‘Disco’ lights at Raisina Hills
If some hyperactive officials of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) have their way, the Raisina Hills—the seat of power—will soon be bathed in the night with dynamic LED “disco” type lights of red, blue and green (RBG) colours. In the process, the Star of India, made of glass, atop the Jaipur Column in the Rashtrapati Bhawan’s forecourt, may “disappear” in dazzling changing three-colour lights. Atop the Jaipur Column is a five-ton lotus from which emerges the six-pointed Star of India. The current ruling party, the BJP, loves “lotus”, as it is the saffron party’s election symbol.
The CPWD floated an urgent Rs 17.71-crore tender for the RBG colour-changing lighting for the facades of North and South Blocks at the beginning of May. The tender was reissued with some changes on 18 May, with the final date due on 3 June. A similar tender with an estimated cost of Rs 10 crore was floated during the UPA regime in 2009, but it was not executed due to lack of funds. Then, the requirement was the use of white shades of LED lights.
Almost every bidder has told the CPWD authorities that the RBG colour lights will not suit the architectural structure of the North and South Blocks. These lights will look jarring in the sandstone buildings around, which house the offices of the Prime Minister, and the Ministers of Home, Finance and Defence. The famous resident of the Raisina Hills—the President—lives nearby. The entire area’s aesthetic beauty would be marred. Instead, yellow lights should be preferred. The bidders have cautioned that these lights would look “awful” during the Republic Day celebrations, when the whole area is lit up with lovely yellow lights.
Manufacturers of LED lights attended a pre-bid meeting on 25 May and suggested that the products should be with the “Made in India” tag, rather than be procured from China or any other country. They complained that the specifications in the tender have surprisingly been chosen to suit imported products of a leading multinational company’s Indian subsidiary.
The bidders have asked the CPWD to re-evaluate the estimated cost as, they claimed, they can do the project in less than Rs 10 crore, as prices of LED bulbs have come down to one-tenth of rates prevailing in 2009. There are whispers in the corridors that a top official is, for strange reasons, pushing the project at an alarming speed as he is due to retire by this yearend. He has the power to sanction projects up to Rs 20 crore. Interestingly, this official flaunts his picture shaking hands with PM Modi at a function on his WhatsApp window.
One wonders whether the CPWD has taken the “consent” of the PM and his top ministers who work in the Raisina Hills.
Re 1: A Secret Wish
Every Union Finance Secretary (FS) nurses a “hidden desire” to get a new series of Rupee 1 notes issued during his term. That’s because only one-rupee notes carry the signature of the FS. All other denominations bear the RBI Governor’s signature.
The RBI on 30 May notified yet another 2017 series of one-rupee notes signed by Shaktikanta Das, Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs. Being the senior most “babu” in the ministry, he was the FS. But eyebrows are being raised as Das, a 1980 batch Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer, retired a day after the notification. Many top bureaucrats are wondering how new rupee one notes can now be put into the circulation with the “former FS” signatures. They recall that once a new series of currency notes of high value were issued with a retired RBI Governor’s signatures. An embarrassed RBI had withdrawn these notes and destroyed them.
The one-rupee currency was last re-issued in 2015, after being discontinued over two decades ago in 1994, with the then FS Rajiv Mehrishi’s signatures. Mehrishi had apparently put his autographs on a large number of fresh notes and presented them to his colleagues and friends. These notes with “double signatures” of the same FS have become a collector’s item.
In 2016, a futile exercise was made to issue one-rupee notes signed by the then senior most Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Ratan P. Watal. Interestingly, the order was issued by Shaktikanta Das on 28 January 2016, but the file never reached the final stage. Despite the printing of Re 1 notes costing more than their face value, a new series has come to be known as a “deliberate bureaucratic exercise”.
The Re 1 note does not have the word “I promise to pay the bearer”. According to the relevant Act, a one-rupee note is a “coin”. And, in accordance with the RBI Act 1934, the RBI cannot mint coins. While the RBI notes are a “liability”, the one-rupee note is an asset, just like other coins. Bureaucrats don’t believe in carrying a “liability”—even after retirement—but love to go down in history.
