a) Gem of a scam: On PNB fraud

A regulatory filing to the stock exchanges by Punjab National Bank has blown the lid off a ₹11,500-crore fraud. Perhaps the largest such scam in India, it was perpetrated by a maverick diamond merchant in collusion with bank officials at a single branch in South Mumbai. For India’s second largest bank to be defrauded in the manner suggested is astounding, especially since there has been heightened scrutiny of public sector banks’ operations in the last few years. The bank’s audit committees and boards, as well as the central bank, which conducts routine financial inspections of banks’ books, have been ostensibly keeping a close watch on the loans that have turned substandard or are on the verge of default. The government, which has often blamed the pile of bad loans on crony capitalism during the UPA regime, just last month unveiled a plan to infuse about ₹1 lakh crore into 21 capital-starved public sector banks this fiscal. Of this, ₹5,473 crore is to be injected into PNB. So even if the actual loss the bank ends up incurring on account of this fraud is half the stated amount, its capital adequacy ratio will be back to the same level before the recapitalisation was announced. Its market capitalisation has tanked ₹8,077 crore over the past two days, with the share price falling over 20% since the news broke. The bank’s top brass has said it has acted promptly, suspending around 10 officials. The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked one retired and one serving PNB employee so far. It is also difficult to believe that a handful of junior employees could orchestrate such a massive fraud. The bank’s managing director has claimed that supervisory lapses are being probed, and the Enforcement Directorate has initiated a money laundering case against the main accused, billionaire-jeweller Nirav Modi, his wife Ami Modi and close associates and relatives. The firms run by him had seen a meteoric rise and an IPO was in the offing after buyouts of global players and a ramp-up of retail presence in India and abroad. It appears that the bank employees who assisted in the fraud routed large transactions for the borrowers by circumventing the core banking solution. This flies in the face of the government’s push for a digital payment economy. PNB has sought to blame overseas branches of other banks for not undertaking due diligence before accepting such transactions, but that may be too simplistic an explanation. An inquiry by the RBI must get to the bottom of the systemic lapses in this affair and fix accountability across the chain of command. The banker-borrower nexus has been blamed for problems in the banking system for years. This episode will set off fears of a nexus deeper than imagined. The RBI and investigating agencies should act speedily to restore trust in the banking system.

b) Change of guard: On Jacob Zuma’s ouster

Jacob Zuma’s resignation as South Africa’s President brings an opportunity to start cleaning up its government and institutions. The ‘Teflon’ president, a moniker the 75-year-old earned for his survival skills, finally gave in to weeks of pressure from his own party, the African National Congress, ending an almost nine-year-long, scandal-hit presidency marred by hundreds of allegations and charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Despite having survived eight no-confidence motions, Mr. Zuma had little choice this time as his own party asked him to resign, with ANC legislators looking inclined towards even a no-confidence motion against him in parliament. The growing pressure on Mr. Zuma was also visible on some of those who allegedly colluded with him, notably the India-born Gupta brothers whose home in the swish Saxonwold suburb of Johannesburg was raided by the police on Wednesday. The trio — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta — whose business interests range from mining to media and technology have been accused of using their ties with Mr. Zuma to enable “state capture” by possessing inside information, influencing ministerial appointments and swinging multimillion-dollar state contracts. The timing of the raids was hardly a coincidence. The ANC is only too aware of the need to get its house in order before the 2019 general election. Putting Mr. Zuma through a no-confidence motion would have further exposed a party that went from leading South Africa out of apartheid to administering a system and country characterised by high levels of inequality and corruption and a flagging economy, with 30% unemployment and low growth. The way is now clear for the reformist veteran Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President. He has been a trade union leader, a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement and a close associate of Nelson Mandela. He led the effort to draft the country’s new constitution in 1994 and was an MP in the first post-apartheid parliament. With the ANC choosing Thabo Mbeki as Mandela’s successor in 1999, Mr. Ramaphosa’s presidential ambitions were dashed, and he focussed on his businesses instead — today, he is one of South Africa’s wealthiest black businessmen. In December, he won a close and bitter contest against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr. Zuma’s ex-wife, to become ANC’s leader, and has now been given a shot at leading South Africa. Mr. Ramaphosa has spoken of a new phase and about prioritising the economy. This, in addition to his background in politics and business, gives reason to believe that South Africa has a significant opportunity for a change in direction and speed. However, whether and to what extent the new leadership will allow the law to independently take its course with regard to Mr. Zuma remains to be seen.


1) Blown the lid off

Meaning: To cause something bad that was previously kept secret to be known by the public.

Example: In 1989 they started an investigation that was to blow the lid off corruption in the police force.

Synonyms: Reveal

Antonyms: Conceal

2) Perpetrated

Meaning: Carry out or commit (a harmful, illegal, or immoral action).

Example: “a crime has been perpetrated against a sovereign state”

Synonyms: Commit, Perform

3) Maverick

Meaning: An unorthodox or independent-minded person.

Example: “he’s the maverick of the senate”

Synonyms: Original, Eccentric

Antonyms: Conformist

4) Defrauded

Meaning: Illegally obtain money from (someone) by deception.

Example: “he used a second identity to defraud the bank of thousands of pounds”

Synonyms: Swindle, Cheat

5) Astounding

Meaning: Shock or greatly surprise.

Example: “her bluntness astounded him”

Synonyms: Amaze, Astonish

6) Heightened

Meaning: Make or become more intense.

