Mamata govt to have discretion over chit fund prosecution


AMENDED CHIT FUND BILL TO BE INTRODUCED IN BENGAL ASSEMBLY ON 18 JUNE

Saradha Scam

By bappaditya paul 

The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments (Amendment) Bill, known as the chit fund bill in popular parlance, and scheduled to be introduced in the state Assembly on 18 June, proposes to give the state government the discretion on whether to prosecute a fraudulent financial institution / person.

The principal legislation, mooted in the aftermath of Saradha scam and which the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been touting as the panacea to curb fraudulent financial institutions, was cleared by the state Assembly in 2013.

But its becoming a law has been hanging fire for want of a Presidential assent, which finally came this March on the condition that the clause in the legislation that empowered it to override all existing laws would have to be amended.

Chit fund bill

Conforming to the advice, the state government has drafted an amendment to Section 22 (1) and (2) making it clear that the legislation will be implemented “in addition to, and not in derogation of any other law for the time being in force.”

But in drafting the amended version of the legislation, the state government has inserted a sub-clause in Section 9 (2) that gives an officer appointed by the state government the discretion on whether to grant permission to law enforcing agencies to prosecute an accused individual or group.

The officer, in this case, is identified as the Competent Authority and will be designated as the Director of Economic Offices. The newly inserted sub-clause Section 9 (2) (aa) empowers him / her: “to grant or withhold previous sanction for prosecution of an offence under Section 3.”

Section 3 pertains to irregularities such as failing to re-pay deposits, bonus, profit etc that constitute an offence under the chit fund law.

Asked to comment on this, senior high court advocate Arunava Ghosh said over the phone this evening: “The sub-clause in effect means that the state government will have the discretion on whether to prosecute a fraudulent financial company or individual instead of the law enforcing agencies. Prima facie this appears to me to be against the spirit of the Constitution.”

Arunavo Ghosh
Arunavo Ghosh

Mr Ghosh added that the amended bill, if and when it is passed by the state Assembly, should again have to be sent to the President for assent.

More so because, the state government has not accepted a suggestion by the Centre’s Department of Financial Services pertaining to compounding of offences for prosecuting a fraudulent financial group or individual.

“The suggestion of inclusion of a provision for compounding of offences has however not been considered for amendment on the ground that it will severely dilute the stringent provision of the principal Act,” reads a point in the statement of objectives and reasons in the amended bill that was circulated among the MLAs earlier last week.

(This report first appeared in The Statesman, India on 15 June 2015.)

Assemblies struggle to meet minimum sittings prescription


LIKE SEVERAL OTHER LEGISLATURES, BENGAL ASSEMBLY TOO FAILING TO HOLD SESSION FOR 70 DAYS A YEAR
West Bengal Assembly
West Bengal Assembly

By bappaditya paul  

WEST BENGAL ASSEMBLY, like several of its counterparts, is failing to hold the minimum number of sittings in a year as had been recommended by a parliamentary panel.

According to the West Bengal Assembly secretariat, the House sat for 48 days in 2014 as against the 70 days sitting recommended for state legislatures having more than 40 MLAs by the 16th All India Whips’ Conference. The Bengal Assembly has 294 MLAs.

The scene is not looking any better this year either: while the House

was in session for 11 days in February-March; in case of the on-going extended Budget Session that is scheduled to last until 18 June, the actual days of business would be 26 days.

Prior to this, in 2011 the West Bengal Assembly was in session for 42 days, in 2012 for 41 days and in 2013 the figure came down to 30 days. But it is not that the Bengal Assembly alone is lagging behind when it comes to holding number of sittings in accordance with the recommendation.

HOUSE IN BUSINESS

“Gujarat Assembly sat for 32 days in 2011, for 30 days in 2012 and 33 days in 2013. In case of Tamil Nadu Assembly it was 33, 42 and 47 days; while the Bihar Assembly was in session for 34, 38 and 39 days, respectively,” said the Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee.

The Trinamul Congress ruled Bengal could probably take solace in the fact that the Left ruled Tripura Assembly too is failing to hold sittings for 70 days a year.

“Tripura Assembly sat for 13 days each in 2011 and 2012, and for 11 days in 2013,” Mr Banerjee said. Tripura Assembly has 60 MLAs.

The Bengal Assembly Speaker said that they had been working on to adhere to the parliamentary panel’s recommendation and the 48 days session in 2014 as compared to the 30 days held in 2013 was a testimony to that end.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 09 June 2015.)

