Citizens' Issues
Another car plunges in Neera River. PWD, NHAI still not concerned
In a repeat of a 2013 accident, on 11th March, another car plunged into the Neera River near Bhor, killing four young people 
 
It is time, yet again, to invoke Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to nail the Public Works Department (PWD) in Maharashtra, which, despite directions, has failed to build protective railings on the bridge on Mahad-Bhor Road, about 55 kms from Pune, in order to prevent accidents where vehicles slip into the river from the bridge. This led to another mishap earlier this week on 11th March, where four more young people died as their car plunged into the River.
 
 
When contacted, Police Inspector HD Chaugule confirmed to Moneylife that, the PWD did not heed to their earlier warnings to strengthen the bridge railings. If the PWD had heeded to their request, the car could have been prevented from falling into the river even if the driver in this case was over speeding. “Once again, the State Highway Police has sent a letter to the PWD department in Pune on 11th March, to immediately build a protective wall.” Chaugule said
 
Much like the 2013 car tragedy, the police have cited lack of signboards at the entry of the bridge and the lack of sturdy railings and a crash barrier at the entry point of the bridge as reasons for the gravity of the mishap. The four people who died included a young couple, Pravin and Riddhi Bhosale, their two year old son, Shaurya and Pravin’s father.  
 
After another such incident in 2013, where four bright youngsters from the field of advertising lost their lives, the writer had invoked Section 4 of the RTI Act only to find that the Reliance subsidiary, which is the private contractor in partnership with the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), is shirking its responsibility of maintenance and putting the onus on the Authority. In this game of ping-pong, hundreds of commuters have died – 175 of them in the 23kms stretch between Katraj ghat and the Nira bridge on Pune-Satara Road in a span of seven months between 2012 and 2013. 
 
Interestingly, RTI documents procured from NHAI, Pune, proved that strengthening of bridge railings and construction of crash barriers is pertinent for safety of commuters. It is the same affliction on the state owned highways, if the 11th March tragedy is anything to go by.
 
The details revealed in a 2012 tragedy are remarkably similar to the present case, including the sloppy maintenance by the PWD. PS Toll Roads Pvt Ltd, the subsidiary agency of Reliance Infra, which operates and maintains the Pune-Bangalore Highway in the Maharashtra jurisdiction, in its letter to the Project Director, NHAI on 25 November, 2013 stated “…raising and strengthening of the Median wall (wall in between the two bridges) to the height of the crash barrier, is required for all the six major bridges between Dehu Road and Satara and not only for the Neera River bridge.” 
 
The major bridges which need urgent repairs have been identified by the contractor as Pawana Bridge, Mula Bridge, Mutha Bridge, Krishna River Bridge, Venna River Bridge and Neera River Bridge. Repairs have also been recommended for a series of culverts and small bridges.
 
In a letter written by Nagendra Rai, officer of the PS Toll Roads to Mr Kaundal, he admits that all the major bridges and some of the culverts are ‘unsafe’ for commuters. The letter states, “You are aware that gap between all existing minor/major bridges and slab culvert is not properly closed by crash barrier or extending medial wall up to the level of crash barrier and the same is leading to unsafe situation for the traffic.”
 
RTI activist DVR Rao, who is following up on the 2013 Neera tragedy issue with the highest authorities in Delhi, is now pursuing the 11th March accident. He says, “Deaths on the roads have become far too common where the reason is the total disregard by the road building authorities for the safety of the vehicle users. There have been far too many cases of vehicles falling off hillsides and near bridges and off sharp turns. All because of bad road designs and the refusal to build protective railings or retainer walls. The latest is the car falling into the Neera river near Ambeghar because of the failure of the state PWD to build a strong retainer wall. This refusal to act in spite of repeated recommendations to the effect by the Bhor police is totally inexcusable.”
 
Earlier there were two cases of cars falling into the river at Shirwal on the NH 8, again due to the ignorance of police requests for safety measures by the NHAI. The worst part is that nobody - from the NHAI to the agency exclusively charged with ensuring safety measures - accepted any responsibility. Several accidents have occurred at the Thapa Point on the Wai-Pachagani road but no PWD agency accepted responsibility and no safety measures have been incorporated till date.
 
This attitude of the road designing and building authorities must change and systems for pinpointing responsibility and penalising those responsible for accidents must be put in place urgently.’’
 
Watch this space for more information on this issue.
 
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(Vinita Deshmukh is the 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”.)

