While the post of Chief Information Commissioner under RTI lies vacant, 553 applicants, including bureaucrats, government officials, retired defence personnel and citizens are eying to grab one of the three new posts of Information Commissioner
Despite the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promising transparency in its election manifesto, the post of the Chief Information Commissioner under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has remained vacant for nearly 50 days. In the meanwhile, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has received 553 applications for three posts of Central Information Commissioners. These applications have come from government officers, former armed personnel and citizens.
The list of applicants includes names of former DoPT Secretary- Dr Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, Dr Anuradha Verma (this name had figured in the past as a shortlisted candidate), some RTI activists, journalists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), says RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra. Batra had filed an RTI application to know the details of applications received.
While the Chief Information Commission (CIC) is headless since 22nd August, waiting for the President and Prime Minister to install a new person at the helm, the DoPT had in February and July 2014 sought applications for the appointment of “more information commissioners in the CIC”, although it did not mention the number of vacancies at that point of time.
Delhi-based Batra requested information regarding the total number of applications received by the DoPT for Information Commissioners (IC) posts in the CIC, total number of vacancies of ICs required and the names of applicants who have applied for the IC posts.
See the entire list of 553 names below...
In the meanwhile, RTI activists across the country are fuming over the Modi government’s lethargy in appointing a new Central Chief Information Commissioner (CCIC), who is crucial for transparency and informed citizenry. They have been questioning the use of filling up the information commissioners’ post without appointing the CCIC.
Batra, who has demanded an inspection of files which contain correspondence related to the post of the CCIC says, "The absence of 'Chief Information Commissioner' in the 'Central Information Commission' (CIC) is adversely affecting the functioning of the CIC because he is also responsible and accountable for administration and management of the Commission. Also, there is no provision in the act for "Officiating" or an “Acting Chief Information Commissioner.”
Section 12 (4) of the RTI Act, 2005 clearly says: "The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission shall vest in the Chief Information Commissioner who shall be assisted by the Information Commissioners and may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act."
RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri have launched an online petition appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appoint a CIC at the earliest. The petition appeals to Modi to appoint a CIC immediately.
The appeal states:
You could sign the petition here.
While the union government is hiding behind the excuse of the absence of a leader of opposition, is it that the BJP has someone in mind and are waiting for him or her to retire? Like it happened in the case of Maharashtra when the post of the state chief information commissioner (SCIC) was left vacant for eight months until Ratnakar Gaikwad retired as chief secretary and then was appointed as SCIC!
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Besides the commencement of winter, officials say the pollution is caused by ramped-up production by industrial units in and around Beijing
The highly polluted fog is back again to haunt the Chinese capital as the government has issued a yellow alert for air pollution over the next three days advising residents to take a number of precautions.
Due to the weather, pollution was predicted to remain heavy in Beijing until Saturday, the Beijing heavy air pollution response office said.
The Beijing Meteorological Observatory issued a yellow alert for smog, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Besides the commencement of winter, officials say the pollution is caused by ramped-up production by industrial units in and around the city which were opened yesterday after a week-long National Day holiday.
It is the first yellow smog alert in Beijing since the beginning of July. Tianjin and Hebei also issued a yellow alert.
Citizens, especially elders and children, were advised to take protective measures. Schools were asked to avoid outdoor activities and reduce physical exercise classes.
Air quality index (AQI) in downtown Beijing exceeded 200 for the past 24 hours, according to data this morning obtained by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.
An AQI of over 300 is defined as “serious pollution” and an AQI between 201 and 300 is considered “heavy”, according to China’s standard.
Downtown density of PM2.5, particles under 2.5 microns in diameter and major air pollutant, at 8 p.m. was more than 300 micrograms per cubic meter, in Beijing.
“Serious smog has appeared in the Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei region,” said Li Jing, a forecaster at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.
Heavy pollution was reported in Hebei and Henan provinces yesterday. Cold air is forecast to blow away the smog on Saturday night, said Li.
Tianjin and Hebei will continue to have heavy pollution until this evening, according to forecast.
The smog also prevented citizens from watching a total lunar eclipse yesterday. Beijing officials claim to have improved pollution law enforcement.
In the first eight months, there were more than 1,000 breaches of the law with fines totalling 23 million yuan (about $3.8 million) issued, up 99% and 375% respectively year-on-year.
The government is reportedly talking with RBI to curtail insurance mis-selling by banks. While RBI regulates banks, IRDA is supposed to control insurance companies. Unfortunately, lax approach of both these regulators is responsible for increasing complaints about insurance mis-selling by banks. Can anyone make these two regulators accountable?
