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NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine legality of action taken under MPID Act: Bombay HC

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Bombay High Court

In a fresh and significant development, the Bombay High Court in a latest, landmark and laudable judgment titled The State of Maharashtra Through the Deputy Collector & Competent Authority (NSEL) V/s Anil Kohil in Writ Petition No. 3396 of 2019 With Civil Application No. 29 of 2020 delivered recently on 9 November 2020 has pronounced in most certain terms that the National Company Law Tribunal has no jurisdiction to examine the legality or validity of action taken under Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 (MPID Act) and it is only the designated Court constituted under Section 6 of the said Act that will have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with the same. The Division Bench of Justice SC Gupte and Justice Madhav Tamdar quashed and set aside the order dated January 28, 2019 passed by the Member (Judicial), National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench directing the de-freezing of bank account in the name of Dunar Foods Ltd, which was freezed in relation to the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) payment default crisis. This certainly has to be complied with now.

To start with, it is first and foremost enunciated in para 1 that, “In the present case a very interesting question arises as to whether action taken under the provisions of the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 (hereinafter referred to as “MPID Act”) against a “Financial Establishment”, as contemplated under the MPID Act, can be challenged not before the Designated Court under the MPID Act but before the National Company Law Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as “NCLT”) by resorting to the remedy provided under the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as “I.B. Code”). On the application of a “Financial Creditor” as contemplated under I.B. Code, an Interim Resolution Professional (hereinafter referred as “IRP”) is appointed by NCLT by exercising power under section 7 of the I.B. Code against the Corporate Debtor as contemplated under I.B. Code, which is also the Financial Establishment under the MPID Act and de-freezing of the corporate Debtor’s account attached in MPID proceedings is ordered. This order is the subject matter of challenge in this petition.”

While setting the background, it is then put forth in para 4 that, “The State of Maharashtra through the Deputy Collector and Competent Authority (NSEL), by the present Writ Petition filed under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India , has approached this Court challenging the legality and validity of the order dated 28/01/2019 passed by the Member (Judicial), National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench in M.A.No.1372/2018 in CP(IB)-1138(MB)/2017. By the said order, National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) directed de-freezing of bank account No.1952320006245 in HDFC Bank, Karnal, Haryana, (hereinafter referred to as “said account”) in the name of Dunar Foods Ltd.”

While dealing with factual aspects, it is then laid down in para 5 that, “Some of the factual aspects set out in the petition are as follows :

(i) An FIR being C.R.No.216/2013 was registered against Financial Technologies (India) Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “FTIL”) now known as “63 Moons Technologies Ltd.”, the National Spot Exchange Ltd. (hereinafter referred as “NSEL”), the Directors and key management persons of FTIL and NSEL, 25 borrowers/trading members of NSEL, some brokers of NSEL, and others, under sections 120B, 409, 465, 467, 468, 471, 474, 477(A) of the Indian Penal Code, by the M.R.A. Marg police station on 30/09/2013. In the said FIR, the first informant had alleged that NSEL had caused wrongful loss of about Rs.2.2 crores to himself, and wrongful loss of approximately Rs.5600 crores to more than 13000 investors. On the same day, i.e. on 30/09/2013, the investigation into the said case was transferred to Economic Offence Wing, Mumbai (hereinafter referred to as “EOW”), who registered EOW C.R. No.89 of 2013. The EOW applied the provisions of the MPID Act to the said C.R. in October 2013.

(ii) NSEL is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956 having its registered office at Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The NSEL provided an electronic platform for spot trading in commodities, and used to operate from 16 States across the country. The NSEL was promoted by FTIL, now known as “63 Moons Technologies Pvt. Ltd.”, which holds 99.99% of the share capital of NSEL. The balance 0.01% of the share capital of the NSEL is held by the National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (hereinafter referred as “NAFED”).

(iii) In the petition, a reference has been made to notification dated 05/06/2007 and further notification dated 06/02/2012 issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India (hereinafter referred as “DCA”) by which exemption was granted to NSEL from the operation of the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952 (hereinafter referred as “FCRA”) for all forward contracts of one day duration for sale and purchase of commodities traded on its platform subject to certain conditions.

(iv) In the Writ Petition, the manner in which NSEL was working has been set out in detail.

(v) As per the FIR, during the initial contracts, member companies squared off the contracts on the dates of maturity. However, later on, these companies did not honour their commitments and caused wrongful loss of about Rs.5600 crores to about 13000 investors. The members of the NSEL fraudulently obtained huge funds from the NSEL against non-existent stocks of commodities. There was a semblance of trading, which was actually being done in non-existent goods, by issuing forged warehouse receipts. Further, the warehouses, which were an integral part of the NSEL as the commodities were required to be deposited in the exchange designated and certified warehouses as part of the pay-in obligations, lacked capacity and some of them had no stocks.

(vi) The NSEL vide their circular dated 14/8/2013 announced a settlement schedule. According to this schedule, NSEL had to make payouts of Rs.5,574.31 crores to its members. The settlement calendar announced by NSEL was spread over 30 weeks for pay-out on pro-rata basis to 148 members. The NSEL subsequently defaulted in all the payouts since the announcement of the settlement plan.

(vii) The investigation revealed that the mode of transaction that the NSEL was allowed by the Government of India was not followed by the NSEL, and that the NSEL had promised attractive returns to persons who had traded on the NSEL platform. The NSEL had assured them that if they entered into a contract on T+2, they would get an attractive return of 14% to 16% on the completion of the contract on T+25.”

While elaborating further, it is then set out in para 6 that, “As set out hereinabove, the FIR was registered on 30/09/2013, and after investigation, the EOW filed charge-sheet on 06/01/2014 in EOW. C.R. No.89/2013 in MPID Court, Mumbai. EOW thereafter filed supplementary charge-sheets from time to time including on 04/06/2014, 04/08/2014 and 27/12/2018. It is set out in the petition that as provisions of MPID Act were made applicable, the Government of Maharashtra vide notification dated 28/08/2014 issued under section 4 of the MPID Act attached several properties of several companies including Lotus Refineries Pvt. Ltd., White Walter Foods Pvt. Ltd., Shree Radhey Trading Co., Vimladevi Agrotech Ltd., Mohan India Pvt. Ltd., Tavishi Enterprises Ltd., Brinda Commodity Pvt. Ltd., Ark Import Pvt. Ltd., P..D.Agroprocessors Pvt. Ltd., Aastha Minmet India Pvt and Juggernaut Projects Ltd., White Water Foods Pvt. Ltd., Swastik Overseas, MSR Foods, Loil Continental, Loil Health Foods Ltd., Loil Overseas Foods Ltd., Spin Cot Textiles Pvt. Ltd., NCS Sugars Ltd., Metkore Alloys and Industries Ltd., Yathuri Associates, Namdhari Food Internation Pvt. Ltd., Amdhari Rice and General Mills and of Dunar Foods Ltd. It appears that during investigation, as and when the Investigating Agency got knowledge about properties of various companies/persons to which the provisions of MPID Act in relation to said FIR could be applied, necessary notifications under section 4 were issued by Government of Maharashtra attaching immovable and movable properties. By the notification dated 19/10/2018 various properties belonging to various parties were attached including of M/s.E.D. Agro Procedures Pvt. Ltd. and Dunar Foods Pvt. Ltd. including the said account. In this petition, we are concerned with defreezing of the said account which is subject matter of the impugned order dated 28/01/2019.”

