by the editor: Siddharth Sehgal
Transparency and Trust are important in matters of state, heart, and faith. And yet we see that the trust factor comes into scrutiny from time to time. We expect that those who run public institutions in our country would uphold the two driving principles so that public faith may remain unshaken in our institutions but in India, it seems we often expect too much from our leaders.
Those who follow the Indian share market may know that the controlling authority in PNB housing finance, one of the biggest home loan lenders in India, has gone into private hands through a major selloff of shares. Not only the deal under which the share transfer has taken place is under the lens but also the conduct of the PNB Housing finance board, half of whose members, directly or indirectly, has been associated with the Carlyle Group, the entity which will now have the controlling authority in the company. Not only it raises concern for the minority shareholders but also a concern for the economic well-being of the nation that a major lender, whose ownership belongs to the public and whose primary responsibility is to provide essential, unbiased service to the people of India is sold out of the blue to a foreign investment firm.
Just like a public sector bank, a public housing finance company serves an important national interest. It lends capital to those weaker sections of society who otherwise would not be able to get loans through private banks. Who is to say that the PNB Housing finance will not start predatory lending practices, now that its sole aim will be to churn money for its owners? The main purpose why public sector companies exist is to serve the nation and its citizens, rather than making money.
Another instance of the trust issues came to light when questions were raised on land deals undertaken by Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. It cannot be said that there was corruption and misuse of funds till an investigation takes place but there are many uncomfortable questions that Ram Janmabhoomi Trust has to answer. When the board purchased a plot of land directly from sellers in 8 Cr. Then why involve a third party at all, they could have talked to the sellers directly and have allowed the selling agreement to expire. Doesn’t it raise the question of conflict of interest and propriety that the middle man in the land deal and the witness of the deal are family members? As per a Newslaundry report, the Pathaks, the owners in question in this land deals are themselves tainted individuals and are absconding from the law with multiple cases of fraud in real-estate registered against them, so why enter into business with such shady characters in the first place?
The trust should not shy away from Agni Pariksha (trial by fire), if it’s chaste and hasn’t done anything wrong, it should pro-actively request an audit from an external agency. Ram Temple construction can and should continue as scheduled but its books and dealings can be looked into to reinforce the trust in the matter that pertains to the faith of millions of people around the world.
In a democracy, no institution or individual should be above scrutiny. It’s a matter of public money, faith, and trust after all.