nowadays like burqas, concealing the real decision-making process and often making the RTI process infructuous.Ratnakar Gaikwad’s correspondence with a chief of Western Naval Command shows how, when he was head of MMRDA, he did not even reply for over 60 days. And then, when he did reply, our new Chief Information Commissioner casually flung aside a plea for basic information by a top naval officer placed three levels below the President of India, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces. This article is about the real nature of government decision-making, and about how CM Prithviraj Chavan has strategically positioned Ratnakar Gaikwad in the Information Commission to ensure that the burqas of Mantralaya and MMRDA are not lifted by RTI activists.

 

Accountable and transparent governance demands that every decision must be properly minuted and documented. To maintain system integrity in the administration, every decision must leave clear footprints on paper. But are ministers and bureaucrats leaving an official paper trail? No.

 

DECISION-MAKING IS NOT REVEALED IN DOCUMENTS AND FILE-NOTINGS. Often, decisions made in unofficial ways are clothed in post-facto justifications that are written down to create a semblance of legitimacy. This creates a “black administration” or parallel administration in Maharashtra. (Yes, this is happening in other states and Govt. of India also.)

 

TEN METHODS OF “BLACK” DECISION-MAKING:

 

1)       POLITICAL PARTY BOSSES, GODFATHERS & OTHER DECISION-MAKERS decide selections, permissions, award of major contracts, land allotments etc. Decisions of ministers are actually the decisions of their party bosses, and bureaucrats’ decisions are proxy-decisions of political godfathers who are not connected to the concerned department. Can any RTI activist get minutes of meetings held in the political party offices, or in the air-conditioned cars of party bosses while driving between venues? The answer is: No. Even if the agenda and minutes are kept in party offices, these are outside the purview of the RTI Act.

 

2)      STICKY-NOTES AND LITTLE PAPER CHITS go from hand to hand. These are not filed, but discarded in the rubbish. Meetings and decisions happen at several venues around Mumbai and also Nagpur e.g. Mantralaya and New Administration Building at Nariman Point, MCGM headquarters in Fort, MMRDA headquarters at Bandra, Chief Minister’s bungalow and Sahyadri Guest House at Malabar Hill, and at similar venues in Nagpur. Can any RTI activist ever get access to all the chits of paper that are swept out in the rubbish? If an activist gets them, can he make sense of them? And if he makes sense, can he get such chits admitted as evidence by a law-enforcement agency or a court of law? Next to impossible.

 

3)      SMALL NOTEBOOKS OF STENOGRAPHERS & SECRETARIES who sit beside ministers etc. contain scribbled shorthand messages. Notebooks are not official government stationery, and much of the government staff is on contract – here today, gone tomorrow. Quite often, big businessmen who are trying to get their work done at Mantralaya are told to be in touch with the PAs rather than the ministers and bureaucrats. Has any RTI activist got access to such notepads? Can he? Very difficult. But that is often the only place where key decisions are noted.

 

4)      EMAILS, SMS, MMS & PHONE CALLS go between ministers, bureaucrats, government officials, leading businessmen and celebrity fixers (more about this later). Although some landlines and mobiles are paid for by the government, important calls are made on private lines. For instance, if CM Prithviraj Chavan communicates with Anil Ambani on a mobile phone that is registered in the name of his daughter, can you get the call records using RTI? No. Ideally, every communication of ministers and bureaucrats – whether formal or personal – must be recorded. But the reality is that maximum communications are unrecorded and unavailable for scrutiny. Although the RTI Act defines electronic exchange of data and communication as “information”, one is yet to meet a single RTI activist who got access to electronic communications between ministers, bureaucrats and stakeholders like companies engaged in PPP projects. As a rule, gov.in email ids are dead-letter-boxes; ministers and government officials use gmail or yahoo addresses. RTI activists are not asking for call-records, SMSes, recordings of telephone conversations and emails.

 

5)      MEETINGS IN CORRIDORS, CARS etc have no appointments, no agenda, no minutes and no records. A small number of these may be revealed by security cameras. Has any RTI activist got the CDs of security camera footage that shows, say, Sharad Pawar and IRB Infrastructure Developers as they get into a car together? Unlikely. Even if one gets the security camera CD, what will it prove? Because it will have no audio.