Bengal eyes to double foreign tourists this year


HIRING OGILVY & MATHER FOR PUBLICITY DRIVE 

Bengal Tourism logo

By bappaditya paul

THE NUMBER OF FOREIGN TOURISTS visiting West Bengal is expected to touch 28 lakh (2.8 million) in the current fiscal year ending March 2016, state tourism minister Bratya Basu told the West Bengal Assembly last week.

This is notwithstanding the alleged gang-rape of a Japanese tourist at Digha and other places in the state by a group of touts-turned-guides in November 2014, which many feared would deter foreigners from visiting Bengal.

According to Mr Basu, 5.04 crore (50.04 million) tourists visited Bengal in 2014 as compared to 2.67 crore (20.67 million) in 2013. Apart from the overall growth, the number of foreign tourists also rose to 14 lakh (1.4 million) from 12.45 lakh (1.245 million) in 2013, registering a growth of 12.44 per cent.

Tourist

“Our estimate is that the overall number of tourists, as well as the number of foreign tourists, will get doubled this fiscal year (2015-2016),” the minister said. “This has been possible because of the high budget allocation in the past four years that led to improvement in tourism infrastructure in the state. The focus now is on medical, film and religious tourism.”

To keep up with the growth pace, Bengal government will soon embark on a publicity drive emulating the Vibrant Gujarat campaign and the famed private advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather was being hired for this, he said.

In fact, of the Rs 317 crore (3,170 million) budget approved by the state legislature for tourism department this fiscal year, 70 crore (700 million) has alone been earmarked for publicity and promotion.

In 2011-12 the budget allocation for tourism was Rs 44 crore (440 million), in 2012-13 Rs 90 crore (900 million), in 2013-14 Rs 120 crore (1,200 million) and in 2014-15 it was Rs 223 crore (2,230 million).

Air India starts fight service to Bengal’s greenfield Andal airport


Bengal Youth Affairs Minister Aroop Biswas (in white panjabi) and Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak (in yellow panjabi) along with Bengali film actors in front of the inaugural flight at Kazi Narul Airport at Andal near Asansol on Monday.
Bengal Youth Affairs Minister Aroop Biswas (in white panjabi) and Labour Minister Moloy Ghatak (in yellow panjabi) along with Bengali film actors in front of the inaugural flight at Kazi Narul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol on Monday.

AN AIR INDIA FLIGHT on Monday became the first passenger flight to touch down and take off from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol, thus marking the begining of commercial flight services at the Bengal’s first-ever private greenfield airport.

Air India’s subsidiary Alliance Air operated a 48-seater ATR aircraft from Kolkata to the Andal airport with some ministers of the Bengal government and local cine stars onboard the inaugural flight. The same group was aboard the return flight from Andal.

Andal airport has been developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL) in collaboration with Singapore based Changi Airports International (CAI). The 650-acre airport is located about 170 km away from Kolkata by road.

Now on, Alliance Air will operate flights between Kolkata and Andal on all days a week barring Friday. Flight AI-9713 will leave Kolkata at 5.05 pm to reach Andal at 5.40 pm. The return flight AI-9714 will depart from Andal at 6.05 pm arriving in Kolkata at 6.40 pm. 

The flights will save passengers from Durgapur the time-consuming road journey to Kolkata and provide them onward air connectivity to Air India’s Delhi and Mumbai flights the same evening. BAPL said in a statement that for the onward connectivity, they would facilitate a through check-in. 

The flights will meet a long-standing need of the residents of Asansol-Durgapur belt boasting power-intensive industries such as mining, iron and steel, metalwork, engineering, petrochemicals, and telecommunications. 

 

Supreme Court to take call on polls to 7 Bengal civic bodies


MAMATA GOVT’S PLEA AGAINST CALCUTTA HC ORDER FOR POLLS BY 16 JUNE TO BE HEARD TUESDAY 

Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court of India.

By bappaditya paul

WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT on Monday filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court seeking a stay on Calcutta High Court’s 16 April directive wherein it had ordered elections to seven civic bodies in the state by 16 June.

This after a division bench of Calcutta High Court headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur last Friday rejected a state government plea for more time to hold the polls.

According to Bengal municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim, the Apex Court has listed the SLP for hearing on Tuesday. Coinciding this, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has convened a meeting at 3 pm tomorrow with the DMs, SPs and Police Commissioners of the civic poll-bound districts to discuss poll preparations.

