Thackeray Saheb! Chhatrapat
Have you recently heard any jokes about selling Taj Mahal to foreign tourists? No? Not lately? That is because people don’t joke about that nowadays. Do you want to know why? Because today, the situation is such that some influential people can truly sell the Taj Mahal to a foreign tourist. Or, to putting it in the terms that Mumbai public will understand, it is quite likely that Mumbai’s beloved Shivaji Maidan will soon be sold to a consortium of private companies and foreigners, and the Mantralaya building will be given as a free gift. To avoid causing alarm to the common man, they will call it ‘Public Private Partnership’ or PPP.
Without a clear-cut PPP policy and without regular audits by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), India’s public property is being carved up and sold like a beef cow. The government’s butchery and sale of India’s assets is couched in PPP terminology like modernization of infrastructure, special purpose vehicles, etc. etc.
A TWISTED LOGIC OPERATES IN PPP: On the one hand, the government lavishly gives the private partner public resources worth thousands of crores of rupees, ostensibly because the private partner is supposedly maintaining a PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE. On the other hand, the private partner is free to avoid being questioned and to seek undue profits as he argues (and the government agrees) that this is a PRIVATE ACTIVITY.
HOW CAN BUILDING AND MAINTAINING PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE BE A PRIVATE ACTIVITY? HOW CAN ANY SUCH INFORMATION BE ‘PRIVATE’ OR ‘CONFIDENTIAL’? Don’t ask, because this twisted logic is an accepted part of PPP projects.
“LALOO YADAV RAILWAY STATION IN MUMBAI” — True or False? False, because it hasn’t happened yet. But consider this scenario three years hence. The year is 2015. Patna-based Laloo Yadav & Sons Ltd (LYSL), in collaboration with a consultant company called Pirates of Somalia Ltd, newly registered in Mauritius, takes over the railway station called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in Mumbai. The Railway Ministry transfers CST’s heritage building and all surrounding railway lands to LYSL on a 30-year lease for only Rs 100 per year. LYSL in turn transfers this land to a subsidiary company. This subsidiary company uses it as security to take an “infrastructure loan” of thousands of crore rupees from a consortium of public sector banks. Hotels and commercial spaces start sprouting on the railway land. Pirates of Somalia Ltd. periodically sends technical consultants who freely travel throughout the railway system, and nobody has the authority to question them – not even the railway ministry.
Worried about national security and public property, citizens file RTI applications questioning this activity. Laloo Yadav & Sons says, “We are not part of the government, and so we are not under RTI. We are a private company, this is a private for-profit activity.” Central Railways and the Union Railway Ministry don’t answer queries, saying that only Laloo Yadav & Sons has the answers. Finally, in 2016, Chhatapati Shivaji Terminus is officially renamed as ‘Laloo Yadav Railway Station’.
Is this a far-fetched scenario?
Now consider another scenario: “GVK REDDY AIRPORT IN MUMBAI” — True or false? True. It has already happened. Except for the renaming, everything else mentioned in the previous scenario has already happened to MUMBAI’S CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI AIRPORT. Mumbai’s airport has been the PRIVATE ‘JAAGEER’ OF GVK REDDY OF ANDHRA PRADESH for 4-5 years now. While the UPA government seems happy with this situation, the common man is fighting in court.
Airport Authority of India has 26% stake, and GVK Airport Holdings Pvt Ltd holds about 51% in a consortium called Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL). The remaining 23% shares are held by two khokha companies registered in Mauritius, whose relationship with two similar-sounding South African infrastructure companies is being actively concealed by Govt. of India. In GVK’s annual reports, MIAL is called an “associate company”. The language of the annual reports indicates that the accounting treatment of MIAL IS LIKE A GVK GROUP SUBSIDIARY COMPANY rather than as a public sector entity in which GVK is a private sector partner.
While enjoying 2000 acres of AAI land for a lease rent of Rs 100 per annum, and paying ridiculously low Income Tax and Service Tax of around Rs 3,000, GVK claims the freedom to act as if it is just another private limited company working to maximize profits. It is running MIAL in collaboration with the two khokha companies – namely ACSA Global Ltd. and Bid Services (Mauritius) Ltd — which have shadowy links to the companies that were evaluated by Airport Authority and found worthy to be partners in the MIAL Consortium, namely Airports Company South Africa and Bidvest of South Africa. Details: http://tinyurl.com/MIAL-khokha-cos
The common man who asks questions to MIAL is being stonewalled. See MIAL’s reply to Sanjay Shirodkar’s RTI application: http://tinyurl.com/Shirodkar-RTI-MIAL-reply
In June 2008, a BOMBAY HIGH COURT RULED THAT MIAL IS AN INSTRUMENTALITY OF THE ‘STATE’. BUT GVK STILL REFUSES TO ADOPT STANDARDS OF TRANSPARENT DEALING that come with being an instrumentality of state, and a custodian of state properties. What is alarming is that Govt of India is quietly playing along with GVK.