 

6)      ON FLIGHTS AND IN HOTELS ABROAD OR IN INDIA, our decision-makers have lengthy discussions without anybody monitoring them. Such meetings happen in Dubai, Mauritius, Malaysia or on the sidelines of IPL matches in India. People like Vijay Mallya, Mukesh Ambani and Subrata Roy Sahara or their trusted representatives participate in them. Is any RTI activist tracking the meetings that our ministers and bureaucrats have during their Indian tours, leave alone foreign tours? No.

 

7)      HARD DISKS OF COMPUTERS & LAPTOPS used by ministers and bureaucrats, and their assistants contain lots of information. They may be messaging and emailing with special NIC software that is encrypted. Has any RTI activist asked for a full copy of all the computer drives of, say, the Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister’s office? No. Even CAG doesn’t look at computers.

 

8)      PERSONAL MESSENGERS including peons, junior staff, political party-workers, Mantralaya-frequenters, journalists like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and fixers like Neera Radia -- form the communication channel between political bosses and private entities. Some visitors are recorded in gate registers that may be accessed under RTI, but not all. Peons, junior staff, drivers, cops etc. slip in and out of offices, often unrecorded and unnoticed.

 

9)      FAMILY MEMBERS of ministers and bureaucrats are not all leading private or professional lives. Some are active participants in decision-making. Bribes are given through family members and their trusts; a favourite route is for them to purchase properties at a low price and then sell them back at a higher price, and pocket crores within a couple of years, during which the bribe-giver and bribe-taker are bound together in a relationship. Sons and daughters are awarded lucrative business contracts or seats on company board of directors. As family members are not under RTI, the meetings that they hold are difficult to track.

 

10)  CRICKET BODIES are being used by Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh to control government decisions and deliver money to foreign bank accounts, especially in tax haven countries. Politics, government, cricket and money mix freely at BCCI (Board of Control of Cricket in India) and MCA (Maharashtra Cricket Association). Cricket celebrities, including veterans like Sunil Gavaskar, travel to Dubai, Mauritius, South Africa and tax-haven countries many times a year. They meet with foreign companies that are part of mega-sized Public Private Partnership projects (PPP) such as Mumbai International Airport Limited. Cricket celebrities visit corporate offices like Sahara India and Kingfisher, as well as various government offices, without coming under a scanner. They are couriers for both money and decisions that are made elsewhere. Corporate money flows through BCCI and MCA without questions being raised, and these organizations are kept out of the scope of Right to Information. IPL (Indian Premier League) celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty are also part of this circuit. [Note: If this sounds like a far-fetched theory, ask why political heavyweights like Sharad Pawar and Vilasrao Deshmukh invest so much of their effort to head these sporting bodies!]

 

Given this background of toxic decision-making in Maharashtra government, take another look at Ratnakar Gaikwad’s communications with Western Naval Command, which relates to Adarsh building. Download this file:http://tinyurl.com/Adarsh-OC-Ratnakar-Gaikwad-red

 

This PDF file contains three letters:

  • The first two pages are a plea for information from Western Naval Command to Chief Secretary, Municipal Commissioner and Principal Secretary of Urban Development Department (UDD) on 25 June 2010.
  • The third page is a covering letter from UDD, forwarding Western Naval Command’s letter to (then) MMRDA Chief Ratnakar Gaikwad on 30 August 2010.
  • The last page is Ratnakar Gaikwad’s amazing reply to Western Naval Command on 29 September 2010.

 

HOW GAIKWAD DENIED INFORMATION TO NAVY CHIEF

 

ON 25 JUNE 2010, the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command (FOCIC WNC), wrote to Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary, Municipal Commissioner of Greater Mumbai and Principal Secretary of Urban Development Department. It was a reminder, as a similar letter had been written on 8 June 2010. (Bear in mind, FOCIC WNC is a very high office, third in line from President of India, who is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. While MMRDA is in charge of planning for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Western Naval Command is in charge of coastal security of four states, namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.)

 

This letter raised “serious concern with regard to the construction of a building by a private housing society in the vicinity of defense installations at Colaba Defence Station, Mumbai, and the necessity for screening of the allottees from the security point of view”. Mentioning the increased threat perception post 26/11 and asking for the list of allottees, FOCIC WNC said, “It is of the utmost urgency from the point of view of security… that necessary directives under Section 154 of the MRTP Act 1966 be immediately issued by the Government of Maharashtra to the Planning Authority not to grant any Occupation Certificate, partial or otherwise whatsoever, to the said building/society, which is in the vicinity of the WNC Defence installations /Colaba Defence Station till the desired information is provided by them, and vetted by this Headquarters. You are requested to kindly take action on the aforesaid, failing which HQ WNC would be constrained to take legal recourse to legal proceedings.”