Going forward, it is then put forth in para 7 that, “When the said investigation by EOW was going on and when the authorities were taking action under MPID Act, simultaneously on 27/06/2017, the State Bank of India, a Financial Creditor of M/s. Dunar Foods Ltd., invoked the jurisdiction under section 7 of the I.B. Code for the defaulted financial debt of Rs.758,73,62,546/- outstanding against the Corporate Debtor M/s.Dunar Foods Ltd. In the said proceedings, by the order dated 22/12/2017, the said petition was admitted by the NCLT and Mr. Anil Kohli was appointed as IRP and directed to comply with provisions of sections 13 and 15 onwards of the I.B. Code. It was further directed that as the petition was held fit for “admission”, hence as a consequence Moratorium as prescribed under section 14 of the I.B.Code would commence. It was further directed that on enforcement of Moratorium, certain prohibitions were applicable, such as institution of any Suit before a Court of Law, transferring of any Asset of the Debtor, encumbering any rights over the assets of the Debtor. However, it was also clarified that the supply of essential goods of services to the Corporate Debtor shall not be terminated during Moratorium period. It shall be effective till completion of the Insolvency Resolution Process or until the approval of the Resolution Plan as prescribed under section 31 of the I.B. Code. Accordingly, the said petition stood admitted. The Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process commenced from the date of the order.”

In hindsight, it is then mentioned in para 8 that, “It is significant to note that on 20/02/2018, M.A.No.237/2018 was filed by Dunar Foods Ltd. through IRP under section 9 of MPID Act before the Designated Court under MPID Act, seeking direction to defreeze the bank accounts of Dunar Foods Ltd. attached pursuant to the notifications issued by the Home Department of Government of Maharashtra under the MPID Act from time to time and seeking further direction to the Competent Authority designated under MPID Act to forthwith handover all assets of Dunar Foods Ltd. to the Applicant. By the order dated 28th December, 2018, passed by the learned Special Judge (MPID Act) City Civil and Sessions Court for Greater Bombay passed below Exhibit-1 in Miscellaneous Application No.237 of 2018, the said application was rejected, however, it was clarified that IRP was at liberty to raise objections before the Court under section 7 of the MPID Act.”

Of course, what cannot be ignored is then stated in para 9 that, “In the meanwhile, on 12/11/2018, M.A.No.1372 of 2018 in C.P.No.1138/I & BC/NCLT/MB/MAH/2017 was filed by IRP for Dunar Foods Ltd. under section 60(5), 14(1a) and 74(2) of I.B. Code before the NCLT, seeking direction to de-freeze the said account of the corporate debtor attached pursuant to the notifications issued by the Home Department, Government of Maharashtra under MPID Act from time to time and consequential directions to the Respondent, being the Competent Authority designated under MPID Act, to forthwith handover all assets of Dunar Foods Ltd. to the Applicant. It is further prayed that action be directed to be initiated under section 74(2) of the Code against the concerned officers of the corporate debtor for deliberate and willful violation of section 14 of the Code. A detailed reply dated 15/01/2019 was filed by the Deputy Collector and Competent Authority (NSEL) to M.A.No.1372/2018. By the impugned order dated 28/01/2019, passed by the learned Member (Judicial) NCLT, Mumbai Bench, M.A.No.1372/2018 was partly allowed by directing defreezing of the said account. The said order is challenged by the State of Maharashtra through Deputy Collector and Competent Authority, (NSEL) in the present writ petition.”

To put it succinctly, it is then pointed out in para 28 that, “The Respondents have also relied on the judgment of the Designated Court under the MPID Act at Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court, Mumbai in Roofit Industries Limited Vs. The State of Maharashtra in MPID Special Case No. 34 of 2004. A perusal of said order dated 18.08.2017 passed by the Special Judge, MPID Act clearly shows that provisions of I.B. Code were pointed out to the Court and after giving hearing to Competent Authority, depositors, objectors and others, Competent Authority and EOW were directed to hand over certain properties to the Applicant in the said case who claims to be an Interim Resolution Professional appointed by the NCLT for Roofit Industries Ltd. The operative portion of said order dated 18.08.2017 is reproduced herein below:-

“ORDER

1. Application is allowed.

2. Competent Authority and EOW is directed to hand over to applicant/intervener the custody and charge of the immovable properties mentioned at Sr. No. 8,10, 12,16,17,18,19, 20 and 23 of the notification dtd. 06.05.2016 alongwith all documents, record etc., within two weeks from today. They are further directed to handover to applicant office equipment, computers, furnitures and fixture in premises at Sr.5 and 24 of the notification.

3. The Competent Authority and EOW are directed to hand over amount of Rs.40 Lakhs alongwith accrued interest, if any to the applicant, within two weeks from today.

4. The Competent Authority is directed to the represent all depositors/investors before the applicant/intervener and to file the claims on their behalf. CA shall do all acts necessary for safeguarding and protecting the interest of depositors in Roofit Industries.

Date: 18.08.2017 A. S. Kaloti

Special Judge, M.P.I.D. Act & Addl. Sessions Judge,

City Civil & Sessions

Judge At Bombay.

Thus, even the said order, on which reliance is placed by the Respondents, shows that the IRP in that case approached the Designated Court under the MPID Act and after hearing all the parties, an order was passed and certain directions in the interest of depositors as contemplated under the MPID Act were also issued.”

