Sunday, April 27, 2008

To protect Rama Setu, women light lamps, SC case impleads TR Baalu

To protect Rama Setu, women light lamps, SC case impleads TR Baalu

Dinamalar, April 29, page 3


To protect Rama Setu, women light lamps in the Setu ocean

Rameshwaram, April 28.

To protect Rama Setu, many women offered prayers by lighting lamps in Agniteertham ocean.

On behalf of Rama Setu Protection Movement, yesterday, starting from Goswami Matham many women went in a procession to Agniteertham ocean.

Movement functionary, Thillai Bhagyam led the procession which passed through four streets which started at 6 PM and reached the ocean

There, Special prayers were offered to protect Rama Setu by lighting lamps. Following this, the lamps were allowed to float on the ocean to complete the prayers. After this, they went to Rameshwaram temple and offered special prayers to Shiva and Ambal.

Hearing tomorrow on plea to vacate stay on Sethu project

Legal Correspondent (The Hindu, April 29, 2008)

Swamy seeks to implead T.R. Baalu in his personal capacity

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will hear on April 30 the Centre’s application for vacating the interim stay restraining it from causing any damage to Ramar Sethu (Adam’s Bridge) in implementing the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project.

The court will also take up for hearing Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy’s plea for a direction to invalidate the project and to appoint a committee to consider it afresh.
Acting on his application, the court on August 31, 2007 passed the restraint order, while permitting dredging to continue in other areas. In its response, the Centre made it clear that it was not feasible to consider an alignment alternative to the existing one. On Monday, senior counsel Fali Nariman and Additional Solicitor-General R. Mohan, appearing for the Centre, told a three-judge Bench that the matter could be heard on Wednesday as the first item. (The matter is shown at the bottom of the list for hearing on Tuesday).

Dr. Swamy and counsel for other petitioners agreed and the Bench, comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and Mukundakam Sharma, fixed the hearing for Wednesday.

Dr. Swamy, in his application filed on Monday, sought permission to implead Union Minister T.R. Baalu in his personal capacity, alleging that there was a conflict of interest between his business interests and impartial performance of duties as Minister for Shipping and Surface Transport. He alleged that the Minister was pushing through the project as two companies — Meenam Fisheries and Westgate Logistics — managed by his sons had close links with it.

Rama Gopalan plea
Meanwhile, Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan, who had filed a petition along with Dr. Swamy, in his rejoinder to the Centre’s affidavit, said the National Institute of Oceanography in cooperation with the Archaeological Survey of India should be asked to undertake an underwater survey to declare Ramar Sethu an ancient monument. Until then, it must not be damaged.

The rejoinder said: “Ramar Sethu is not a mere stone or body or cave of water as claimed by the Centre. It inheres [in it] the very essence of the identity of the nation.”

Baalu’s business interest in Sethu project: Swamy
April 28th, 2008 - 9:37 pm ICT by admin
New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) Former Union Minister Subramanian Swamy Monday alleged in the Supreme Court that Union Transport Minister T.R. Baalu is trying for expeditious implementation of the Sethu Samundram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) to further his family business interests. In a fresh application filed in the apex court, the former minister alleged that Baalu has family interest in both fishing and shipping and building a shorter navigational sea route around India’s southern peninsula would greatly benefit his family business.

Swamy made the allegation in an application which also sought the court’s direction to make Baalu a party to his petition against the implementation of the SSCP project and allow him to have his say during the hearing of his petition.

Swamy, along with several others, is agitating before the apex court seeking to stall the implementation of the SSCP project, aimed at building a shorter navigational sea route after damaging the Adam’s bridge or the Rama Sethu between India and Sri Lanka.
In his application, Swamy said, “Baalu and his various family members, including his two wives and two sons, have stakes in a private firm named Meenam Fisheries Limited which has fishing and shipping interests in the Palk Strait, Gulf of Mannar and the company will tremendously benefit from the implementation of the project.”

Quoting from Baalu’s affidavit filed before the Election Commission of India, declaring his assets and liabilities, Swamy said the minister himself has declared that he owns shares worth Rs 2.94 million in Meenam Fisheries Limited, while one of his two wives, T.R.B. Porkodi, owns its shares worth Rs 675,600.