 

Bear in mind, Western Naval Command did not ask the government to refuse OC to Adarsh; they only asked for issue of OC after the information about Adarsh allottees was provided to them, vetted by them and approved by them. It was a reasonable demand. It is a matter of national shame that FOCIC WNC wrote, “…all efforts to procure the requisite information from the Deputy Registrar “A” Ward, Registrar of Societies, Mumbai, and also from the Housing Society itself, failed as neither of them forwarded the desired information as per the format forwarded to them.”

 

ON 30 AUGUST 2010, this letter was forwarded without written instructions to Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner, MMRDA. (See page 3 of PDF file.) Mantralaya (i.e. the Chief Secretary, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan or Principal Secretary UDD) could have replied directly to FOCIC WNC, or they could have issued directions to Ratnakar Gaikwad. But they did not, because they wanted Ratnakar Gaikwad to do a dirty job. (And yes, he did the dirty job and came out smelling like roses! God alone knows how many top people he shielded by doing this, and how many people owe him a debt of lifelong gratitude.)

 

ON 29 SEPTEMBER, Ratnakar Gaikwad delivered a killing stroke to Western Naval Command. Rendering the navy’s plea for information completely infructuous, Ratnakar Gaikwad stated in his letter that HE HAD ISSUED THE OC ON 16 SEPTEMBER i.e. 13 days earlier, despite having received their forwarded letters several times. The basis of this decision to give the OC unilaterally, without consulting the most important stakeholder i.e. Western Naval Command, was given as a letter written by the secretary of Adarsh Society. Let me repeat: The word of an ordinary building secretary – representing a very private interest – was Ratnakar Gaikwad’s justification for acting against the word of a defense chief, and denying him information about who was going to live in the building. Gaikwad’s letter went on to conclude that if the defense chief had any security concerns, he should now approach the police commissioner.

 

In other words, go to hell. Desi bhasha mein bole toh“Thenga! Security concerns gaye bhaad mein! Ja ukhaad le jo ukhaadna hai!

 

TEXT OF GAIKWAD’S AMAZING REPLY TO NAVY CHIEF

 

“Sir, please refer to your above cited letters. In this regard, secretary of the society has written a letter to MMRDA in which it is stated that ‘It is reliably learnt that Naval Authorities have also written to your office regarding the antecedents of members of our Society. In this context, I would like to bring it on record for your kind information that the society consists of members from Army, Navy, Government of India Officers from IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS and other Government Officers. Our members are including Ex Chief of Naval Staff, Ex Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, two formal Chief of Army Staff and other senior officers from Army, Navy, Defence Estates etc. The Society also have Hon’ble Members of Parliament, State Assembly besides senior people who held position of Union / State Cabinet Ministers and Speaker of Maharashtra Assembly. It is also brought on the record that the land in question is State Government land allotted to the Society by the State Government and Membership have been approved by the Government of Maharashtra/Collector Mumbai according to the Government Resolution in force and antecedents of all the members have been verified and approved by the government prior to allotment of membership. In the light of above, any further verification of antecedents of members by the navy appears to be overstepping the right of propriety vested in the Government of Maharashtra and Collector Mumbai City, who have verified and approved the names.’

 

“IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE, IT IS FELT THAT AFTER COMPLETION OF THE BUILDING, BASIC ISSUES MAY NOT BE RAISED (emphasis supplied). If there is any reasonable apprehensive (sic) about the members of the society from the security point of view, you may refer the matter to the appropriate authority such as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai. MMRDA has issued the Occupancy Certificate to the Adarsh Society on 16/9/2010.

Yours faithfully, Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner.”

 

IS THIS HOW IT REALLY HAPPENED?

 

Is it likely that Metropolitan Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad – a seasoned bureaucrat and head of MMR’s planning authority -- dismissed the safety concerns of a high-ranking naval officer based on a letter from a mere building secretary? Was it his own decision as Metropolitan Commissioner to give Adarsh the OC? Why was he in such a hurry to give the OC that he actually gave it first, and then wrote a letter to the Navy chief giving a lame justification?