Overzealous vigilante groups are changing humour lines, as this columnist discovered at a recent dinner hosted by a dear Muslim friend. It so happened that other than this writer, all guests, mostly with their wives, were from top Muslim families. Everybody knew everybody. All of them were well-educated and holding respectable positions in different professions and in their community. Amidst free laughter, the host suddenly, from across the drawing room, looked towards your humble writer with a mischievous smile and loudly proclaimed: “Hey, I just that realised you are the only Hindu here. So how are you feeling?” Shocked, the guests condemned the host and forced him to apologise. Soon after, an excellent dinner was served. Of course, there was no beef.
A bizarre idea for new Prez
Who will succeed “Dada” Pranab Mukherjee in the Rashtrapati Bhawan this July? The top leaders of 17 Opposition parties recently met on the invitation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to “select” their common candidate. But, instead, they ended up discussing more about how to counter the BJP’s growing influence across the country. They are feeling frustrated as PM Modi has not called them to build a consensus on one suitable name, as is said to be the tradition, to avoid an election. Ask top BJP leaders as to who might be Modi’s choice, they say: “Don’t waste your time reading the PM’s mind.”
A few days before the “united Opposition” meeting, some individuals huddled together in a bungalow, not far from Parliament House, discussing “a bizarre idea”. They were keen to push BJP’s “Margdarshak” L.K. Advani (89) as the presidential candidate of the united Opposition.
It’s unbelievable, but true. The individuals included a South Indian businessman, a senior retired IAS officer and a former ambassador. Obviously, they were Advani’s admirers. The former IFS career diplomat took the responsibility of “handling the matter” at the Sonia Gandhi end. The businessman gave the impression that he could convince Advani to come on board. They were angry with Modi as he had not asked Advani—the BJP’s senior most leader—to be the NDA’s nominee. They felt that Advani coming as the opposition’s candidate would “embarrass Modi” and he might be forced to back the veteran. However soon the Advani balloon was punctured by the CBI.
The GHODEWALA Mystery
Remember Hasan Ali Khan, popularly known as “Ghodewala”, since he, besides many other business ventures, ran a stud farm in Pune? He hit the headlines when in 2007 the Income Tax Department accused him of stashing an unbelievable $8 billon in the accounts of various overseas branches of UBS Bank, including some in tax havens. It was alleged that he was handling the hawala money of some top businessmen and politicians, including one whom many Opposition parties have considered for fielding in the President’s election.
Of late, some urgent halchal (activity) has been noticed in the stables of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has been pursuing Ali’s money trail for over a decade, without any remarkable success. Many have started wondering whether the investigating agencies are continuing to flog a dead horse with a specific agenda of the political masters. Meanwhile, the old man is on a weekly dialysis, shuttling between home and hospital, for long admission for other ailments.
The timeline of the case has raised the finger of suspicion over the conduct of the investigating agencies, as they are relying only on certain photocopies of the account details found on 6 January 2007. The first hearing in the ED adjudication proceedings took place on 28 February 2011, and the second one took place on 4 May 2017. The proceedings have not concluded yet.
During the cross examination, Arvind Kumar Singh, a senior IRS officer, who was the investigating officer of the case, admitted that the said investigation commenced after the recovery of six photocopies of documents by the I-T Department, and the ED did not verify the same and the contents of the documents.
Ali’s counsel Ramakant Gaur, who is an authority on black money, has alleged that “this is not only a shoddy investigation, but also a paradigm of mala fide exercise of powers to implicate some influential politicians to settle scores”. He has pointed out that the Supreme Court has settled the law by declining to consider photocopies as evidence. Meanwhile, the I-T Department demand has surprisingly plummeted to Rs 3 crore only. Foreign banks have communicated that the so-called accounts of Ali do not exist in their records.
Veteran journalist Man Mohan starts his column on inside information on government and politics, among others, from this week. He can be contacted at email@example.com