For the sake of clarity, it is then clarified in para 29 that, “The learned counsel for the Petitioner has also relied on the judgment of NCLAT in the case of JSW Steel Ltd.(supra) wherein it has been held that the action of Directorate of Enforcement did not meet the criteria under Section 32-A (1) (b) of I.B. Code. However, in the present case, the Designated Court under MPID Act will examine the said aspect and therefore, the said judgment is not applicable to the present case.”

In the ultimate analysis, the Bench then holds in para 30 that, “Thus, in view of the above discussion, we hold that the NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine legality or validity of action taken under MPID Act and it is only the Designated Court constituted under Section 6 of the MPID Act that will have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with the same. Therefore, the impugned order passed by the NCLT is without jurisdiction and therefore, amenable to a challenge in our writ jurisdiction.”

Quite significantly, it is then held in para 31 that, “Thus, it is clear that the only remedy for Respondent-IRP is to approach the Designated Court under Section 7 of the MPID Act. Therefore, the impugned order passed by NCLT by which the said account was directed to be de-freezed, is without jurisdiction. The learned AGP has rightly relied on the judgments in Whirlpool Corporation (supra), Harbanslal Sahnia (supra), Committee of Management(supra) and Godrej Sara Lee Ltd. (supra) wherein it is consistently held that the power to issue prerogative writs under Article 226 of the Constitution is plenary in nature and is not limited by any other provision of the Constitution. This power can be exercised by the High Court not only for issuing writs in the nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights contained in Part III of the Constitution but also for “any other purpose”. Under Article 226 of the Constitution, the High Court, having regard to the facts of the case, has a discretion to entertain or not to entertain a writ petition. But the High Court has imposed upon itself certain restrictions, one of which is that if an effective and efficacious remedy is available, the High Court would not normally exercise its jurisdiction. But the alternative remedy has been consistently held by this Court not to operate as a bar in at least three contingencies, namely, where the writ petition has been filed for the enforcement of any fundamental right or where there has been a violation of the principle of natural justice or where the order or proceedings are wholly without jurisdiction or the vires of an Act is challenged.”

Now coming to the concluding paras. Para 32 states that, “In view of above discussion, we quash and set aside the order dated 28/01/2019 passed by the NCLT in M.A.No.1372/2018 in C.P.No.1138/I & BC/NCLT/MB/MAH/2017 by which the said account was directed to be de-freezed. The Respondents can approach the Designated Court under section 7 of the M.P.I.D. Act seeking appropriate reliefs. We have not dealt with the merits of the case and the contentions in that behalf are expressly kept open. Rule is made absolute in above terms with no order as to costs.” Finally, it is then held in the last para 33 that, “In view of disposal of the Writ Petition, Civil Application No.29 of 2020 does not survive and is disposed of as such.”

Quite rightly, the two Judge Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising of Justice SC Gupte and Justice Madhav Tamdar have substantiated this notable judgment with logical and learned reasons rightly while also noting that the only remedy for the IRP now is to approach the designated court under Section 7 of the MPID Act and set aside the NCLT’s order. It has rightly held that NCLT has no jurisdiction to examine the legality or validity of action taken under MPID Act. It has to be now complied with. There can certainly be no ever denying or disputing it!

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Opinion

MILKHA SINGH WAS AN UNDISPUTED BHARAT RATNA

Pankaj Vohra

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Milkha Singh would go down in history as independent India’s unchallenged sporting hero, whose feats inspired millions of our countrymen, making him a living legend. Despite facing acute hardships and a troubled childhood, the ‘Flying Sikh’, as he was fondly called, attained great heights, not achieved by any sportsman during his golden era. He was an icon whose name and fame cut across generations and made him into one of the best-known Indians of all times. The closest examples of anyone from another field who have attained this kind of reputation over a period of time and sustained it, can be perhaps Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi.

A modest man with no pretensions, Milkha was a role model for the best-known woman athlete, P.T. Usha, who like him also obtained the fourth position in the Los Angeles Olympics, 24 year after the flying Sikh lost in a photo finish at Rome. On hearing about his demise, P.T. Usha paid her most sincere homage to him, describing him as her idol. In fact, Milkha’s success story is also a tribute to the Indian Army, which supported his efforts, with not too many facilities available at that time. His story was such that a few years ago, Farhan Akhtar decided to make a movie on him and played the lead character of the distinguished athlete.

Milkha Singh was, without any doubt, a Bharat Ratna and successive governments ignored him for the highest civilian honour in his lifetime, though no one from the field of sports deserved it more than him. Sachin Tendulkar has been worshipped like a God by his fans, but before conferring the Bharat Ratna on him, the UPA government should have considered Milkha Singh. Sachin has achieved innumerable records, but if a person from the field of cricket was to be chosen, both Sunil Gavaskar, arguably the best Indian batsman ever, or Kapil Dev, who led India to its first World Cup victory, should have been chosen. This is not to discount Sachin’s contributions but to underline that he would have qualified for the honour in any case at some point, but there were others who could have been also considered.

There are sportspersons who have outclassed themselves despite several limitations. In the field of hockey, Major Dhyan Chand, his brother Roop Singh and K.D. Singh Babu besides Balbir Singh of the Western Railways and former skipper Ajitpal Singh, were all exceptional sportsmen as well; the first three accomplished a lot before India became independent. P.T. Usha, Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu, Sania Mirza, P. Gopichand, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Abhinav Bindra are amongst a galaxy of sportspersons who have brought glory to our land. However, Milkha Singh was the lone ranger, whose name and fame stood out. In fact, there were so many jokes that were coined featuring him, which showed how popular he was.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced the setting up of a Milkha Singh Chair at the Patiala Sports Institute, something which should have been done during his lifetime. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be honouring public sentiments if he bestows the ‘Bharat Ratna’ on this Bharat Ratna. It would be the most deserving award to a person whose determination and hard work made him a part of the legion of superheroes. May his soul rest in peace.

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Opinion

Why universities are not ready for online degree programmes

As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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Higher education all over the world is undergoing an enormous amount of transformation in all its multi-dimensional aspects. This includes engagement with new emerging frontiers of knowledge, developing its interdisciplinary perspectives, research and innovation covering both fundamental and applied aspects across different subjects, impact of technology on the process of teaching and learning, to name a few. Besides, the cost of higher education has also been increasing in leaps and bounds resulting in the emergence of low-cost models to make it accessible to a greater number of people. It is a fact that almost all the developing economies are considerably impacted by consideration of cost, massification, equity and quality of higher education. The Indian higher education cannot be an exception to this global development. It is obligated to take appropriate measures to provide access to quality higher education to a large number of aspirants using conventional as well as other possible technology mediated modes of teaching and learning.