Citing records from the Company Law Board, Swamy said that Baalu’s another wife, B. Renuka Devi, and his two sons T.R.B. Rajkumar and T.R.B. Raja are the directors of the company, which is a public limited company with deep sea interest.

A market leader in India with fishing operations in more than four countries and exporting all over the world, the company owns a number of vessels with such tonnage that allows their navigation in the shorter sea route around India.

Swamy also added that a shorter navigational sea route around India, beside serving Baalu’s own family business interest, would also enhance the same for other leaders belonging to DMK to which the minister belongs.

He said DMK Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi from Tamil Nadu, too, owned shares worth Rs 350,000 in another company Westgate Logistics, which is engaged in services like “stevedoring, shipments consolidation and deconsolidation, global freight forwarding and customs management, regional warehousing and distribution network in the SSCP project.”

Swamy’s petition is to be heard Wednesday by the apex court.

Baalu's business interest in Sethu project: Swamy

Now, Parliament panel slams Baalu for interfering in ports’ functioning
Economy Bureau
Posted online: Tuesday , April 29, 2008 at 2236 hrs

New Delhi, Apr 28Already in the dock for admitting that he used his position to request for favours for his son’s company, T R Baalu now faces flak from Parliament panel who have asked his ministry to desist from interfering in port trusts’ functioning.

The public accounts committee of the Parliament in its action taken report, regarding the avoidable expenditure due to delay in taking a decision over the procurement of a dredger, reiterated that “the ministry should desist from intervening in commercial and operational matters concerning the port trusts, decisions on which should be best left to professional experts serving the port.”

The port trust and the ministry continually changed their stance on the construction and supply of a dredger, which led to an avoidable additional expenditure.

Other gaps found by the committee that led to the additional expenditure included the decision to sell the dredger under construction to the Dredging corporation of India on a cost plus basis and then in-chartering it for dredging activities of the port without conducting a feasibility and cost analysis.

The accounts committee’s report says that the interference of the ministry in the internal working of the Chennai Port Trust especially in matters relating to the commercial operations (owning or outsourcing the dredger) was uncalled for.
The public accounts committee’s examination of the issue brought the issue of the autonomy of the port into focus. The committee observed that since the Port trust was in a better position to assess its requirements relating to dredging and other related operational and functional difficulties, the ministry should have left the functioning of the owning and outsourcing a dredger to the Port Trust.

The committee also observed that even though the DCI offered very competitive rates to the Chennai Port Trust, the ministry did not accept them for a long term agreement which did not allow the trust to take a practical commercial decision.

Nail conflict of interest
29 Apr 2008, 0001 hrs IST , Upamanyu Hazarika

Conflict of interest between a minister's official duties and personal interests has reared itself again with allegations of lobbying against shipping and surface transport minister T R Baalu.

The minister has admitted with astonishing candour that he spoke with petroleum minister Murli Deora for allotment of gas to a family-owned company.

Not just that: The Prime Minister's Office sent eight reminders to the petroleum ministry to expedite the allocation.

Such brazen instances of official patronage occur with distressing irregularity in India.

Two years ago, Union communications minister Dayanidhi Maran came under the scanner for having threatened an industrialist for refusing to give a stake to his family-controlled company, Sun TV.

This prompted the leader of the opposition, L K Advani, to address a detailed letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the "extortionist conduct" of Maran.

Conflict of interest of ministers in western countries is governed by specific statutes setting out a detailed Code of Conduct, including post-employment restrictions for ministers and requiring rigorous adherence.

In India, there is a significant gap as conflict of interest does not find mention in the Constitution or in any statute.

The oath of office requires a minister to discharge duties "without fear or favour, affection or ill will", but the consequences for a breach are not spelled out.

There is a 'Code of Conduct for Ministers' issued by the cabinet secretariat. But it has no binding effect. It only requires a minister to divest himself from the conduct and management of any business.

The Supreme Court recognised this in the Jain hawala case where it approvingly referred to the Code of Conduct for ministers in Britain and issued directions insulating investigating agencies from political interference.

The court referred to a similar position in England which led to the constitution of a committee headed by Lord Nolan on "Standards of Public Life".

