Is the Election Commission being hypersensitive? Should SEBI scrap the embarrassing EDIFAR? read on...
By Sucheta Dalal
Is the Election Commission (EC) being hasty in rapping the Finance Ministry for releasing information on its revenue and fiscal performance? Curiously, the government’s action has found support even among some apolitical retired bureaucrats. In fact, revenue collection and fiscal numbers ought to be released every quarter, exactly like corporate results. The matter would be objectionable only if the figures were fudged. Moreover, objection to fiscal numbers during poll time, mainly because they present a rosy picture, may set a dangerous precedent. Last week the Finance Secretary had announced that tax collection has jumped 18 pc in 2003-04 and the fiscal deficit was likely to be lower. What if the numbers are exactly the opposite in the run up to another election? Can a future government legitimately, suppress proof of a poor fiscal and revenue performance using elections as an excuse?
EDIFAR is not EDGAR
EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering and Retrieval) is the extremely accessible and efficient website of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available to investors around the world. Its task is the ‘‘automated collection, validation, indexing, acceptance, and forwarding’’ of information filed by companies that are required to report to the SEC by law. EDIFAR (Electronic Data Information Filing and Retrieval System), on the other hand, is a me-too attempt by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) created in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre. The problems with accessing EDIFAR are abundant. It is cumbersome to navigate, has no search engine, is out-of-date and a nightmare for users seeking specific information. For instance, two notorious companies – DSQ Software and DSQ Biotech have long since changed their names, but EDIFAR is unaware. The Action Taken Against the Company section doesn’t open for these companies. Prospectuses are filed on Sebi’s website but are not available later although they are electronically filed. It does not even highlight those companies that fail to provide timely information. Fortunately, much of the information that was supposed to be on EDIFAR is more efficiently available elsewhere. Given that all these blunders are part of the regulator’s website, it is a serious embarrassment that needs to be addressed quickly; especially if Sebi wants to be considered among the world’s leading regulators. Ideally, it must rebuild EDIFAR from scratch and also revamp the main Sebi website in the process.
Customer agitation over the high charges of new private banks is reaching a dangerous high. Last week an e-mail that mistook ICICI’s heavy new charges for those who don’t maintain a minimum balance of Rs 5000 (over a quarter), triggered enormous anger among depositors. Since then, ICICI Bank is been battling to inform account holders that charges such as Rs 2 for a cheque leaf or for ATM usage above a bare minimum don’t apply to them. But many customers are not easily mollified by the explanations. They insist that cosmetic new facilities such as increased cash withdrawal limits are being ‘‘foisted’’ on them as an excuse to charge a Rs 99 annual fee for debit cards. Customers were similarly agitated with HDFC Bank’s charges last year. In fact, users are so jittery at the multifarious charges dreamed up by new private banks, that some are opting to switch back to relatively cheaper nationalised banks.
Things are not quite right at the MTNL. Instead of fighting to retain its market dominance, it seems determined not to grow. According to sources, only a third of its three-lakh line capacity for the GARUDA service is operational today because CDMA handsets have not been available for an incredible 15 months. The organisation is continuously losing revenue. Meanwhile, Reliance Infocom, using the same technology, has notched up a base of 16 lakh in a year.
Going to the polls
As large parts of the country gets set for the second round of polling, the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots will decide who represents the people. We will use electronic voting machines but many voters living in Mumbai’s slums are clueless about the concept of a ‘‘secret’’ ballot. They believe that records of their votes are maintained by the government and available to politicians. It is like the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls where a political party diabolically rigged the system by simply advising voters to press the first button to switch on the machine. So much for our claims of ‘‘India Shining’’.