Indian higher education system thus far has largely been based on Face-to-Face and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) systems of delivery. While the former accounts for about 88% of the total enrolment, the latter accounts for the remaining 12%. The ODL system, which is in vogue since the sixties, is currently in use in as many as 91 universities which includes one Central university, 13 State Open Universities, and 77 state universities. Although the system of higher education has progressed considerably since independence, it is still at the threshold of the initial phase of “massification” with only 26.7% of the Gross Enrolment Ratio, which is several notches lower than the world average of 34.45%. So, there was a long felt need to look up for alternative models of delivery, something deeper and if not altogether new, then relatively so. It has gradually led to the idea of exploring the potential of online mode of delivery in higher education as it is believed to serve the dual purpose of being used for offering regular degree programmes and for short-term professional development programmes.  

The idea of online mode of delivery in Indian university system was mooted by the UGC in 2016. It was based on the premise that to begin with, universities could offer up to 20% of the course contents through online mode, outside the conventional mode, using technology-driven teaching and learning with credit accumulation and credit transfer. It was considered that this measured transition would provide good opportunity to the universities to have sufficient experience in developing multimedia enriched e-courseware in four quadrant format and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), video lectures and modules besides developing and organising necessary infrastructure that would be the basic requirements to run online programmes. And, if this transition yielded good results only then some select universities could be given concurrence to offer full-fledged online degree programmes.  

But because of the emerging demand of the university system, the UGC has brought out an integrated Regulations to enable universities to offer full-fledged online under-graduate and post-graduate programmes in 2020.  Any university, which is accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.26 and above on a 4-point scale, or having NIRF ranking in top 100 in two of the three preceding years in the university category, can offer three under-graduate and ten post-graduate online programmes without the prior approval of the UGC, in those disciplines which it offers in the conventional mode. In addition, there is yet another category wherein the university will have to take the prior approval of the UGC if its NAAC’s score falls between 3.21 and 3.26 or if its NIRF ranking in top 100 is only in one of the two preceding cycles.  The Regulations, however, prohibit online delivery of such programmes which require practical or laboratory work as a curricular requirement, except in cases where practical component is limited to programming and coding including software tools. There are also certain other stipulations like faculty requirement, development of in-house instructional materials, active engagement of learners, conduct of proctored examinations, etc, which are to be complied with by each university planning to offer programmes in online mode. 

There can be no two opinions that online learning now is extending its scope and reach with implications for making it a lifelong endeavour. Possibilities of developing and offering online, blended or hybrid models of learning are becoming a reality across the globe with choice of space and time and accumulating credits for acquiring a formal degree of the university. But there are serious issues of quality, like availability of tech-savvy teachers, quality of instructional materials, requisite infrastructure, broadband connectivity, and accessibility of middle and lower middle-class students to smart devices and internet connectivity. Since these online programmes are going to be from amongst non-science subjects and at a lesser cost, a larger number of students opting for them might come from poorer backgrounds with different kinds of post-enrolment requirements. These are extremely concerning issues that have no easy fixes and thus require thoughtful examination. 

It may be pertinent to mention here that there are a number of leading universities of the world which have not yet considered it fit to offer online degree programmes because of quality considerations. Although these universities have developed a wide range of online courses in the form of e-courseware, MOOCs, video lectures and modules, they make them available to those who want to broaden their knowledge on a particular topic, free of cost, without seeking any formal degree. Accordingly, joining such courses does not require any formal academic qualifications as a prerequisite. There are other sets of leading universities that are offering online courses only to complement their campus-based degree programmes and not for the award of full-fledged degrees.

The best course of action would have been to give careful attention to details besides drawing lessons out of the experiences of those leading foreign universities which are offering online courses for broadening of knowledge and honing of skills, and not for award of degrees. Online education can certainly provide opportunities of learning to a wide spectrum of learners and help increase the GER. But an incremental increase in GER sans quality is of little consequence. It is understood that the UGC has cleared as many as 38 universities which can offer full-fledged online degree programmes without the approval of the Regulators. It seems to have been done far too early and on a far too large a scale. Universities should have devoted a little more time to developing real expertise in online delivery by continuing with a blended or hybrid mode of delivery for a while. Some of these universities ostensibly are going to be academically and professionally naïve in the extreme.

These universities will have to make a big push on the technical front not only to make online programmes a success but also to widen the scope of their sustainability. Most of the universities may not be fully equipped in terms of basic technical infrastructure as well as technology-oriented workforce. The first and the foremost requirement of the universities would be to carry out customized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to facilitate hassle free learners’ registration with provision of authentication, document verification and payment gateway. They will have to develop an appropriate dashboard that can provide quick access to all the stakeholders. It should be able to provide quick reminders to everyone, from the administrator to mentor to learners, to complete the task in a time-bound manner. They will have to set up a center having e-learning facilities including video-studio for recording, editing, and enriching lectures through animations and simulations. Universities will have to create their own Learning Management System (LMS) with user friendly features and provisions for both synchronous and asynchronous interactions to ensure seamless delivery of course contents and organisation of discussion forums. They may have to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven LMS with adaptive learning and adaptive assessment features to provide personalized learning experiences.

LMS integrated with analytical tools and other applications will have to be effectively used to analyse learner’s engagements in different activities to provide timely feedback besides ensuring the authenticity of the learner and mitigating the participation of proxy learners. This aspect of the LMS is going to be extremely critical not only to combat unfair means but also to ascertain real engagement of learners for the purpose of having their fair assessments. The LMS must be accessible in all devices, especially mobile devices, to enable all kinds of learners to use it without any technical glitches. The universities will have to put in place a robust system of proctored examination to ensure transparency, objectivity and credibility of their degree programmes.

On academic fronts, universities will have to redesign the curriculum to ensure its compatibility with the requirements of online delivery. The first and foremost requirement would be about redesigning outcome-based curriculum which ensures mapping of graduate attributes that are in sync with the needs and requirements of both the global market and the society. It would require proper structuring of syllabi with inbuilt hierarchy, development of good quality learner centric and multi-media enriched e-content in four quadrant MOOC format, quality reading materials in the form of e-courseware, short duration video lectures, well designed assignments in the form of projects, quizzes, term papers, provisions for synchronous and asynchronous interactions to enable students to participate in online discussions and forums, home assignments and criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests to assess real potential of students. Universities will also have to make digital library resources available, provide links for open education resources and MOOCs and list of related publications as per the requirement of the programme to encourage self-learning. Apart from all that, they will have to provide professionally trained mentor teachers who will have to guide and counsel students at every stage of the programme. Universities will also have to design assessment tools for both formative and summative assessments. While they can use the Learning Management System (LMS) for formative assessment, they will have to use proctored examination for summative assessment along with provisions of verifiable online certification and award of diplomas and degrees. 

