Sucheta Dalal :Silence of the DCA (27 July 2003)
Sucheta Dalal

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Silence of the DCA (27 July 2003)  

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) continues to be ridden with controversy over the actions of its president, R. Bhupaty. The latest twist is provided by the letters written by Sunil Bhargava, the government nominee on ICAI’s central council, which are addressed to the ICAI president and all council members. Bhargava has raised serious issues of ‘administrative and financial irregularities,’ like minutes of an executive committee meeting having been written when, in fact, no meeting was held, and the regularisation of foreign travel claims in contravention of the established rules. In both cases, Mr Bhargava objects to the fact that ‘administrative and financial malfunctioning’ was regularised with a majority decision. He points out that ICAI as an administrative body cannot condone impropriety without ‘a proper independent inquiry’. He charges ICAI with failing to supply him with specific information that he had sought and says that he will be forced to seek other ‘redressal’.

Apart from Mr Bhargava, scores of chartered accountants have sent letters to the Department of Company Affairs (DCA) expressing their misgivings and demanding its intervention. Several others point out that ICAI cannot be allowed to lose its credibility at a time when the accounting profession itself is under a global spotlight for colluding with shady companies. So how has the government reacted to this turmoil? With complete silence. No inquiry has been instituted and although top officials have spoken to the parties involved, the DCA is standing by and watching as ICAI’s critics are being pressured into backing down. Yet, investors are expected to believe that recent amendments to various Acts and rules will make auditors more accountable.

Hello Trai Trai?

Cellphone operators are no longer making news for cutting call tariffs. With the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) shielding them from further competition under the guise of disallowing ‘predatory’ pricing, cell companies are slowly hiking charges.

SMS tariffs have inched up from Re 1 per message to Rs 1.50 and have gone up again to Rs 2 and Rs 5 respectively for national and international messages. Often, subscribers conducting a short message dialogue fail to realise that a one-minute call may be less expensive than zapping a dozen odd messages back and forth.

Only the cell company makes money. Even higher tariffs may not have mattered if the quality of service were up to the mark. Dropped calls, bad connections and busy networks are so routine with cellphones that a former PSU employee (now a senior CellCo executive) says, ‘‘MTNL and BSNL would never have got away with such atrocious line quality.’’

Toll-free customer care numbers with a waiting time of 12 to 15 minutes are a good deterrent against irate subscribers and an email response to a query takes approximately 10 days or more in the country that boasts its BPO prowess.

Will Trai look at the issue of Cellcos increasing their subscriber base without adequate infrastructure inputs? Maybe Trai should start an open-house for subscribers in major cities to get a handle on how consumers rate service quality.

Privatisation blues

Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) a former public sector navratna is now owned by the blue chip Tata Group. But its Internet subscribers cannot see any difference.

A short while ago, VSNL informed subscribers that it was switching to a new and better technology—but its action has only led to frequent breakdown of its servers. Dr Nita Mukherjee, an angry subscriber called the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited helpdesk and was told: ‘‘Madam, when there are more customers, technology has to be upgraded. But technology takes time to stabilise.’’ Is technology tested before installation or by aggravating subscribers?

Fraud whistleblower

It is no secret that we Indians are afraid to blow the whistle for fear of a vindictive backlash. At the same time, we have a vast population of anonymous letter writers who often specialise in character assassination and mischief.

But when these cowardly types, resort to impersonation in order to get their voice heard, it assumes a dangerous new dimension. A week ago, the Reserve Bank, the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the National Stock Exchange were posted a print out of a letter, purportedly written by this columnist making serious allegations about a politically powerful coffee company with links to stock trading.

The impersonator cleverly included references to past columns by this writer; the fake identity was sought to be authenticated by typing out the email addresses of the columnist and recipient in the ‘to’ and ‘from’ fields on Yahoomail and printing it out, without sending it electronically.

Two of the three bodies were fooled, but the third saw through the ruse. Wouldn’t it be a pity if the information provided by the impersonator happened to be true?

-- Sucheta Dalal