Too heavy price?

There’s no denying that sexual harassment of women in workplaces and public spaces by males in positions of power and authority is unacceptable. It causes great distress to victims and is a violation of human rights, and in the larger context dissuades thousands of talented women from entering the workforce. But it’s also in the public interest that sexual harassment is carefully defined.

According to some sources in The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi (TERI, estb. 1974), built from ground up into a world-class environment research organisation by Dr. R.K. Pachauri, the chairman of TERI who has been sent on indefinite leave following charges of sexual harassment made by two women employees of the institute, Pachauri — a Nobel laureate, no less — is perhaps more guilty of being gauche, than of sexual harassment. Like too many narrowly educated techies unschooled in social niceties, he not only ill-chose “sati-savitri types” as objects of his amorous advances, but pressed his suit with them in “typically over-zealous Bollywood-style”. In this context, please note that for Bollywood alpha males, it’s SOP (standard operating procedure) to stalk, verbally abuse and even physically manhandle the objects of their desire for which ‘acting’ they are paid crores.

Although a brilliant researcher and great institution builder, the fatal flaw of Pachauri, an unfinished techie with a modest middle class background, was that he was overly influenced by the cinematic trash routinely churned out by the brain-dead badshahs of Bollywood, suggest his sympathisers inside TERI. In the circumstances, his expulsion from the organisation is too heavy a price for the nation to pay for his Casanova delusions.

Therefore it’s suggested that a public apology and substantial monetary compensation to the two wounded women is adequate punishment. Though tub-thumping moral brigades are likely to be outraged by this proposal, it’s difficult to disagree.

Inevitable accident

Way back in 1969 when in a fit of
socialist frenzy, 28 major private banks promoted by India’s tried and tested business houses, which had survived all discriminatory efforts of our erstwhile imperial masters to make them go under, were nationalised, I feared the ruination of India’s financial system. And so it has come to pass.

There is a general consensus that the country’s public sector banks (PSBs) which advance 75 percent of the credit within the Indian economy, are drowning in a sea of bad debts, aka non-performing assets (NPAs). According to banking and finance experts, the NPAs of PSBs average 14-17 percent of advances cf. the normative 1-2 percent of private banks. All these years, PSBs have been kept afloat with massive recapitalisation giveaways from the budget at the expense of investment in education, health and rural development.

My scepticism ab initio about the PSBs ever doing well was based on sound logic. Under the Bank Nationalisation Act, 1969, all chairmen and directors of PSBs are appointed by the Central government. In the circumstances, which one of them could refuse to advance loans to politicians’ cronies on merits? And it wasn’t long before politicians began to regard PSBs as their private preserves and started directing their chairmen to advance huge loans to their cronies with even the State Bank of India — the best of a bad lot — not being spared. Indeed, it’s well-known that the late Sanjay Gandhi kicked and sacked R. Varadachari, chairman of SBI in 1976, for daring to question his demand for a loan to his fraudulent company, Maruti Udyog Ltd.

For the ruin of India’s banking system, the intelligentsia including economists and finance experts are also to blame. The plain truth is that 99 percent of them lack ideological backbone. To your editor, it’s plain as a pikestaff that when the subcontinent was a great economic power right until the early 19th century and produced 20 percent of global GNP, India was a private enterprise economy built by its businessmen and traders, with the State/government totally uninvolved in industry and trade. So why didn’t they speak up when Master Joe (aka J. Nehru) and his dynasty plucked out the beautiful forest of India’s centuries-old private enterprise — including banking — system and replaced it with the desert of neta-babu socialism? Seven decades later, the country’s faux intelligentsia is still dithering on the issue, even as the Union Budget 2016-17 has provisioned yet another Rs.25,000 crore to recapitalise PSBs.

Privileged vocation

The issue of chief minister Siddaramaiah’s flashy (Rs.70 lakh) Hublot wrist watch, which is rocking the Karnataka legislative assembly and causing acrimony between the ruling Congress and opposition BJP/Janata Dal (S) party, forced closure of the assembly without conducting any legislative business on March 1. The opposition parties question how Siddaramaiah, a professed socialist who began life as a cattle herder, and as chief minister is entitled to a monthly salary of Rs.50,000, could afford a Rs.70 lakh watch.

In the corruption war being waged in the Karnataka assembly, it’s ironic that former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy should be in the vanguard of Siddaramaiah’s critics. According to the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an NGO which tracks the accelerating affluence of peoples’ representatives including MPs and MLAs, Kumaraswamy’s self-declared assets in his election nomination papers in 2013 were Rs.137 crore, including immoveable property valued at Rs.29.28 crore. Five years earlier, his self-declared assets were Rs.30 crore. This huge surge in Kumaraswamy’s assets is currently manifesting itself spectacularly. His son Nikhil Gowda, an aspiring movie star, is the proud owner of half a dozen swish motor cars including a US Hummer (retail price: Rs.2 crore) and a Lamborghini (Rs.5 crore).

According to ADR, 93 percent of the state’s 223 MLAs are crorepatis with assets averaging Rs.23 crore-plus (and 34 percent have serious criminal charges filed against them). Yet they are immune from investigation. It’s a privileged vocation.