Universities will have to make doubly sure that their programme administrators or the mentor teachers do not treat the online programmes as an auto-play video courses. It will require tech savvy teachers who are fully conversant not only with the ICT empowered pedagogies and virtual interactions but are also capable of mentoring the students by engaging them effectively throughout the programme. This would require a teacher-student ratio much lower than what is proposed (1: 250). This would call for the organisation of regular orientation programmes for the faculty in collaboration with experts in e-learning and technology mediated teaching and learning.

As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes. And, even when they do meet those professional requirements, there would still remain a serious concern of ensuring that no student, irrespective of his or her geographical location, has any kind of deprivation with regard to access to tools and devices needed for wholesomely benefitting from online modalities. Although it seems less threatening, if universities are going to seize this opportunity to maximise their resources, like some of them did through their ODL programmes in the past, then it may be equally worrisome. This transition obviously is going to be as much a difficult challenge for the universities as for the Regulators. It is not going to be a piece of cake for either of the two. But since they have already moved in this direction, now the onus lies on them to set standards and institutionalise full-fledged online degree programmes by justifying all the essential academic, technical and social requirements, failing which it would be nothing short of a misadventure.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

THE ECOLOGICAL REVIVAL OF RAM RAJYA

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While the building of the mammoth temple at the Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya has garnered all attention. The attempt is to revive the ‘Ram Nagari’ in totality and not just confine it to a temple.

Scriptures say that it was Raja Ram who turned Ayodhya from a mere administrative centre of the kingdom to a vibrant capital city, an urban hub. “Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram was very well aware of the elements of life— the Panch Mahabhoot. To keep the city in a live condition and for life to exuberate in its full potential, he designed the space for all 108 elements which contributed to the making of the Panch Mahabhoot (five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space). And this was done by making a space for 108 Jalashay (waterbodies) well within the city limits to create water sovereignty for the whole city,” says Mahant Pawan Kumar Das Shastri.

Following the apex court judgement and resumption of the work at the temple site, it was felt that Lord Ram cannot be welcomed in an ecologically degraded city. Thus, Ayodhya Development Authority and Ayodhya Nagar Nigam together envisaged a move for the government-citizen partnership to revive and rejuvenate the city ecologically.

The outcome of this initiative is Jal Dhar, the attempt to identify and resurrect water bodies in and around Ayodhya, the lifeline of Ram Rajya. Expertise for executing the project came from a reputed NGO, Community Friendly Movement (CFM), which is credited with creating/reviving many water bodies in the country’s most arid district, Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh. Challenge in Ayodhya was, however, different. The area was not arid, rather riverine and it had a network of water bodies, which had got encroached upon over a period of time thus leaving a trail of polluted ponds and frequent urban floods.

A painstaking study of land records, done by a group of local citizens under the leadership Acharya Ram Prakash Pandey, gave an estimate that 108 ponds existed in Lord Rama’s city, many of which had practically vanished and others were in a state of absolute distress. These natural water bodies that are the charging points of the aquifer system ensuring water ecological balance were in deep stress and needed urgent attention.

Water hyacinth covered lake surface, drains released in ponds, making them a breeding ground for mosquitoes, waterborne disease, and floating non-biodegradable waste. Last December, it was decided that the revival of these ponds was to be made part of the citizen’s initiative, duly supported by the government agencies by the way of in-situ rejuvenation.

The 108 water bodies of Ayodhya were geotagged through the campaign #KahanHaiMeraTalab and #AaoBachaLePaani on social media including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Ayodhya residents came out in full support and in a matter of one week, all the ponds (locally called Kunds) were identified along with their cornerstones. It was stressed to the citizens that from the Vedic times, humans lived in harmony with nature but the degradation of human values led to erosion of natural resources. The campaign was to start course correction and regain natural wealth.

The first such initiative was taken at Lal Digghi Talab, which is located in the upmarket Civil Lines area. One of the city’s main drains fell in this pond. The filth in water choked aquifers, which did not allow water to seep into earth, making it stagnant and a source of urban floods during the rainy season. To overcome the problem, a pump house had been installed to drain out the water and pump it into the main sewer line. In December last year, the municipal bodies in collaboration with CFM started what’s called the Vedic treatment of water. It’s an integrated process that involves the treatment of water using Ayurvedic ark (plant extracts) specially prepared and customized as per the need of the specific water body.

“The process of treatment involved installation of a freshwater tank to dilute the ark (concentrate) created specifically for the water body and releasing it in the pond before sunrise. The whole process requires a very small electrical charge to resuscitate the water ecology and induce aerobic reaction leading to the increased dissolved oxygen level in the water. Once the process is initiated, the viscosity of water improves and the clogged aquifers start to open,” says Saurav Ghosh, of CFM.

“As the city prepares for the onset of Monsoon, the process of removing encroachment and preparation to catch the rain where it drops, and when it drops, is going on in full swing in Ayodhya,” says Vishal Singh, Municipal Commissioner and Vice Chairman, Ayodhya Development Authority. “Having encouraged people with Vedic inspirations, it was decided to use the Vedic sciences to clean the ponds, which yielded great results,” adds Singh.

After just a month of treatment, the natural aquifers became functional and started recharging the water table. Since the water had started to seep into the earth, there was no overflow making the pump house redundant. The work is now set to begin on the other water bodies.

However, it is not to be a one-time affair but the initiative is to create structures for the sustainability of these water bodies, and here comes the concept of connecting the 108 Kunds to 108 Agnihotra or Yajna Kund. Thereafter appoint a scholar as caretaker, who additionally would be training and helping people in performing Vedic rituals.

This scholar will not only perform yajnas but also ensure the care of Prakriti (nature) in the local ecosystem to ensure operation and management for sustainability of the rejuvenated Kund. By taking care of water, plants, animals, and humans around the Kund, the scholar will be Mool Srota (fundamental connect) to establish the missing link to serve nature. “The management and care of precious water, water reuse and knowledge propagation will go hand in hand to make Ayodhya ready to welcome Raja Ram and his devotees,” says Pandey.

