The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on November 20, assured the Supreme Court that it did not take any strict action against former ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar during the whole money laundering case. Following the reassurance given by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, a bench of Justices headed by Sanjay Kishan Kaul, adjourned the hearing on the plea by Ms Kochhar, that challenged the arrest of her husband Deepak Kochhar within the case.
After two months following the arrest of Mr Kochhar by ED in September 2020, the bench sat to bring out a decision.
According to news reports, the evidence about six loans, to the tune of Rs 1,875 crore that ICICI bank has sanctioned to Videocon Group between 2009 & October 2011.
Over the past couple of years, Ms Kochhar and her husband have had many businesses with Venugopal Dhoot, Videocon Group promoter. Throughout the investigation, Mr Kochhar was not cooperating and was arrested by the ED. The enforcement agency is additionally probing two other loans sanctioned by ICICI Bank during Ms Kochhar’s tenure to Gujarat-based pharmaceutical firm Sterling Biotech and Bhushan Steel Group – both are being investigated for alleged money laundering charges.
According to the allegations made, Mr and Ms Kochar had laundered money that was given as loans to Videocon by ICICI bank. Later on, these loans got converted into non-performing assets. (NPAs). The allegations suggest that Mr Dhoot invested crores in NuPower, just a couple of months after his loan was sanctioned.
According to the ED, Videocon invested in companies held by Mr Kochhar in exchange for the loans that were taken. In the wake of these allegations, Ms Kochhar took early retirement in October 2019.
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs and the tax department concluded in their report that RS. 64 crore illegal payment was received by Mr Kochhar from Videocon, in the form of layered transactions. While the transactions were filed under ‘business expenses’ by Kochhar’s company, the ministry suggested they weren’t genuine.
Moreover, the reports suggest that the Videocon group had no intention to cover these transactions. ED had claimed that Ms Kochhar and her family acquired an apartment at Mumbai owned by one among the Videocon group Companies, by way of obtaining that Company through her family trust at a nominal price, by creating book entries.
ED had registered an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) within the matter supported a CBI FIR in January 2020. In its FIR, the CBI has alleged that Ms Kochhar had granted loans in crores of rupees to the Videocon Group, against the rules and policies. The agency has also put out scanner’s top on bankers within the case to know if they had a part in it.
Timeline ICICI Bank-Videocon loan case:
The probe started in 2016 when Arvind Gupta, an investor with both the firms, Videocon Group and ICICI Bank, raised concerns about alleged loan irregularities.
Mr Gupta, whose name became prominent in the case later, alleged that Ms Kochhar had approved a Rs 3,250 crore loan for Videocon Group in 2012 in exchange for a deal with NuPower Renewables, a company owned by the then ICICI Bank MD and CEO’s husband Mr Kochhar.
Mr Gupta wrote to authorities like RBI and even Prime Minister, but his complaint was given no attention at the time.
In March 2018, another whistle-blower complained that the delay in recognizing the impairment of several loan accounts between 2008 and 2016 was a deliberate action to save lots of on provisioning costs. The whistle-blower filed the complaint against the bank’s top management that quickly garnered the eye of the many agencies.
However, in the same month, the bank came out with a press release saying that they had full faith in Ms Kochhar. The statement was given after her alleged role in approving the loan to Videocon group was under scrutiny.
Later that month, CBI filed an indoor query and questioned Mr Kochhar’s husband and his brother, Rajiv Kochhar. Meanwhile, ICICI Bank continued to defend Ms Kochhar, who was facing many allegations.
In April 2018, the intense Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) getting involved within the case and that they sought permission from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs for a search.
In May 2018, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), shot a notice during which they asked Ms Kochhar and therefore the bank to show the proof of the bank’s handling Videocon group. They were asked to submit their responses by June 7.
In the wake of rising pressure, by May, ICICI also launched a search into the matter. On July 5, SEBI asked Ms Kochhar and bank again to reply to showcase notice by July 10 as they did not respond previously. On October 10, Ms Kochhar sought early retirement from her post and therefore, the bank approved with the promise that it might not affect the investigation in any manner.
On January 24, 2019, CBI registered a case against Mr and Ms Kochhar, along with Mr Dhoot over irregularities in sanctioned loans. January 30, marked the day when the BN Srikrishna panel found that Ms Kochhar had violated the bank’s code of conduct. As soon as the report was released, the bank took away all the bonuses paid to Ms Kochhar between April 2009 and March 2018.
In February 2019, she was given the termination letter by the bank to which Ms Kochhar filed a petition against the ICICI claiming her termination was illegal, untenable, and unsustainable in law.
In January 2020, the ED attached the assets worth quite Rs 78 crore belonging to Ms Kochhar family. The Bombay High Court, in March, dismissed the petition that challenged Kochhar’s termination. Earlier in June, CBI booked Mr Dhoot, for cheating millions from one among the leading lenders of the country.
Finally, on September 7, Mr Kochhar was arrested by ED after conducting a series of round of questioning. The agency had said they had found evidence against Mr Kochhar; however, they didn’t disclose the other information. Mr Kochhar was made to appear in front of the Prevention of Money Laundering Court (PMLA) for his remand hearing the same day.