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Railways promises to make additional 23 emergency medical rooms operational by October
During a hearing at the Bombay HC, the Railways said it would set up EMRs at 23 additional stations and make it operational by October this year
 
The Indian Railways has assured the Bombay High Court that it would set up emergency medical rooms (EMRs) at 23 additional stations and would make it operational by October this year. The HC was hearing a petition filed by railway and RTI activist Sameer Zaveri.
 
A division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Anil Menon stated the need for such emergency care units at all stations. "Setting up of emergency medical rooms was the first phase. The railways should now take responsibility and make available medical facilities at each and every station," the Bench said. 
 
The bench also observed that most doctors who sit in the 108 Ambulance service outside 48 stations are not qualified or trained to handle medical emergency and trauma situations, as they are not MBBS graduates, but Ayurvedic doctors. “Mandatory training should be provided at government centres, otherwise the purpose of having doctors in the ambulances is not served," the Judges said.
 
The Railways have promised to set up EMR units at Stations in the Central, Western and the Harbour line at Churchgate, Mumbai Central, Bandra, Andheri, Goregaon, Malad, Kandivli, Borivli, Vasai Road, Virar, Palghar, CST, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Mulund, Thane, Dombivli/Kopar, Kalyan, Vadala Road, Vashi, Panvel and Karjat. 
 
As of now, the only EMR unit set up by the Railways is located in Dadar, and that too was set up under the orders of the High Court. This time around, while the Railways has promised to set up other units, it has requested for exemption from setting up such units at CST and Kopar – the former because of its vicinity to St. George hospital, and the latter owing to its inaccessibility. 
 
The Railways accepted that stationmasters are also ill equipped to handle track-accident cases, or even escort victims to the hospital, since these were medico-legal cases. They insisted that it is the GRP that can handle these situations, and they would need to be deployed at stations at all times.
 
The HC has scheduled a hearing on this matter for 25th March. 
 
One would recall that only last month, a young woman lost her life after she fell off a moving train after someone threw a stone at her, and the GRP constable refused to take her to a private hospital. She died because she did not get medical aid in time. 
 
Railway activists can perhaps now breathe a sigh of relief, as this landmark move is a result of more than a decade long struggle on their part to get the railways to provide emergency medical aid to passengers who suffer injuries while travelling in, or getting in and out of trains. Reasons such as falling off overcrowded trains, or into gaps between platforms and trains, or being run over by trains while crossing tracks, have resulted in around 6,617 accidents on the tracks, including 3,352 deaths in 2014 alone. The Railways has, in most cases, refused to accept any responsibility for these accidents, usually blaming negligence on the part of passengers for the same. 

 

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Insurance Bill will catalyse Indian economy
Insurance Bill will positively impact the nearly 800 million uninsured Indians as well as help consumers with easy access to and affordable insurance
 
The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s first significant piece of economic legislation. It is a reformist legislation that will positively impact insurance consumers of our country, in particular, and the economy in general.
 
Bill is Pro-consumer and Pro-investment:
 
At the heart of this legislation, and the increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in insurance, is the Indian citizen and an insurance consumer. India remains an underinsured country, under pensioned and underfunded on issues of social security.  While averages and statistics that are trotted out usually may paint one picture, the reality is that at the bottom of our economic pyramid, large numbers of citizens are underinsured.
 
Insurance penetration in India is at 3.9% is below the world average of 6.3%, as per the figures in 2013 and is a very low 17th out of 62 nations.  Compare this with, South Africa (15.4%) followed by South Korea (11.9%); the UK (11.5%); Japan (11.1%) and remember these are penetration adjusted for GDP!
 
Over 800 millions of Indians are uninsured lives. Many more in health, livelihoods and assets remain uncovered by insurance. This low insurance density needs to be urgently addressed and this can be only be done rapidly by introducing more insurance companies and more investment into the sector. More players mean more investment and also more competition. More competition means lower prices for consumers and increased affordability.  Competition, and more competition through many companies, is the only sustainable way for Indian consumers to get easy access to and affordable insurance.
 
Why FDI and no funding from domestic sources is one of the questions posed by opponents of the Bill. The question can be posed to all sectors that attract FDI today – telecom, infrastructure, services, airlines, and homes – Why FDI at all?
 
It is that while our economy is a growth economy, just like any other economy, we have finite resources and these need to be prioritised. We need our domestic resources for areas where private capital will not go like social sector, poverty programs of the government and rural infrastructure.  If we can raise additional resources from external sources, it is good economics and politics to do so. Even a country like China economic playbook has FDI at its core.
 