Example: “the pleasure was heightened by the sense of guilt that accompanied it”

Synonyms: Intensify, Increase

Antonyms: Reduce

7) Ostensibly

Meaning: As appears or is stated to be true, though not necessarily so; apparently.

Example: “the party secretary resigned, ostensibly from ill health”

Synonyms: Apparently, Seemingly

Antonyms: Genuinely, Really

8) Verge

Meaning: An extreme limit beyond which something specified will happen.

Example: “I was on the verge of tears”

Synonyms: Brink, Threshold

Antonyms: Middle

9) Pile

Meaning: A large amount of something.

Example: “he’s making piles of money”

Synonyms: Wealth, Profusion

10) Crony

Meaning: A close friend or companion.

Example: “he went gambling with his cronies”

11) Starved

Meaning: Deprive of something necessary.

Example: “the arts are being starved of funds”

12) Injected

Meaning: To introduce something new that is necessary or helpful to a situation or process.

Example: A large amount of money will have to be injected into the company if it is to survive.

13) Incurring

Meaning: Become subject to (something unwelcome or unpleasant) as a result of one’s own behaviour or actions.

Example: “I will pay any expenses incurred”

Synonyms: Suffer, Sustain

Antonyms: Avoid

14) Promptly

Meaning: With little or no delay; immediately.

Example: “he paid the fine promptly”

Synonyms: Punctually, Quickly

15) Handful

Meaning: A small number of people or things.

Example: She invited all her friends to her party, but only a handful of them turned up.

16) Orchestrate

Meaning: Plan or coordinate the elements of (a situation) to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously.

Example: “the situation has been orchestrated by a tiny minority”

Synonyms: Organize, Arrange

17) Lapses

Meaning: A decline from previously high standards.

Example: “tracing his lapse into petty crime”

Synonyms: Decline, Downturn

18) Meteoric

Meaning: (of the development of something) very rapid.

Example: “her meteoric rise to the top of her profession”

Synonyms: Rapid, Swift

Antonyms: Slow, Gradual

19) Offing

Meaning: Leave.

Example: “supposedly loyal workers suddenly upped and offed to the new firms”

20) Buyouts

Meaning: (in business) a situation in which a person or group buys all the shares belonging to a company and so gets control of it.

Example: A management buyout.

21) Ramp-up

Meaning: A large increase in activity or in the level of something.

Example: They saw a ramp-up in orders.

22) Circumventing

Meaning: Overcome (a problem or difficulty) in a clever and surreptitious way.

Example: “it was always possible to circumvent the regulations”

Synonyms: Avoid, Evade

23) Diligence

Meaning: Careful and persistent work or effort.

Example: “few party members challenge his diligence as an MP”

Synonyms: Assiduity, Attentiveness

Antonyms: Laziness, Carelessness

24) Simplistic

Meaning: Treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are.

Example: “simplistic solutions”

Synonyms: Facile, Superficial

25) Accountability

Meaning: The fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.

Example: “lack of accountability has corroded public respect for business and political leaders”

Synonyms: Responsibility, Liability

26) Nexus

Meaning: An important connection between the parts of a system or a group of things.

Example: Times Square is the nexus of the New York subway.

Synonyms: Important, Essential

27) Cleaning up

Meaning: The act of making a place clean and tidy.

Example: It’s time you gave your bedroom a good clean-up.

Synonyms: Cleaning

28) Marred

Meaning: Impair the quality or appearance of; spoil.

Example: “violence marred a number of New Year celebrations”

Synonyms: Spoil, Ruin

Antonyms: Improve, Enhance

29) Racketeering

Meaning: Dishonest and fraudulent business dealings.

Example: “racketeering ensnared the economy”

30) Inclined

Meaning: Be favourably disposed towards or willing to do something.

Example: “he was inclined to accept the offer”

Synonyms: Disposed, Minded

Antonyms: Disinclined

31) Colluded

Meaning: Come to a secret understanding; conspire.

Example: “the president accused his opponents of colluding with foreigners”

Synonyms: Conspire, Connive

32) Suburb

Meaning: An outlying district of a city, especially a residential one.

Example: “a highly respectable suburb of Chicago”

Synonyms: Outskirts, Exurb

33) Possessing

Meaning: Have as belonging to one; own.

Example: “I do not possess a television set”

Synonyms: Own, Have

34) Swinging

Meaning: Move or cause to move back and forth or from side to side while suspended or on an axis.

Example: “her long black skirt swung about her legs”

Synonyms: Sway, Oscillate

35) Apartheid

Meaning: (especially in the past in South Africa) a political system in which people of different races is separated.

Example: The long-awaited dismantling (= end) of apartheid

36) Flagging

Meaning: Become tired or less enthusiastic or dynamic.

Example: “if you begin to flag, there is an excellent cafe to revive you”

Synonyms: Tire, Weaken

Antonyms: Revive, Increase

37) Reformist

Meaning: Supporting or advancing gradual reform rather than abolition or revolution.

Example: “the reformist policies of the government”

38) Dashed

Meaning: Destroy or frustrate (hopes or expectations).

Example: “the budget dashed hopes of an increase in funding”

Synonyms: Shatter, Destroy

Antonyms: Raise

39) Bitter

Meaning: Painful or unpleasant to accept or contemplate.

Example: “today’s decision has come as a bitter blow”

Synonyms: Painful, Unpleasant

Antonyms: Welcome

40) Prioritising

Meaning: Determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.

Example: “age affects the way people prioritize their goals”

Check the previous edition of THE HINDU Editorial to learn more words and to ace the English section in the forthcoming exams.



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