To shield GVK and the khokha companies, even public authorities such as Airport Authority of India (AAI), Union Aviation Ministry, Finance Ministry, Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA), Planning Commission and other government bodies that are privy to MIAL’s dealings are continually evading RTI queries. No government agency wants to disclose anything. See Sanjay Shirodkar’s many RTI Applications and the evasive replies received: http://tinyurl.com/Shirodkar-RTIs-about-MIAL
A consortium of banks gave an infrastructure loan of Rs 4200 crore of public money to MIAL. Whose money? Yours and mine. But the details are being concealed by the banks. In a worryingly perverse order, Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi opined that it was a matter of “commercial confidence and fiduciary relationship” between the banks and the borrower, and there was no public interest in our knowing about it: http://tinyurl.com/ShaileshGandhi-MIAL-Order-2012
MIAL is part of a dangerous trend of private parties snapping up public resources and taxpayer’s money. We the People need to recognize the seriousness of this problem, and counter it before it is too late.
HOW GVK IS ABUSING THE JUDICIAL PROCESS TO CAUSE DELAYS
The question of whether MIAL is a public authority (i.e. answerable under RTI Act 2005) was decided by Bombay High Court in Writ Petition No.617 Of 2007. The judgment dated 5th June 2008 said, “the issues which arise for consideration in the present Writ Petition are: (i) Whether the Respondent No 3 Company, MIAL, is ‘State’ within the meaning of Article 12?” On page 170 and 171 of the judgment, after lengthy reasoning, Bombay High Court concluded, “It is because Respondent No.3 performs Governmental functions that… it can just like Government use a summary procedure to evict unauthorized occupants on the area leased to it without following the rigor of the Rent Act. This shows unmistakably that Respondent No. 3 is “State” for the purpose of Article 12.” Read highlighted portions of Bombay High Court judgment dated 5th June 2008: http://tinyurl.com/BombayHC-MIAL-Flemingo-order
The question of whether MIAL was a public authority as per RTI (which is the same as being “State” under Article 12 of the Constitution) was simultaneously considered and answered by the Central Information Commission in June 2008. The CIC ruled that MIAL, like its counterpart DIAL (Delhi International Airport Ltd) is a public authority, and therefore directed it to furnish the information requested under RTI. But MIAL did not want to comply. As this matter had already been decided by Bombay High Court, MIAL DID NOT HAVE THE OPTION TO APPEAL BEFORE BOMBAY HIGH COURT. SO IT WENT TO DELHI HIGH COURT and pleaded that its submissions had not been heard by CIC. (This unlawful behavior is called forum-shopping — actively seeking a court that might give a favorable judgment.)
Delhi High Court asked CIC to re-hear the case. CIC RE-HEARD THE CASE. IT’S VERDICT WAS THAT MIAL IS DEFINITELY A PUBLIC AUTHORITY as per section 2(h), and therefore, it must give information requested under RTI. CIC order dated 30th May 2011: http://tinyurl.com/CIC-MIAL-Order-2011
STILL DETERMINED TO NOT PROVIDE INFORMATION, MIAL FILED YET ANOTHER FRESH WRIT PETITION BEFORE DELHI HIGH COURT! To avoid being held accountable as a ‘State’ as per the Bombay High Court judgment, MIAL is now dragging on this case in the Supreme Court: http://tinyurl.com/SupremeCourt-MIAL-Flemingo
In this way, MIAL – or rather GVK Group — has built up a cancerous mass of 15 litigations before the Supreme Court alone, to cause confusion and maintain the status quo: http://tinyurl.com/SupremeCourt-MIAL-15
WHY ARE OPPOSITION PARTIES SILENT?
The Congress-led government is doing its best to cover up the loot. But We ask the self-appointed guardians of Marathi pride – namely, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena — why they are letting the government get away with it? Are the Sena-led trade unions at the airport not keeping them informed about the daylight robbery of Mumbai’s most prestigious international asset by these thugs from Andhra Pradesh, South Africa and God-knows-where-else? Is the pride of the ‘Marathi manoos’ not injured by this motley bunch looting Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport where a giant statue of the great Maratha warrior was proposed to be installed?
MARATHI PRIDE? WHAT MARATHI PRIDE? The silence of two Senas makes us question whether the Marathi asmita is only a ornamental showpiece, like the manly turbans that are worn only for watching Lavani dancers perform, and not for any real act of manliness and courage.
(Krishnaraj Rao is a prominent Right-to-Information activist and journalist based in Mumbai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.