The SLP was today filed on a day the Bengal poll commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya told an all-party meeting that the notification for elections to the seven civic bodies would be issued on 20 May and the elections would be held on 14 June in pursuance of the 16 June deadline fixed by the High Court.

The seven civic bodies in question are ~ Asansol, Raniganj, Jamuria, Kulti, Bally, Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar. Of them, while the elections to first five civic bodies are long overdue; in case of Rajarhat-Gopalpur and Bidhannagar the current boards would exhaust their term in June.

Going by Section 36 (3) of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act of 1994 and Section 8 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act of 1994, state government should first notify the poll date and this has to be followed with a matching notification from the SEC detailing the entire election schedule.

In this case, the SEC can straightway notify the poll schedule citing the High Court directive, an election expert said.

But whether the poll panel will finally issue a poll notification bypassing the state government would depend on the outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings on Tuesday.

Bengal PSC to lose Dental Services recruitment job


MAMATA GOVT HANDING OVER THE TASK TO HEALTH RECRUITMENT BOARD

West Bengal Public Services Commission.
West Bengal Public Services Commission.

By bappaditya paul

WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT is moving a new legislation in the state Assembly next week that will take away the task of conducting recruitments for Dental Services from the State Public Service Commission (PSC) and vest the same in the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board.   

Dental Services will be the latest sector to go out of the recruitment ambit of the PSC, which happens to be a Constitutional body. 

Last year, the Mamata Banerjee government had taken away the recruitment of Group C and D category staff in government departments from PSC and entrusted it to the newly constituted State Staff Selection Commission formed under a state law.   

Government sources maintain that one of the reasons behind such moves is the alleged delay in the recruitment process carried out by the PSC that leaves a substantial number of vacancies in various departments and sectors all the time.

The new legislation ~ The West Bengal State Dental Service (Amendment) Bill, 2015, ~ is listed to be tabled in the state Assembly on 19 May. It seeks to amend the West Bengal State Dental Service Act of 2009 that had vested all recruitments for the state’s Dental Services on the PSC. 

The Bill proposes to entrust the recruitments for both the West Bengal Dental Service and the West Bengal Dental Education Service to the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board established under a state law in 2012.

R Ahmed Dental College in Kolkata.
R Ahmed Dental College in Kolkata.

The Dental Education Service is for dental teachers who may or may not be into practice; Dental Service is for non-teaching practicing dentists.  

To meet the “huge shortage of (dental) faculty members”, the Bill also proposes to extend by another five years until 2019, the provision for recruiting basic level dental teachers from amongst the cadres of the Dental Service.

The Dental Service Act of 2009 had limited this provision to five years, which ended in August 2014.  

According to a health department insider, while around 16 posts of dental teachers are currently lying vacant throughout the state; the number of vacancy in practicing dentist posts is anything between 70-80. 

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India.  This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 May 2015.)

PM take off for Bengal’s pvt greenfield airport


UP ON THE WIND: Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wound up a two-day visit of Bengal, took off for Delhi from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol town on Sunday afternoon.
UP ON THE WIND: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday wound up his two-day visit to Bengal and took off for Delhi on a special Air Force plane from Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Asansol town in Burdwan district. Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport is a private greenfield airport developed in collaboration with the Changing Airport authorities of Singapore, and it will be thrown open to commercial passenger flight from 18 May. To begin with, Alliance Air, a subsidiary of national carrier Air India, will operate a daily service from and to Kolkata using a 42-seater ATR aircraft.

Kolkata reels under high temperature


IMG_20150402_174146
HIGH AND DRY: Kolkata is reeling under high temperature for the past three days with maximum and minimum temperature hovering around 37 and 28 degree Celsius, both up by two notches than normal. Corresponding high humidity of around 85 per cent is making things all the more difficult. Weather office has ruled out rains in the next 48 hours, i.e. until 9 April. In photo, an office building on Rawdon Street in central Kolkata.

 

New anti-Sub warship to join Indian Navy in October


INS KADMATT GETTING A FINAL TOUCH AT GARDEN REACH YARDS IN KOLKATA

File photo of ASW Corvette, INS Kamorta, inducted into Indian Navy in August 2014.
File photo of ASW Corvette, INS Kamorta, inducted into Indian Navy in August 2014.