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HOW PM MODI INTEGRATED J&K WITH INDIA

Sanju Verma

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the most popular and powerful leader in post-independent India. On the socio-political front, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950, and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of his achievements.

President Ram Nath Kovind declared the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The move came after both houses of the Indian Parliament passed a resolution in this regard.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 370 read with clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the President, on the recommendation of Parliament, is pleased to declare that, as from 6th August 2019, all clauses of the said Article 370 shall cease to be operative,” an official notification said.

This meant the separate constitutions of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be in operation. With the State constitution rendered inoperative and Articles 1-2 applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government got the power to redraw the map of the erstwhile State. The Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir got a new status comparable with that of Delhi and Puducherry, the only two other Union Territories to have legislatures of their own. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir became Lieutenant Governor.

What was Article 370? Article 370, was a ‘temporary provision’ that granted special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir. Under Part XXI of the Constitution of India, which deals with “Temporary, Transitional and Special provisions”, Jammu & Kashmir had been accorded special status. All the provisions of the Constitution which applied to other States did not apply to J&K. According to this Article, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications, Parliament needed the J&K government’s concurrence for applying all other Indian laws. Thus J&K’s residents lived under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians elsewhere in the country. As a result of this provision, Indian citizens from other States could not even purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir.

However, with Kashmir’s special status gone, people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the state. A separate Union Territory was created for Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh region was also given the status of a Union Territory, albeit without legislature. In a masterstroke, the Modi government, by revoking Article 370 and Article 35-A, mainstreamed Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, with the rest of India, as Article 370 was always discriminatory in more ways than one. With its revocation, the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990, in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.

The Modi government, on January 7, 2020, approved an industrial development scheme worth Rs 28,400 crore, for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, to give a fresh thrust on job creation, skill development, and attracting new investment. Its outlay is until 2037. Smaller units with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore will get a capital incentive up to Rs 7.5 crore and get capital interest subvention at the rate of 6%, for a maximum of seven years. What makes the scheme unique is the GST linked incentive that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.

After the abrogation of Article 370, various public outreach programmes have been undertaken with the intent to take more than fifty central schemes to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For decades, the Abdullahs and Muftis treated this region as their personal fiefdom. The fact that in the recent district development council (DDC) elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest standalone Party, winning 75 seats and making inroads into hitherto impregnable areas like Srinagar, Bandipora, and Pulwama, is a clear vindication of Modi’s development-oriented politics. DDC elections, conducted in eight phases, saw an average voter turnout of over 51%, showcasing that there is genuine interest among the people of the valley to take part in the electoral process, because they foresee development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations going forward. Even in the Panchayat elections held in 2018,the average voter turnout was 71%, marking the strength of grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2015, while announcing the ambitious Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, from the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, PM Narendra Modi made a passionate mention of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, and Insaniyat”, as in, Kashmiri culture, democracy, and humanity. “Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai”, said Modi (Without Kashmiriyat, India is incomplete). The mega package that was to change the face of the militancy-hit region and draw the disillusioned back into the mainstream has been a resounding success. On the jobs’ front, over 3000 jobs were created for Kashmiri migrants in the last eighteen months. Financial assistance of Rs 578 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was provided to 12,588 displaced families (of the 36,384 families) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chhamb. Land was acquired for an IIT and an IIM in Jammu and the two AIIMS in Jammu and Awantipora in Kashmir respectively.

Power projects have moved at a fast pace. The Pakal Dul 1,000 MW project and the Srinagar-Leh transmission line are on course. Of the 28 small hydropower projects estimated to cost a total of Rs 2,000 crore, several projects have either already kicked off the ground or will do so soon enough.

The Rs 80,000 crore package consists of 63 major development projects being implemented by 15 Central Ministries. More than 79% of the total package has already been sanctioned and over 40% of the development package has either been released or utilised. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patni-top or Syama Prasad Mookerjee tunnel, is not only India’s longest highway tunnel but also Asia’s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. The tunnel stretching 9.28 km, inaugurated by PM Modi in April 2017, is a huge achievement that is set to transform how different regions of India are connected across various terrains. The tunnel has reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two to four hours, reducing the distance by 31 km, which in turn has resulted in a huge reduction in the consumption of fuel. The Modi government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakh of fuel consumption per day, on average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir valley, which was hitherto only intermittently connected.

The fact that Jammu and Kashmir has always been high on the Modi government’s priority list is best amplified by PM Modi’s launch of the Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT) scheme, on December 26, 2020. The scheme will cover the remaining one crore population which has not been covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. With the launch of the Sehat scheme, Jammu and Kashmir are among the first in India to achieve universal health coverage. Currently, under Ayushman Bharat PM Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which gives eligible beneficiaries a free health cover of Rs. 5 lakh, over 30 lakh people are already covered in Jammu and Kashmir.

An uneasy calm that had prevailed in the valley after the revocation of Article 370 and 35-A, has now paved way for higher business confidence and greater stability, with militancy and separatism, taking a backseat. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A have made it possible to implement the 7th pay commission recommendations and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) rather than the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which was in vogue all these years. Under Article 35-A no outsider could bag a government job. Earlier, companies were forced to hire only locals. Revocation of the above Articles has levelled the playing field in Jammu and Kashmir. No investor was willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institution, or private hospital since he or she could neither buy land or property. Their wards could not get government jobs or admission to colleges. In so many decades, there are barely any major national or international chains that have set up hotels in a tourist-centric region like J&K, preventing enrichment, resource generation, and job creation. But on August 5, 2019, Prime Minister Modi’s government reset the clock, undoing all the misguided wrongs of the jaded Nehruvian era in an unprecedented, epochal decision of abrogating Article 370 and 35-A. The rest is history. Recently,in a Clubhouse discussion, senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, notorious for being a loose cannon, said that the Congress Party would consider restoring Article 370 if it came to power, forgetting that the revocation of the said Article is full and final and cannot be undone. Also, the Congress Party has been reduced to a puny, fractious Party and cannot come back to power, as India is done with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts.

J&K’s special status had thus far even shielded it from the applicability of Article 3 of the Constitution, which provides for re-drawing state boundaries or the creation of a new State/UT. But all that is in the past now, as Jammu and Kashmir which are UTs now are at the cusp of a sharp economic turnaround. Remember, Article 370 and 35-A empowered J&K to be a near-autonomous State since it limited the Centre’s authority to just external affairs, defence, finance and communication. This provision even allowed J&K to have a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” for governor and prime minister in place of a chief minister till 1965, as well as its own flag and constitution. Hence revoking Article 370— which was in any case, always temporary and transitional as per Part XXI of the Constitution— was long overdue. Before the revocation, the Union government needed the concurrence of the State government to even declare a financial emergency in the State, under Article 360.