Following several complaints from bank customers being forced to buy insurance policies while applying for loan or other services, or finding that their corpus has declined substantially thanks to extortionate charges, the union government is reportedly discussing the matter with Reserve Bank of India (RBI). According to a report from the Economic Times, the government also wants to review existing incentive structures at banks for selling insurance products, after Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) flagged the issue of mis-selling. Unfortunately, while the government is on the right path, it will not reach too far unless it fundamentally changes the poor accountability and hand-off approach of customer grievances of the two key regulators involved in insurance mis-selling: the RBI and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA).
What the government needs to know is no amount of discussion will achieve anything unless IRDA is made accountable for approving harmful products, mis-selling is clearly defined, there are exemplary punishment for those found selling wrong policies to bank customers. A second major issue is that customer grievances are not a priority area for either the RBI or IRDA. When there is single regulator, there at least exists some hope for customers who feel being duped. However, when the issue involves two different regulators, like in the case of insurance policy being sold by bank to its own customers, there is no definite solution to individual grievances. So where and how will government make a headway to curb mis-selling insurance policies by banks? Does it even know where it should begin?
Over the past few years, Moneylife has reported numerous such cases where banks have used the financial information of their clients and have exploited this to sell products that more often than not are not suited to the client’s needs. Such hard-selling bankers are aptly described as banksters these days, operating with a license to cheat from top management.The RBI is fully aware of problems as well as solutions. Last year, Moneylife Foundation even sent a memorandum to RBI Governor requesting him to free the system of mis-selling of financial products by bankers, misusing the savers’ trust. But RBI has done nothing about this menace.
Moneylife Foundation Insurance Helpline has been receiving increased number of complaints regarding fraudulent calls to sell insurance policy. The modus operandi has been to fool a gullible person by playing with their greed. The offers can range from bonus offer by IRDA, interest-free loan from Reliance Capital, Airtel mobile tower rent, call to surrender ULIP without loss, investing in initial public offerings (IPOs) of life insurance companies at attractive price and sharing of agent contest offer to sharing of commission given in form of gold.
Karnal (Haryana)-based senior citizen Vishv Raj Singh was mis-sold six policies by Bharti Airtel, HDFC Life and Reliance Life allegedly offering him installation of Airtel tower to get a monthly rent and even sending a fake engineer to check the soil for getting a clearance certificate. Moneylife Foundation took up the case and wrote to IRDA. HDFC Life and Reliance Life immediately refunded the money after they came to know about his case. But not Bharti AXA Life. IRDA called for detailed investigation report from Bharti AXA on 8 August 2013 along with reminder on 14 August 2013. Bharti AXA replied on 27th August 2013, denying any wrongdoing. IRDA acted like a post office as it does in all cases of mis-selling, making companies like Bharti Axa bolder next time.
At an event conducted by Moneylife Foundation in 2012, J Hari Narayan, the former chairman of IRDA, openly stated that handling grievances of individuals is not IRDA’s responsibility. The answer to the problem is not just strengthening grievance redress mechanism but making sure insurance companies and banks are forced to pay massive fines when caught mis-selling. This is unlikely to happen given the attitudes of RBI, IBA and IRDA.
In addition, top private insurance companies are backed by banks itself. For example, ICICI Pru Life, SBI Life, HDFC Life, IDBI Federal, SUD Life, Kotak Life and IndiaFirst are backed by banks like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, State Bank of India (SBI), IDBI, Federal bank, Bank of India, Union bank of India, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Bank of Baroda and Andhra Bank. All these banks have signed distribution agreements for promoting products from their own joint ventures. Banks are supposed to push these products as part of a strategy. Even teller staff is drafted to mislead bank customers into buying insurance. RBI's financial stability report’s Chapter III - Financial Sector Regulation and Infrastructure raises several crucial questions on bancassurance model’s use of unfair and restrictive practices.
While banks are well suited to distribute insurance products because of their wide network, several issues have risen regarding their conduct in the process, pertaining to mis-selling and certain restrictive/ unfair practices (such as linking provision of locker facilities to purchase of insurance products, selling of unsuitable and/or multiple policies etc).
According to IRDA’s Annual Report 2011-12, the maximum complaints in life insurance related to mis-selling, mainly pertaining to private sector, although state-owned LIC leads the business with over 70% share. Complaints were mainly in the nature of unfair trade practices and mis-selling of products (e.g. malpractices, actual product sold being different from what was proposed, single premium policy being issued as annual premium policy, surrender value being different from projected, free look refund not paid, misappropriation of premiums).
As a significant portion of private life insurance companies use banks as their corporate agents, there seems to be an urgent need to revisit the marketing and sales strategies used by the banks in pushing insurance products, especially since insurance is among the more complex financial products for common man to comprehend.
This why the ministry of finance told the banks last year to act has brokers and offer multiple insurance products and not as agents of one or two insurance. But they refused. The RBI does not seem to bother much about such unethical practices, following aggressive lobbying by the Indian Bank Association.