About the Blog

This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

December 26, 2009

Bringing a Insurance Company to its knees; the consumer court way

From CF
The consumer may be termed as the king by lip-servicing companies but its our Consumer courts that are really the custodians of consumer rights. Consumer rights wouldn’t have evolved much nor errant companies bought to book quickly hadn’t consumer courts been so active on this front. They are the silent sentinels & among the unsung heroes of our system, a system that has to be credited for providing faster justice on issues touching the life of normal citizens. I am saying this borne out of my experience recently when I had to haul Royal Sundaram (a Health Insurance Co) to the Consumer dispute redressal forum and make them pay up for my Insurance claim which they had declined on flimsy grounds (Case # 1122/2009 filed before the Hon 2 Additional district consumer dispute redressal forum, Bangalore urban district)

In my case it was the oft repeated instance when the claim of insurance made by the insured, the insurance company manipulates that your claim is in violation of the insurance policy or your claim is not maintainable as it comes within the purview of Exclusion clause of the policy. Royal Sundaram went on a misadventure and made an effort to repudiate my claim due to misinterpretation of its ambiguous and vague Terms & Conditions embedded in the insurance policy. That they ended up settling my claims with a penalty as mandated by the Consumer forum with severe indictment was a lesson that could detest them in future.

While dismissing the plea made by Royal Sundaram , the Hon consumer court observed “The opposite party could have fairly & rightly accepted the claim and paid the amount soon after receipt of the claim from the complainant. A very legal and genuine claim of the complainant has been unnecessarily repudiated by the opposite party. The opposite party should change its attitude towards the customers”.

Mine may have been one of the 40,000 cases that were filed in these forums up to 2009 but with 35 state consumer disputes redressal commissions and 610 district consumer forums in the country, am sure every one of it is being heard diligently and being disposed off in the shortest possible time. A consumer only has to have the belief in the system and the necessary perseverance. The Insurance company hired a lawyer to fight the case & I pleaded on my own without one; it took about 7 months and about 5 hearings for settlement .

Wishing all my readers a Happy & Prosperous New Year!

December 20, 2009

Environment protection, Western Ghats and ecological rubberband < 1.5 degrees elastic

Environment protection, Western Ghats and Ecological threshold (rubber band) form three Venn diagram rings that woefully overlap very little. The Copenhagen summit that concluded recently gives little hope on that front, it came out with an agenda to save its face rather than that of the planet. Its final text or draft resolution, as it stands today appears to be more misleading than convincing , every nation wanted to protect its turf and emerge from the summit atleast with status quo if not gains on its political and economic agenda. The temperature cap commitments vacillated between 2.5 and 1.5 degree and as usual there was talk of back room maneuvering and the never ending chasm between developed & developing nations. But then nothing better was expected, the only positive coming out of it was the attention span, albeit a brief one that it brought to the pressing problem.

Will Copenhagen summit arrest the global rise in temperature or has the problem gotten out of hand already? Will Environment protection take a back seat in Western Ghats? Some of the answers ironically lay in the interaction I had with a senior forest official this week . Who better to give a testament on the issue than an official concerned with preservation, conservation and management of the green cover (of whatever little is left of it) that is so vital in absorbing the CO2 and arrest the temperature rise?

The DFO (District Forest Officer) in question is in charge of Environment protection in the southern parts of the Western ghats in south coastal Karnataka which in a rare instance provides as much as 79% coverage to the district area and is ecological hotspot. This official worked extensively in the area , first as a student undertaking field studies and later as an official doing field surveys and collecting data on forest management. A well respected  and upright officer he spoke with conviction tinged with despondency. The transcripts of my interaction with him in his office went as follows

Me: the forest cover is substantial in this area

Forest Official: On record it is 79.2%

Me: (Laugh) on records sir?

Forest Official: I have to admit that actually...(pause)... a lot of encroachments are there... a lot of development projects are eating away the forest area......almost 99% of the schools in this area are in forest area. Environment protection has become a big challenge in western ghats because there are human vested interests at play here

Me: But sir coverage of more than 75% is quite substantial

Forest Official: there are different ways of looking at forests, the way forest officer looks is totally different from the way others look at it. The mere existence of trees is not a forest unless the ecological processes are taking place in it. We call something called fragmentation happening, there’s a canopy like this (joins the palm tip of his two hands to make an inverted V). We are fragmenting it (separates the palms to leave a gap between them), its only a matter of time before the forests are getting destroyed ...it may take 100, 200 or 300 years ...unfortunately the span in which we are working is only short, we wont be able to know the changes in a span of 17-18 years but people here know. Some of the elders around here have a different tale to tell of the surroundings here 50 -60 years ago and that points to a drastic change in the ecology. If environment protection was a security alert, it would be at level 6 here now

Me: hmm....I see

Forest Official: the moment you are opening this canopy then there is a road coming up in the forest area splitting it into 2 areas....this brings in infiltration and more importantly stops the exchange of green between these two patches of forest. So now all these has stopped (ecological process) ....there is no green exchange, there is no exchange of animals and the temperature that was usually 16-18 degree centigrade under the canopy has gone upto 22-23 with this opening. And whatever rain is falling is also draining away rapidly through this encroachment. So the changes are taking are at a small level but over a period of time if you club everything you get the picture. All these talk of environmental protection is at a superficial level, Western Ghats is changing and expert committee are helping little to arrest this.

Me: So you are saying that the fragmenting is destroying the forest

Forest Official: the networking of roads making fragments of the forest cuts short their life... the longevity of that forest patch is shorter than that of the forest that is completely covered. So you end up having an isolated part of the forest where Plants & Animal species find difficult to migrate. For them also there is a limit of migration....for example the giant squirrel can jump 10 or 20 feet but it cannot jump 60-100 feet , the inroads in Western ghats we are making creates a gap of something like 100 to 200 feet . so their population gets isolated in different pockets, there is no interaction between these two population and with inbreeding their population disappears over a period of time. And along with them we don’t know how many other species both plant and; animals are disappearing, its only a matter of time.