By bappaditya paul

COME OCTOBER and Indian Navy will get a shot in the arm with a new anti-submarine warship joining its fleet at the eastern coast in Visakhapatnam.

Named INS Kadmatt, the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, is now at the final stage of furnishing at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) in Kolkata. GRSE began building the warship in 2011.

“The ship is almost ready and will be commissioned into the Indian Navy sometimes in October this year. There will be a handing over ceremony in Kolkata, followed by the actual commissioning ceremony at the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam about a month later,” GRSE chairman and managing director, Rear Admiral (Retd.) A K Verma told The Statesman on Tuesday.

The induction of Kadmatt will be a major boost for the Navy, especially because the force had suffered two consecutive bad years in 2013 and 2014 when mishaps damaged a number of its ships. These include the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak, a guided missile submarine, in August 2013, and the fire in INS Sindhuratna, another guided missile submarine, in February 2014, both off the coast of Mumbai.

Kadmatt is the second warship in Project-28 (P28), under which GRSE is building four ASWs for the Navy with 90 per cent indigenous contents and design. The first one ~ INS Kamorta ~ was inducted into the Navy on 23 August last year, and since then has been a major attraction during visits to foreign countries.GRSE“The work on the remaining two ASWs in P-28 ~ Kiltan and Kavaratti ~ is also in progress. We will handover them to the Navy in 2016 and 2017, respectively,” Rear Admiral Verma said. All the four ASW corvettes are named after islands in Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshwadweep.

Kadmatt is around 109 metres in length, around 14 metres wide at its maximum bulge and has an approximate displacement of 3,200 tons. Being built at an estimated cost of Rs 3,000-crore, it happens to be a modern warship with advanced stealth features that have very low Radar Cross Section and very low radiated underwater noise.

The ship is equipped with Super Rapid Gun Mounting, Anti-aircraft Guns, Torpedo Launcher, Rocket Launcher and Chaff Launcher as well as early Warning, Navigation, Fire Control Radars, Under-Water Sensors and an integrated Communication facility and Electronic Warfare System.

The Navy plans to deploy Kadmatt as an advance screen for the Carrier Battle Group to counter any submarine threat and it will be a feared platform for lurking enemy submarines and their nemesis within India’s territorial waters. It is expected to play a significant role in Navy’s submarine hunter/killer capabilities.

Kadmatt is powered by four indigenously designed 3,888 KW diesel engines at 1,050 rpm and has an endurance of about 3,450 nautical miles at 18 knots. The ship will be manned by 17 officers and 106 sailors, and can achieve a maximum speed of 25 knots.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman,India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 06 May 2015.)

Siliguri gets a step closer to new civic board


NEW SMC BOARD LATEST BY 3 JUNE

Siligiri town.
Siligiri town.

By bappaditya paul

SIX DAYS AFTER THE RESULTS WERE DECLARED, the Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday finally notified the poll results of Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) in the state’s Official Gazette, thus paving way for the formation of a new civic board there.

Going by Section 71 of the West Bengal Municipal Elections Act, 1994, notifying the poll results in the Official Gazette is mandatory for a newly elected civic board to take over.

SEC had notified the poll results of Kolkata Municipal Corporation the very next day of declaring the results on 28 April.

The move comes amidst the Left’s allegation that the Trinamul Congress was trying to capture power at SMC by doctoring a defection in rival parties and hence the state government was deliberately delaying the process of forming a new board so to give the Trinamul more time in horse trading. 

Of the 47 wards in SMC, the Left has won 23 seats, Trinamul 17, Congress 4, BJP 2 and 1 Independent, who happens to be a rebel Trinamul. Hence, the Left is poised to form the board despite being one seat short of majority.

With the SEC now notifying the SMC poll results, Section 50B of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993, makes it imperative for the Darjeeling district magistrate to convene a meeting of the newly elected councillors within 30 days, for forming a new civic board. 

Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamul supremo Mamata Banerjee who on Monday afternoon had a meeting in Siliguri with the 17 Trinamul councillors, is reported to have asked them to sit in the Opposition bench. 

But political observers suspect that she will always look forward to a defection by other party councillors to grab SMC, even if at a later stage.

This has happened in the past with the Haldia Municipality in East Midnapore, where the Left ruled civic board was toppled by Trinamul through defection. 

Meanwhile, the Bengal poll panel is yet to notify the poll results of another 90 civic bodies in the state where elections were held on 25 April and the results were declared on 28 April along with Siliguri. 

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