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2 posts for Montek in global bodies

2 posts for Montek in global bodies

Publication: Deccan Chronicle
Date: February 4, 2007

The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, holds two other posts in US-based organisations: one is with the Commission on Growth and Development set up by the World Bank, and the other is under the US Institute of International Finance to oversee capital flows and fair debt restructuring in emerging markets. This information was obtained by this newspaper through an application filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

Senior parliamentarians and lawyers, when contacted for their response to this information, had no hesitation in pointing out that this was a "serious and alarming" issue and would affect Mr Ahluwalia's independence as the chief planner of the Indian economy. It amounted to a clear conflict of interest, they claimed. The response to the application under the RTI Act also established that most of Mr Ahluwalia's travels abroad in the past two years have taken him to the US, with his eight visits being paid for by the Indian government. One visit to the US was for a full two weeks, from May 23, 2005 till June 7, 2005, and cost the government Rs 8,47,895. His other visits during this two-year period have been to Italy, Davos, Melbourne, Singapore and London.

The last was usually clubbed with some of his visits to the US. The entire cost of Mr Ahluwalia's foreign travel was over Rs 53 lakhs. It was not clear from the government's response whether Mr Ahluwalia attended meetings of international organisations while he was in the US. If he did, these were clubbed together with the official visits that were paid for by the government of India. The response to the information obtained under the RTI Act was categorical: that the Planning Commission deputy chairman had not gone abroad on any personal visit in the last two years.

The US Institute of International Finance has included Dr Ahluwalia in the group of trustees for overseeing the "principles for stable capital flows and fair debt restructuring in emerging markets". Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, "It is an alarming situation that most of the top bureaucrats of India have jobs with the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. They are toeing the line of these organisations, not the interest of the government." He added, "It is a known fact that the US has enormous influence on the World Bank, which is in turn controlled by multinationals in the US, so there is a huge conflict of interest when Mr Ahluwalia is holding a position in not just the World Bank but also at the Institute of International Finance, which has all the largest commercial banks as its members."

The members of the IIF include Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, ABN Amro Bank, HSBC Holdings, Citibank and Deutsche Bank. Many of these have opened offices in India. Samajwadi MP Shahid Siddiqui said there was a definite conflict of interest in the jobs Mr Ahluwalia holds.

"As the deputy chairman he has to plan for India and for the Indian economy, and being a member of these bodies will definitely influence the planning process. He will try to protect the global interests and the interests of the US economy," Mr Siddiqui alleged. He said the government of India should look into the matter and that he would raise this issue in Parliament. After this correspondent filed the application under the RTI Act seeking information about Mr Ahluwalia's foreign visits, in what was clearly an unprecedented gesture she received a call from an official of the Planning Commission to meet her. The official said that he was surprised about the information sought and wanted to personally meet the individual who had filed the RTI application. The questions asked were:

* How many foreign trips has Mr Ahluwalia undertaken since he took over as deputy chairman in his official capacity? And also mention his personal trips.

* Specify the number of trips, the places visited and the number of days per trip.

* Which are the international organisations in which he is a member of any committee, board and member of the advisory committee?

* Who has funded the trips, and what has been the expense incurred on each trip?

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