The Nolan committee set out seven principles on public life — selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership — which is extremely relevant in today's context.

The Supreme Court, referring to the principles, went on to say: "These principles of public life are of general application in every democracy and one is expected to bear them in mind while scrutinising the conduct of every holder of a public office... Any deviation from the path of rectitude by any of them amounts to a breach of trust and must be severely dealt with instead of being pushed under the carpet".

However, these directions remain a dead letter for the government and the political establishment, the emphasis being limited to declaration of assets.

Regular allegations of conflict of interest require an institutionalised mechanism for addressing such issues.

The steep decline in standards of public life can be gauged from the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru, in the wake of allegations against his finance minister T T Krishnamachari for favouring Harish Mundhra with investments by LIC in Mundhra's company, promptly set up an independent commission of inquiry by an eminent judge, M C Chagla.

The commission submitted its report in one month leading to Krishnamachari's resignation, the latter being held morally responsible.

Although Nehru disagreed with the report, he permitted his minister to resign to uphold probity in public life, expressing disagreement only by personally going to see off Krishnamachari.

It also speaks volumes for Nehru's greatness that when it came to finding a replacement in his cabinet for Abul Kalam Azad, he chose Justice Chagla.

Today, we have a situation in which Baalu has confessed that he sought favours. Conflict of interest is not a criminal activity and at the highest level can be said to have more to do with upholding morality in public life.

Prescription of a rigorous Code of Conduct making it enforceable by a committee of the concerned legislature will go a long way in avoiding instances of blatant favouritism.

The shipping minister would not have been so brazen if an enforceable Code of Conduct had been in place.

(The writer is an advocate.)
NT Bureau | Mon, 28 Apr, 2008 , 02:31 PM
The issue of Union Shipping Minister TR Baalu, misusing his position and power to favour his sons' firms, is likely to affect the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project as well.

Janata Party president and former Union Minister Dr Subramaniam Swamy is likely to file an 'interlocutory' petition with a prayer to extend the stay of dredging Rama Sethu to the entire project itself till certain urgent matters of 'conflict of interests' are heard by the court.
This interlocutory petition is likely to be filed when the Centre is making a mention before the Chief Justice for a priority listing for vacating the stay. The petitioners from Rama Sethu protection movement are likely to seek time to file the interlocutory petition.

In his interlocutory application, it is learnt that Dr Swamy has documented how the ship channel project will profoundly benefit Union Shipping Minister's wife and their sons, as large shares of owners of Meenam Fisheries Limited, as well as, the Tamilnadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's wife Rajathiammal and daughter Kanimozhi as major share holders of Westgate Logistics (P) Limited.

Both companies will directly benefit from the project, because, at present Meenam's fishing trawlers and motorised boats have to travel from Port Blair to Kakinada for a longer distance around Sri Lanka for sea food exports (about $ 2 million in value annually).

Westgate Logistics' business will also boom once the project is implemented, because, it's main business being stevedoring, piloting and customs and freight handling, it is expected to increase with the supposed increase of ship traffic from Tuticorin to Chennai and to Kolkatta.

Swamy has pointed out in his application to the Supreme Court that both Baalu and Kanimozhi have admitted owning shares in these companies in their affidavits filed as candidates in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections respectively.

Earlier, Swamy had also written to the Prime Minister seeking sanction to prosecute Baalu under Section 11 and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

He told Jaya TV that he was examining whether to ask the Tamilnadu Governor for sanction to prosecute Karunanidhi for the same reason.

It seems the SSCP ghost might pose a scare at the UPA chairperson Sonia also.

Swamy had said that, he is examining whether the recent contract given for dredging in the SSCP by the Dredging Corporation of India to the Belgian company, 'Dredger International' had anything to do with Sonia's receiving the 'Belgian King Leopold Golden Cross medal' and Honorary Citizenship Award.

Officers of the 'Dredger International' were in attendance when Sonia went to Brussels to kneel before the King and receive the award.

The Election Commission is still seized of her disqualification petition and yet to pronounce its verdict, after sending her a notice.

It seems the UPA is in deep trouble more than what it would have anticipated in the aftermath of Baalu's 'gas' bid. Difficult times ahead!

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