Me: Very interesting perspective sir....

Forest Official: But there are no takers for it, we find it very difficult to convince people and we are waging a losing battle. Crores of rupees come and; they think it is 'development'...for example more than 5% of forest area is acacia plantation, only for the benefits of local population but that is not the forest we consider as....deduct all things like that and we are left with nothing. Then there is this rapid soil erosion where tonnes of top soil with vital nutrients is getting eroded fast. I have seen some isolated waterfalls deep in the western Ghats during mansoon....they are supposed to be clean water but they are getting muddy since tonnes of soil is getting eroded.

Me: So you are saying there is a continuous drain of forest resources

Forest Official: Its a matter of time as I told you , the system is like you know....a rubberband you are pulling, pulling, and pulling and all of a sudden you may just break it. But till then you feel its fine and you really don’t know when its going to break. So the 79 percent I told you is not ecologically 79 percent in Western Ghats

I hope the Copenhagen leaders are tuned into this fact, it may not be even 1.5 degree elastic as some would like to believe. As far as Western Ghats and its environment protection is concerned, it remains to be seen what happens with the Kasturirangan report implementation

December 12, 2009

The Corporate Soothsayer

Circa 1999, Venue: Conference room Raheja Towers Bangalore, KV Kamath is holding fort with his bunch of managers (all blue blooded mgt whizkids adept at crunching numbers with 7 to 10 zeros in tow) all of them waiting intently for their Rōshi to lay the future plan for them in corporate lending (ICICI was a Institutional lending behemoth then) . Little did they realize that they were in for a shock when KVK announced converting ICICI into a retail lending powerhouse and a universal Bank.He told them that the future was in retail banking. So go goes the story as told to me by one of my friend who is in a senior position in Infy now. These guys then thought that KVK had lost his bearings to announce something that radically different. But then nobody saw into the future like KVK did, and ICICI chairman Vaghul had specially plucked him back from ADB back into ICICI fold for this specific purpose: to charter new growth avenues for the Company.

KVK had smartly read the macroeconomic numbers then, which he revealed in his latest interview “The country is now at another tipping point” in Mint recently .What did KVK see in 1999 which made him big bet on retail lending? He aimed at doubling the balance sheet strength every 3rd year or sooner then. In the interview he says “ You may remember that the entire basis for refocusing the bank on retail lending in 1999-2000 was that India’s per capita income had crossed $500, a tipping point for aspirations & consumption”. Smart reading but implementing the plan was a different ball game altogether and he achieved that by handpicking a few key men/women to the crucial posts in the bank.

Between 1999 & 2005 ICICI increased its Asset portfolio from roughly INR 22000 crores to 80000 crores, the company’s market capitalization grew by more than 100 % and in the process beat established players like HDFC on the Home Loan turf, Citibank on Cards and few other to the post. The scorching growth placed it next only to SBI Bank in overall balance sheet size & strength in the Banking sector, no mean feat for a 6 year old bank toddler operating with 60+ year old peers in the Industry.

The interesting part of the article is that he believes another tipping point is due now. And the trigger being the per capita Income now falling in the $1,000-2,000 range. Looks like good news on the ‘Infrastructure’ front , & I bet KVK is aiming at another bulls eye.

(Pic courtesy Mint)

December 6, 2009

UID: Cart before the Horse?

Nandan Nilekani would score high on media & PR ratings going by the coverage he and his UID project is getting in the print & electronic media nowadays. And there he is, making all the right noises with his erudite communication skills. But one thing begs my Question. No doubt UID is something fantastic in conception and its intended benefits but are we putting the proverbial Cart before the Horse ?

Unique identity project or UID, is expected to give a ‘unique number’ to all citizens that will be unduplicated and distinct and the state thereafter is expected to use it for effective governance. Like the advt of Idea cellular, where every cell phone user gets identified with his cell number, UID will dissipate caste, religion & linguistic identities of the state subjects. Once completed it is expected to ensure things like tracking rural employment generation & wages, tracking of vaccinations, school entry, age at marriage, migration etc. So far so good but before I jump into this ‘India will shine’ bandwagon let me don this skeptic hat for a moment and examine some issues.

 UID is certainly not some magic wand or at worst a surgical scissor that Sanjay Gandhi conceived to snip the population control problem in the 70s. This is an IT project of immensely complex scale that will involve huge servers, complex algorithms and miles of Bandwidth . All this presupposes that the govt machinery will be adequately IT savvy to not only understand all the jargons but effectively use it. But will they? Go to any Govt office and a common site is still the bulky files on large tables with inward & outward trays. The typical ‘Babu’ and his Babudom still relies on everything that is physical and the odd computer in the office would not only look outdated but gathered enough dust layers to confirm its usage. I doubt if the penetration of PCs, let alone connectivity would be more than 10% in Govt offices.

The typical government machinery by its very DNA is very rigid, hierarchical and staid in its response mechanism. UID on the other hand is expected to run on this system presupposing that there will be a high level of coordination between various departments, access to each other databases and free flowing information between the Babus and their ministries. If it were the elephant of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, i wouldn’t have doubted its agility but this is still the wild untamed giant of the jungle which Veerappa Moily is trying to tame with his ‘Administrative Reforms Bill ' that is still in the anvil.

So where does all this leads to? The UID may take off with the tail wind created by Nilekani’s proven managerial competencies but like the rudderless plane would soon crash land in the vast graveyard of eGovernance if not addressed structurally.

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