Sucheta Dalal :Counting on change (11 Jan 2003)
Sucheta Dalal

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Counting on change (11 Jan 2003)  

Even as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) faces the biggest threat to its autonomy, through an amendment to its statute, the accounting industry too wants serious change. Its recent elections, conducted amidst turmoil, brought fresh faces into the Council and thwarted the designs of vested interests. The Swadeshi group, which openly opposed firms with foreign affiliations, was defeated and representatives of ‘foreign’ firms such as Lovelock and Lewes and Pricewaterhouse were elected. The controversial former president’s chosen candidates did not make it and his bete noir was elected. However, the Department of Company Affairs (DCA) has some good reasons for wanting more control over ICAI. Our DCA sources have horror stories to tell about ICAI’s office bearers pocketing money through lavish travel expenditure rules. (Apparently, its per diem allowance of $300 can be claimed for a day before and a day after an individual’s travel. So, the office bearers were not only out on frequent foreign jaunts, but they have often claimed a whopping $900 for a day trip to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh). ICAI’s own shenanigans will probably allow the DCA to make a good case for empowering itself to give directions to ICAI’s Council, check the travel bills of its office bearers and even supersede the council in extreme situations. Although the DCA has maintained a curious silence over ICAI’s functioning, if it makes some of the shady dealings become public, the institute’s demand for continued independence is unlikely to find much support.

Parmalat’s jet

‘Global Express’, the fancy business jet owned by Calisto Tanzi, patriarch of the hugely discredited Italian business group, Parmalat, is up for sale. The Bombardier aircraft apparently flies at close to the speed of sound and has a range of 11,000 km. The international press reports that the $45 million craft has received three bids so far—all from the United States. Apart from this, two fancy yachts of the Tanzi family are also up for grabs. India’s many, first generation industrialists, who have amassed wealth and taken to buying and flaunting aircraft acquisitions, don’t seem to have bid for this one. One is not clear if it is price or mere superstition (buying a fallen stars goods) that is holding them back.

Fogged over

The dense fog that enveloped the capital city on many days over the last months took a heavy toll on the otherwise slick reputation of the private airlines. Both Jet Airways and Sahara floundered in dealing with passengers, organising support, providing information, making correct announcements and rescheduling flights. But of the two, the newer Sahara seemed even more at sea in handling delays. Last week, it issued advertisements regretting ‘fog related flight delays’ and its steps to ‘minimise the inconvenience’ after irate passengers swore to shun the carrier. Also, for those have written off the national carrier, its decades of ignoring customers are apparently in the past. A leading industrialist says that Indian Airlines probably had the best punctuality record during the fog-affected weeks. Also, when in a crisis, its experience scored over fancy frills.

Basking in riches

Despite an expensive bridge, which is literally stranded in the middle of the Arabian Sea, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) seems astonishingly confident. Its vice-chairman, A.K. Lakhina, refuses to discuss the fat, stalled project, but goes ahead and announces a score of other plans. These are all based on lower interest rates and his belief that banks will queue up to fund its infrastructure, as long as MSRDC can service the low interest. Lakhina hopes to embark on these projects as soon as he hands over the MSRDC’s showpiece Mumbai-Pune Expressway to the highest bidder, bundled along with a deal to four-lane the existing NH4. He expects to permit a toll of approximately Rs 70 per car on NH-4. But that may be easier said than done. Although Lakhina argues that the toll is no higher than the levy proposed on the Prime Minister’s Golden Quadrilateral project and that it will leave out empty tractors, bullock cards, bicycles and two-wheelers, there has been no attempt to verify users’ paying capacity. Typically, the users of utilities still do not seem to figure on the agenda of government departments.

Tailpiece: After all the public support for building a flyover at Pedder Road, a key traffic artery of Mumbai, MSRDC appears in favour of abandoning the controversial project. Lakhina told us that the original, decades-old proposal of burrowing under Priyadarshini Park and hitting Marine Drive was increasingly more feasible with new construction technology. He also says that there would be no objections this time over the Governor’s view or security. Only time will tell whether MSRDC is able to pull off the venture and connect the expensive sea-link.

-- Sucheta Dalal