As per the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, in place of this special status, all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will henceforth be applicable, which will help in mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A, which comes under Article 370, proscribed and prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the State, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs, or any kind of scholarships, aids as well as other public welfare projects. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will now be treated as one, with no discrimination between permanent residents and non-permanent ones.

Article 35-A also referred to as the Permanent Residents Law, had thus far barred a woman (belonging to the state) from any property rights if she marries a person from outside the state. The provision also extended to the children of such women as they did not have any succession rights over the property. The revoking of this Article ended the age-old discrimination against women of J&K, who chose to marry outsiders.

The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access, and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem that will give better rewards to the skills, hard work, and products of the people in the region.

“In today’s world, economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment. Open minds and open markets will ensure that the youth of the region will put it on the path of greater progress. The integration gives a boost to investment, innovation, and incomes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said post the revocation of the discriminatory Articles.

“Better connectivity, better linkages, and better investment will help products of the region to reach across the country and the world, leading to a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity to the common man,” the PM added. And with the slew of infrastructure projects underway in the region, that is precisely what is happening.

It needs to be mentioned here that Jammu and Kashmir had received 10% of all Central grants given to States over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only 1% of the country’s population.

In contrast, Uttar Pradesh making up about 13% of India’s population received only 8.2% of Central grants in 2000-16. That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received Rs.91,300 per person over the sixteen years between 2000-2016, while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs.4,300 per person over the same period. Why did J&K not see any substantive development despite receiving a disproportionate amount of Central assistance? Well, funds alone cannot guarantee good governance if the political will is lacking and an enabling ecosystem is missing. In one historic sweep, the Prime Minister, on August 5, 2019, by mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, ensured that the region could prosper like any other without being beholden to a corrupt and conniving political class represented by the Abdullahs and Muftis who had used the special status of J&K to only accord special privileges unto themselves.

The fact that the Modi government truly abides by the dictum of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwaas”, can be gauged from the inauguration of mega hydropower projects in Jammu on January 3, 2021. Memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to attract Rs 35,000 crore of investments besides ensuring a 24-hour power supply in the UT.

January 3 was a historic day as mega hydropower projects to make J&K a power surplus region in the country were inked. MoUs were signed for implementation of 850 MW Ratle HEP and 930 MW Kirthai-II HEP; execution of Sawalkot HEP (1856 MW), Uri-I (Stage-II) (240 MW), and Dulhasti (Stage-II) (258 MW) will further transform the economic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last 70 odd years, J&K was able to generate only 3504 MW energy. But in the next four years, the UT will generate additional 3,498 MW of electricity to ensure energy security of the region.

The 19 distribution and transmission projects inaugurated on January 3, 2021, would enhance the ease of living in the region, in addition to playing a significant role in raising per capita incomes, industrialisation and employment generation in J&K. The national average of electricity in rural areas is 20 hours and in urban areas is 22-23 hours, across India. J&K too will reach that milestone if the pace of development is kept steady. With locals being trained and given employment in NHPC ventures, J&K will see a new dawn of energy sufficiency and thereby inclusive development.

Indeed, J&K is taking a quantum leap from being power deficit to power surplus, in the next four years. Clean, affordable, and reliable energy is the key for industries, businesses, and society to grow. The Modi government has a well-laid out plan to effectively harness the hydro energy resources of J&K, to double the energy generation by 2024.The construction work on the Ring Road project, the widening of the National Highway from Pathankot to Jammu to make it six-lane from four-lane as well as the acquisition of land for the landmark Katra-Delhi Expressway road corridor have started in earnest in the Jammu region. Out of seven Centrally funded medical colleges, Jammu received four and Kashmir, three. As for recruitment to government jobs, hereafter the selection will be made purely based on written test, without an interview. Those including the Gupkar Alliance, who are raising a hue and cry against revocation of Article 370 are merely habitual pessimists, with rapidly declining political relevance. PM Modi’s aspirational and inclusive brand of politics is set to herald the winds of change in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, so that everyone has a shot at growth with a better quality of life.

The writer is an economist, BJP national spokesperson, and bestselling author of ‘Truth&Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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ANALYSING INDIA’S ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE GOALS

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Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues concern and impact every company, irrespective of where the company operates. Environmental issues range across climate change, carbon emission concerns, waste management, pollution (air and water). Social issues range across labour issues, modern slavery, under-the-table sourcing practices, product liabilities, privacy concerns, data security. Governance issues range across business ethics, corporate culture that shapes how a company functions and its organisational practices, board impact, enterprise risk framework, and the granularity of the organisation disclosures.

The term ESG was first coined in 2005 in a landmark study initiated by United Nations, titled ‹Who Cares Wins.” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) refers to the three core themes in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company. These criteria also help in determining the future financial performance of companies.

In recent years, investing in sustainable companies has been associated with ‘doing good’ investors. ESG is no more just that or about ‘investing plus sustainability’. It is now the way of responsible investing. It is no more a ‘nice to have’ special project in a firm; it is rather a ‘must make it part of the organisational DNA’ culture and board imperative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of social commitment, environmental championing, and governance values of companies. Many companies have taken up the cause of social impact, as a spontaneous response to the suffering all around. These showcase the companies’ true values and commitment to a mission.

SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL LICENSE

Sustainability is specific to a company, or an industry, and a country. Companies need to measure their positive and negative impacts, identify the baselines, and disclose in a transparent and consumer-friendly manner. Regulatory requirements of such disclosures have compelled the act of disclosures, but not necessarily the spirit and details of such disclosures. To really achieve sustainability, it has to be a top-down, company-wide cultural effort.

A social licence simply refers to the acceptance of an organisation by the community in which it operates. In other words, an organisation can carry out its business, simply because of the confidence the (local) society has that it will behave well respecting all rules and traditions, with accountability, and in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The ‘social license to operate’ is made of these three elements:

• Legitimacy: the extent to which an organisation operates by the ‘rules of the game’ (the norm of the community, even if they are informal or not coded as law).

• Credibility: the organisation’s ability to provide true and detailed information to the community and fulfil all its commitments on time, without reminders.

• Trust: this aspect of highest quality of a relationship takes time and effort to nurture and sustain.

