If Satyendra Dubey paid with his life, here is another example of how whistleblowers continue to be victimised, even when they are backed by a strong officers’ union and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) verifies and confirms the charges levelled by them. One such sufferer is M. K. Tyagi, the chief manager of Indian Oil Corporation’s (IOC) marketing division. In the year 2000, this IIT alumnus alleged that his bosses had shown undue favours to Bellary-based Sri Rayalseema Alkalies and Allies Chemicals for supply of fuels (FO/LSH/HSD), causing considerable financial losses to the corporation. Instead of investigating the charge, IOC charge-sheeted Tyagi for making false claims and harassed him. In June 2002, he complained to the CVC. In its December 2003 report, the CVC has listed Tyagi’s seniors among three IOC officers against whom it has recommended major penalty. However, over a month after the report, IOC has neither initiated any ‘major’ action against the indicted officials, nor withdrawn the chargesheet against Tyagi. The Indian Oil Officers’ Association too has demanded that the management should stop harassing Tyagi, but that too has had no effect. The whistleblower now finds that the CVC is a toothless body whose recommendations can simply be ignored. In the absence of a powerful Whistleblowers’ Act, it is no wonder that people hesitate to blow the whistle even on the most rampant corruption.
The Sebi has an extremely healthy and welcome practice of having most regulatory issues discussed by a select committee, inviting public comment on the committee’s recommendations and only then putting up regulatory issues to its board of directors for clearance. However, it often happens, that the board knocks out or dilutes key recommendations without seeming to have understood their background or importance. Ideally, this should not happen because Sebi officials on the committees are available at board meetings to explain the recommendations. But these officials are probably too diffident to make a strong case, for fear of contradicting a board member. Either way, the market and the processes set up by Sebi are the losers. Market intermediaries suggest that one way around the problem would be for Sebi to invite the chairmen of its Primary and Secondary Market Advisory Committee to board meetings as special invitees, at least when the recommendations made by either committee are under consideration. These chairmen are eminent individuals in their own right, and would be best able to explain their recommendations and defend them. This may ensure that all decisions move faster to the board and do not get lost on the way.
Reliance Telecom, which has recently been ordered to pay a hefty compensation to a consumer, has still to understand the adage that in a competitive market, the consumer is always King. But although its complaint handling system could do with drastic improvement, the company has apparently been handing out some inadvertent goodies to consumers privy to some tricks about its software. Reliance phone users are busy spreading the story that they can avoid paying long distance call charges, if they end their calls by removing the battery from the phone instead of using the disconnect button. The story goes that Reliance’s software is programmed to register only the end of a call for billing purposes, that too when it is disconnected. By removing the battery, the call apparently tapers away without being registered. Although we don’t understand the technical details that would make this possible, we checked a Reliance insider and were astonished to learn that the story had a grain of truth to it. But for those Reliance users who still think they are avoiding long distance charges by removing the battery, here is some bad news. The problem, whatever it was, was apparently fixed sometime in December and there are no more free calls forthcoming from Reliance. Incidentally, it has also straightened out its billing system and has actually begun to charge customers more regularly.
Tailpiece: When it comes to corporate sponsorships, ironies never cease. For instance, all of us know that Standard Chartered Bank is the sponsor of the highly publicised Mumbai Marathon. But few know that a minor sponsor of the race is the Essar Group. Also, the star attraction at the marathon is expected to be none other than Reliance’s Anil Ambani. His pictures preparing for the race have been splashed across the print media and over television networks. Does this mean that when it comes to the marathon, the two bitter corporate foes —after many run-ins —finally believe in Essar’s corporate slogan that says — ‘Think positive’? More importantly, will this signal a thaw in their frosty relationship too? -- Sucheta Dalal