The ED had filed the first charge sheet against Ms Kochar, her husband and Mr Dhoot on charges that reveal money laundering on November 4.
Although, they have all denied the allegations. The charges have been filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and presented before a special court in Mumbai. The central probe agency had arrested Mr Kochhar in September after filing a criminal case of money laundering, based on an FIR registered by CBI.
Several probe agencies, including the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), ED, SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office) and the tax department are conducting parallel investigations against Chanda Kochhar and her family.
All You Need To Know About National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship And Management Bill 2021
On July 26, 2021, Lok Sabha passed a bill under the ministry of Food Processing Industry. The bill is titled as National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill, 2021. The main motive of this bill is to address issues with the Food Processing Industry, Entrepreneurship and one Institution for National Importance. With the passing of this bill, the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT) and National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) is now merged as Institutions of National Importance, and it aims at providing various research and advancement in learning about the Food Industry and its associated branches. The bill was first introduced in the house in February 2019 but was pending due to protest by the opposition.
Significance of Institutions of National Importance (INI)
With the passing of this bill, the institutions enjoy greater autonomy through which they can carry out various courses, research attracting skilled faculties and students from all over the country and overseas. Good standards in education will be adopted to improve the present and future of education in this branch and sector, overcoming the technological gap in the country. This law aims to improve and introduce new changes in food, bio-nanotechnology, cold chain technology etc. The desired efforts will be taken in terms of human resources and infrastructure developments, labs for research etc. Liberty to open centres anywhere in India is also granted to INI and include courses regarding food technology certification and improving the workforce of the country.
Some other important features of this act are the Institution has been authorized with the Board of Government, Senate and other acting Authorities. The Council of Board will include 16 members from different branches from the same field. The Head will be Chairperson, who will be a skilled person from the Food Industry, the Director, Dean and Registrar. Members appointed from Centre and State Governments, Members from FSSAI and Council of Agriculture Research, as mentioned in the bill. The 16 members of the board will carry out work of taking administrative decisions, creating annual budgets and paths for institution progress as an organization, establishing departments, their appointment terms of services, faculties etc. The Board of Council also holds power to grant Honorary Degrees and Diplomas. The Senate shall be the principal academic body of the Institute, consisting of the people such as Director as the Chairperson; Registrar; Full-time skilled level Professor; and Three academically skilled Individuals nominated by the board from the field.
The Union Minister of Food Processing Industry, Mr Pashupati Kumar Paras, expressed his gratitude to PM Modi for this landmark step in this industry from his Twitter handle, indicating new opportunities in Food Technology Industries. Therefore, this Act looks promising on paper with new opportunities and in Educational Development. Amidst the Pegasus Spyware and repeal of the farm laws, this looks positive from the Modi Government.
लोकसभा में आज, राष्ट्रीय खाद्य प्रौद्योगिकी, उद्यमिता और प्रबंध संस्थान विधेयक, 2021 (निफ्टेम विधेयक, 2021) को पारित किया गया।
इस विधेयक के पारित होने पर इससे जुड़े हर व्यक्ति को बधाई देता हूँ और साथ ही खाद्य प्रसंस्करण से जुड़े छात्रों को भी बधाई देता हूँ। @MOFPI_GOI
— Pashupati Kumar Paras (@PashupatiParas) July 26, 2021
Curious Case Of Pegasus: Explained
Pegasus is a spyware that can hack the victims’ mobile phones and read their SMS messages and emails. The Pegasus spyware is owned by an Israeli software company named NSO Group. According to the various reports, this company has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers at the Global level, of which 300 are in India for surveillance.
The news broke out after the 17 media partners investigated. This investigation brought into the picture information about a leaked database of mobile telephone numbers of Indian Ministers, Opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, business people, government officials, scientists, activists and many influential personalities of the nation.
Pegasus Spyware and India
According to the report by the agency, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus around the world says that its clients are confined to ‘vetted governments”, believed to number 36. The NSO Group also says that ‘the target list in India is not ours, never was.’ Their refusal of the leaked database has created a loophole in understanding this case.
This whole case has violated the integrity of democratic institutions. According to the report by the agencies, after the mobile phones of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and various other leaders were hacked under the Pegasus spyware surveillance. Multiple tweets were made against the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government in India. This whole case has become one of the major threats in the political arena and the Indian Democracy.
Though at the start, it was used for national security purposes. The explosive expansion of surveillance technology vendors has become a vast human rights and a global security issue. If such surveillance technologies increase, it might cause a lot of problems to countries around the globe. Hence, as a precaution, all these countries need to work on regulating this technology.
According to the reports by the agency, one of the targeted phones by the Pegasus spyware was of the former election commissioner of India, Ashok Lavasa. Various such people and such opposition leaders were somehow against the BJP government having their phones hacked with the NSO-owned spyware. All these instances and the names in the leaked list have pointed figures towards the Modi Government.
The Modi government’s stand on this case was put forward in Lok Sabha by two serving ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel. These two leaders were also featured in the leaked database. The recent Information Technology Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw defended the BJP government in the parliament by saying, “the expose was an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” She even said, ‘any form of illegal surveillance is not possible with the checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions.’