Organisations that think that social licence is something that they can ‘pay for’, end up with issues of their credibility at stake. Companies with questionable processes often try and buy such credibility by giving out community grants (in the form of social funds). This kind of transactional nature of the behaviour would break the trust that the community has with the organisation.

Even a broken relationship can be mended or healed by carefully rebuilding that trust. Trust assumes that all parties involved would nurture the relationships, based on mutual respect and highest levels of probity.

The social license of profit-making entities has to be a full-time engagement. Organisations, that champion their community initiatives, usually have their best and senior resources overseeing those initiatives. Such organisations ensure that their boards are appraised regularly of the initiatives, however small the projects could be in their balance sheet. It is the guiding principles of those initiatives which matter and not the project-cost-outlay!

Boards usually have governance expertise on business matters. At the beginning of this millennium, climate change became a global debate.

It took time for it to percolate to the corporate world as a serious topic that could impact their ‘future business as well as ‘future of business’. With ESG standards gaining momentum across stakeholder groups, Boards are discussing the following things :

• Societal changes and evolving expectations of the society

• Adapting the corporate brand promise in alignment with ESG objectives

• Various risks including Global risks, country risks, and corporate risks.

• Reputational issues

• Disruptive elements in their industry/geography

• Global momentum on ESG and expectations.

GRASSROOTS DISCUSSION

Conversations around ESG need to move out of specialist journals, multilateral institutions› annual summits, and corporate board rooms to classroom debates, panchayat discussions, and populist mass media across various languages!

A productive ESG thinking depends on building initiatives that are authentic, inclusive, actionable, and focused on driving a real-world result, not just an ESG rating or award.

ESG is not a revolution, but more a mindset evolution. This might be a good starting point for you to think of your ESG journey ahead:

• Do all your stakeholders know your ESG goals? Are all of them aligned in the mission ahead?

• How do you improve the existing ESG standards?

• Do you know of the parameters that make up your firm’s ESG score or ratings?

• How do you improve on the existing processes that impact the ESG performance of your firm?

• How do you compete with the global benchmarks?

• How strong is your social licence to operate, in the locations your firm operates and serves customers?

• How do you communicate about your ESG initiatives— both to your internal stakeholders and the external world? After all, perception is a new reality.

• You might have ‘goodness’ as a value. Is it reflected in each of the stakeholder behaviour and processes within your firm?

In this transformational journey to make the world ‘good’, every voice counts, and every positive act matters. Capital, human capital, and social capital have to come together for sustainable and impactful ESG outcomes.

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GEO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE HISTORIC STILWELL ROAD

The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Jajati K. Pattnaik

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The Stilwell Road which was lost in geostrategic calculus during the Cold War period gained geo-economic relevance in the backdrop of India’s Act East policy under the canopy of neoliberal architecture. The road was considered a prime mover for cross-border trade and economic integration with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) having wider implications for India’s Northeastern states as well. The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Stilwell Road in 2015 (Nampong section)Stilwell Road during World War II. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

During its completion in 1944, the road was used as a major supply route for the transportation of arms, troops, and other essential materials for the Kuomintang Army of China in its war against Japan. The road covering a distance of 1726 kilometers starts from Ledo in Assam (India) and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Kachin (Myanmar) and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China. The road covers 61 km in India, 1033 km in Myanmar, and 632 km in China respectively.

Initially, Myanmar was skeptical about re-opening the Stilwell road, because it ran across the insurgency-infested Kachin region upon which the Military Junta did not have any control. Later, Myanmar Government assigned the contract to Yunnan Construction Engineering Group of China and the military-backed Yuzana group in 2010 to reconstruct 312-kilometer road from Myitkyina in Myanmar to Pangsau pass at the India-Myanmar border. India has renovated its portion of Stilwell road through two-lane highways, while China has renovated its own segment through six-lane Highways. The experts working in this field opined that rebuilding of Myitkyina-Pangsau Pass would reduce the cost of transport by about 30 percent benefitting India, Myanmar, and China for bilateral as well as multilateral trade. Generally, goods from India’s Northeast are brought through road and railways of narrow Siliguri corridor to Kolkata covering near about 1,600 km and then transshipped through the Strait of Malacca to South East Asia and China. The present route takes about seven days for the landing of cargo whereas the same consignment through the Stilwell route can land in Myanmar and China in less than two days. In my opinion, if the Myanmar segment is completed, then the Ledo-Nampong corridor could be connected to Muse, Lashio, Mandalay, and Yangon (Myanmar) through Asian Highway (AH14); Ruili, Wanding and Kunming (China) through AH3 and Bangkok (Thailand); Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore (Singapore) through Asian Highway 2(AH2) and further to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hochi Minh city (Vietnam) of grater Mekong sub-region through Asian Highways 1(AH1). It is envisioned that such type of transnational-connectivity corridors would help in strengthening free trade architecture eventually pave the way for regional and sub-regional cooperation.

In this context, the opening of the Stilwell road at the India-Myanmar border would create scope for cross-border trade and economic collaboration in the region involving India’s Northeastern states. It is pertinent to mention here that the Nampong Land Custom Station (Arunachal Pradesh) notified since 1951 has largely remained non-functional and the border trade was limited to informal channels. At present, Indian nationals are allowed to visit the Pangsau market (Myanmar side) on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month. Likewise, Myanmar’s nationals living 16 km from its borer are permitted to visit Nampong every Friday to purchase their necessary items. In case of any formal border trade, there would be a rush forward in both imports and exports, and as a consequence, it would strengthen the pace for cross-border collaboration involving both hardware and software resources for the benefit of all the stakeholders in the region.

India’s prime apprehension is that in case ‘We Act East’ through the Stilwell Road, then India’s Northeast will be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. This kind of economic threat perception cannot be denied given the nature of the easy overflow of Chinese goods into the Indian markets including the Northeast. Equally, it is pertinent to mention that China has already spread its tentacles in our neighbouring South/ South East Asian countries through several infrastructural projects, the most touted, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) posing it as the economic hegemon of the continental corridor. Since India enjoys added advantages over China due to multiplicity of geo-economic, cultural, and strategic factors, New Delhi can drag the ASEAN very well in its favour by forging a closer partnership with the latter through transnational connectivity projects and deeper economic linkages. In this context, Stilwell road could be a game-changer, and set the momentum for the economic engagement of Northeast with ASEAN, subsequently balancing India’s national interest vis-à-vis China.

The writer is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

The road covering a distance of 1,726 km starts from Ledo in Assam and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Myanmar and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China.

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