 

This amazing letter leads you to the conclusion that Ratnakar Gaikwad received orders by non-official channels. For his obedience and cleverness in providing a cover for the state government, he was later rewarded with the post of Chief Secretary. And now, to cover up the documents of Mantralaya and MMRDA, Ratnakar Gaikwad has been made the Chief Information Commissioner. Chief Information Commissioner is the only one who hears RTI second appeals relating to Mantralaya and MMRDA. Former Metropolitan Commissioner Suresh Joshi was also made the Chief Information Commissioner despite being severely hearing-impaired, and coincidentally, he too had played a role in Adarsh. (Not to mention suspended State Information Commissioner Ramanand Tiwari, a former UDD Secretary, who recently spent 60 days in CBI custody for his role in Adarsh.)

 

GAIKWAD’S KNOWLEDGE OF ADARSH CONSPIRACY VS. TOTAL INNOCENCE

 

Firstly, Ratnakar Gaikwad cannot deny his knowledge of the Adarsh conspiracy in Mantralaya, involving at least 7-8 top bureaucrats and numerous top politicians, including Chief Minister Ashol Chavan. Everybody knew; and as MMRDA chief, it was Ratnakar Gaikwad’s job to know. Adarsh had been 10 years in the making, and a red flag had been raised in newspaper reports as early as in 2003. Besides being  in the Indian Navy’s sensitive zone and in the Coastal Regulation Zone, MMRDA’s Development Plan had been modified to accommodate this 31-story building Coastal Regulation Zone. As MMRDA chief, it was Gaikwad’s job to have his ears to the ground and know everything there is to know about this building, including the security concerns, and the conspiracy and the cover-ups surrounding it. So Ratnakar Gaikwad cannot claim that he gave the Occupation Certificate innocently. Therefore, the letter that he wrote to Western Naval Command is completely disingenuous; it is a total cover-up.

 

Secondly, Gaikwad’s letter acknowledges that he had received forwards of the Navy chief’s letter on 28/7/2010, 1/9/2010 and 14/9/2010. Again, on 15/9/2010, he received a letter from the Navy directly addressed to him. Why did he not reply to all these letters until it was too late for the Navy to do anything about it, i.e. 29/9/2010, two weeks after he gave the OC to Adarsh? The gap between MMRDA receiving the first letter and its reply to the Navy was over 60 days. (The information that the Navy was requesting was never given by the Cooperatives Registrar, Chief Secretary, UDD, Municipal Commissioner, MMRDA; maybe they might have got it if they had filed an RTI application instead of writing letters!)

 

Finally, Ratnakar Gaikwad must have received phone calls from the Chief Secretary, Chief Minister, Municipal Commissioner, and Principal Secretary UDD soon after the Navy’s letter reached them on 8 June and 25 June 2010 – because it concerned issuing the occupation certificate, which was his turf. In fact, the letter must have been scanned and emailed to him. (The top brass must surely be emailing and phoning one another several times every week or even every day on an ongoing basis!) The Naval chief had threatened them with legal proceedings; would anybody take such a threat lightly? These people must have held many closed-door meetings that were not minuted or recorded.

 

There are surely dozens of emails, phone calls, SMSes and meetings that are not on record. So, Ratnakar Gaikwad was definitely not acting all alone in perfect innocence and good faith as he put the proverbial cherry – the occupancy certificate – on Adarsh building, the towering cake of deceit. But that is how they made it look.

 

And now Prithviraj Chavan and Ratnakar Gaikwad want us to believe that it was incidental that the post of Chief Information Commissioner in Maharashtra lay vacant for 10 months, while Gaikwad finished his term as Chief Secretary. They want us to believe that it was coincidence that the selection committee meeting was held three days after Gaikwad’s retirement from IAS. They want us to believe Ratnakar Gaikwad is the best man for the job.

 

Last but not least, they want us to believe that Chief SIC Ratnakar Gaikwad really cares about the rising pendency at Maharashtra State Information Commission, and that he will help the RTI applicant and the common man make this government transparent and accountable.

 

Prithviraj Sir, Ratnakar Sir, we are finding these things a little bit difficult to believe, No? When you will be giving appointment, Sir, for discussing all these things in the open? Lot of people are eagerly waiting, Sir.

 

Warm Regards,

Krishnaraj Rao

98215 88114

thebravepedestrian@gmail.com

 

PS: We have already sought an appointment with CIC Ratnakar Gaikwad to discuss these and other “allegations” with documents in hand. We have asked for an open-door meeting, where media and activists will be free to watch and ask questions. Hopefully, our new CIC will not disappoint.