This case has adjourned the parliament proceedings due to the protests inside and outside the house of parliament by the opposition party.
Pegasus Spyware and World.
In the statement given to the agency, Access Now, an organisation defending the digital rights of global users, said it was outraged that products sold by NSO were allegedly “used to hack and invade the private communications” of thousands of people across the globe.
At a global level, France’s Emmanuel Macron was targeted in the Pegasus spyware case. As the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron was hacked, the investigation was carried out and later on was published which was directed by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden. After this case came in front of the whole world, the Pegasus spyware surveillance came into the picture.
If this continues for some more time, it will ruin India’s Democratic values at a global level. As well as this might become a huge technological threat between the different nations around the globe.
Modi Cabinet 2.0: Young and Dynamic Leadership or Otherwise
On the 7th of July, the union government announced the biggest cabinet expansion in the 7 years of NDA rule. The recent expansion increased the size of the Council of Ministers from 53 to 77. About 43 new ministers were sworn in, 15 of which were Cabinet Ministers and 28 Ministers of State (MoS). This is the first cabinet overhaul in the second term of NDA governance.
Experts however claim that the new cabinet expansion is a pre-emptive measure to balance electoral formulae in different states ahead of the 2022 State Assembly elections. It is also conjectured that the reshuffle comes as rectification of prolonged criticism about BJP’s governance in the past 2 years, including the Healthcare management during the Pandemic.
The Performance Paradox
This recent cabinet expansion is a report card of the BJP government’s performance in the last 2 years. Major ministerial changes, such as the resignation and replacement of Dr. Harshvardhan as the Health Minister indicate a confession of their mismanagement of the pandemic.
He has been replaced by Mansukh Mandaviya, a 2 time Rajya Sabha MP who has also been awarded by the UN for initiatives in Women’s healthcare in the past. His appointment as the Health Minister is one of hope for BJP, to change and streamline (a.) the COVID-19 Pandemic response and (b.) BJP’s image in the name of healthcare management.
On the contrary, Anurag Thakur’s promotion from MoS Finance to a Cabinet Minister defies all logical explanations for awarding performance. Not only has India’s economic condition worsened under his management, his controversial statements like “Desh ke Gadaaro ko…” do not present a strong case for him. His appointment is a political investment by BJP in Himachal Pradesh’s state elections next year which happens to be Thakur’s home state.
Similarly, Sitharaman’s finance ministry has remained untouched, after historical mismanagement of our Finance capabilities. All of this reflects a selective approach adopted by BJP, which is one of political hesitation and hyperopic ignorance.
BJP’s Political Calculator
Apart from the ‘punishment’ narrative, the new cabinet expansion has also given an insight into BJP’s political planning. This expansion has incorporated key leaders from several states that go to elections next year. Moreover, it has also been carefully planned to cover the losses BJP has incurred in the past two years.
As a reward for dismantling the elected Madhya Pradesh government and tipping scales in BJP’s favor, Jyotiraditya Scindia was appointed as the Cabinet Minister for Civil Aviation (a post held by his father as well in ’91) almost after 3 years.
On the contrary, Pashupati Kumar Paras got an early reward for breaking down Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) representation in Lok Sabha. He was appointed as the Union Minister for Food Processing, after the attempted coup on Chirag Paswan’s leadership.
Sarbananda Sonowal, who was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sharma as the Chief Minister of Assam after the fresh elections, was also awarded a berth in the Cabinet. It is conjectured that this development was in talks ever since Himanta Biswa Sharma was chosen as the CM.
As the Uttar Pradesh elections near, BJP also made sure to improve representation from the state. Major appointments such as Niranjan Jyoti (MoS Food Processing), Anupriya Patel (Mos Commerce and Industry), and Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma (MoS MSME) were made majorly because of their heavy support base in UP.
Following the same lead, Ajay Bhatt from Uttarakhand was appointed as MoS Defence and Tourism. As seen earlier, BJP has made major organizational changes in Uttarakhand which goes to elections next year.
In the mirage of calculated placements and image reconstruction, BJP has hit a few rights with this organizational change. The new cabinet includes a maximum number of women to have ever served in a Union Cabinet, a first in a nation with largely patriarchal tendencies.
The cabinet has also tried to focus on bringing people with commendable background experience and education on board. Ashwini Vaishnav, former IAS and an alumnus of Wharton School have been given major ministries such as Railways, Communications, and IT. Similarly, Anupriya Patel who has been given the Commerce and Industry as an MoS has also served as an educator at Amity University.
Moreover, the diffused reliance on regional strength has become the overarching theme in this cabinet reshuffle. Even though the ruling party intends to balance the voter dynamics, this regional unity has become something to watch out for.
Yet, the big story remains the ouster of major politicians who have served loyally and faithfully to this government. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Jaavedkar, and Dr. Harshvardhan are major losers in this dynamic reshuffle. While the current government has tried to modernize the leaders of this nation, it has set a new precedent that loyalty is not the most critical virtue anymore; Election Commission’s schedule is.
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