On the issue of opposition to FDI, it must be pointed out that foreign equity is in insurance and every other sector through the foreign institutional investment (FII) route anyway. FDI is actually better for the country’s economy, since its more long term and creates tangible assets as opposed to FII, which are speculative and short term in nature. It is a flawed and contradictory position and inconsistent with demands of todays’ consumers that want choice and competition as their right. 
 
The dynamics of a well-insured society are transformational. High insurance densities have huge impacts on societal wellbeing, health, family standards of living one end of the spectrum of benefits. It also creates an economy of high savings rates, improved long-term capital availability to the financial sector, which in turn makes long-term infrastructure financing easier. So, catalysing the insurance sector and regulating it well is good for consumer and the economy. 
 
The Budget 2015 has introduced into our economic architecture some new structural propositions that directly influence the poor and needy citizens of India. The accident insurance, pensions and insurance are the first few steps in creating a social security framework. Every developed democracy has a social security net that ensures a targeted and sustainably funded model that backstops the poor and needy or temporarily out of work. This legislation also further powers this architecture because it makes insurance more affordable by creating competition.
 
There are some elements in the Bill that could have been avoided or improved. The Bill talks about Indian control. It could be misunderstood to imply that it creates two classes of investors, giving a certain group of Indian investors’ rights disproportionate to their holdings and perpetuates the 80’s bhumiputra type differentiation. This is not contemporary thinking. For a nation that needs to attracts billions of dollars of investment into Make in India, Digital India, Defence, Infrastructure and services – creating economic differentiation between foreign and Indian investors is not a good idea and only perpetuates a culture of rent seeking amongst some Indian businessmen and corporate groups that have done it for several years
 
In addition, the Bill misses a big opportunity to create a reinsurance hub and thousands of jobs associated within India. With Dubai and Singapore fast emerging as reinsurance hubs that are moving markets away from traditional Europe and North America, it seems that we have not thought this through. For a reinsurance hub in India, the FDI limits will have to be higher. 
 
The government and Finance Minister must commit that they will work to making insurance public sector units (PSUs) even more competitive and strong by redesigning how they are managed and run. PSUs must be investment assets for the government, but not by preserving monopolies but by transforming them to market leaders and world beaters, even as the insurance market grows. Countries like Singapore has shown how government linked companies can perform well and that vision must be unveiled here as well.
 
The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill is pro-competition and pro-consumer. It is pro-investment and pro-economy, is a reformist legislation that will catalyse the insurance sector and the economy. 
 
(Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha, is also a member of the Standing Committee on Finance and a technology entrepreneur

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COMMENTS

vishal

2 years ago

The state owned LIC has served the Government to bring in lot of money but has not penetrated the masses as they claim. Further they have made a tremendous fortune at the expense of lapsed policies. Compared to our population the benefit of Insurance has reached only a minor segment of the people. The bill does not answer the shortcomings of the nature of the business carried out by Insurers.

R Balakrishnan

2 years ago

We are all missing the point. Is this an industry that is needed at all? It is an industry that erodes the wealth of a citizen and redistributes it to those who are the conmen in the the financial services sector. It would be nice if Insurance can be restricted to health, general insurance and pure term or pure life. Unfortunately, insurance cos mis-sell investment products that cheat consumers, with active support and encouragement of government agencies like IRDA.
The second thing is the permission to increase from 26 to 49%. For a promoter, this is a meaningless threshold. Of course, there are ways to control, holding even 26% (the Metlife Model) or by some legal chicanery.
We are already seeing agencies like LIC being abused by the government to park inconvenient and lousy investments- PSU Bank capital is a prime example. If anything, throw the insurance open 100% to the goras- Tax them higher than the domestics. And prohibit selling of any investment products. India is funny. Those who need insurance cannot afford it and those who buy it are generally those who do not need it.

Rajaram Bojji

2 years ago

Dear Rajeev Ji, Nice write up but one caution.
Insurance creates fear in general in large number of people who never need to access benefit, showing benefit to hardly few who needed. The business model has to be built on that basis.
At individual level fear can take away insurance premiums totaling almost 30 to 40% of earnings!
Just check numbers in adv countries. The job earnings become so critical and unless one earns one cannot pay insurance premiums.
Fear built in is palpable and people get tremendously stressed to keep job.
Now for those without job or retired insurance penetrated and driven societies create a truly frightening living.
The fat insurance companies become powerful political lobbyists , and policy drivers. Further they take over health care and control how medical care has to be administered.
Too many additional layers of costs get introduced in society.
The funds rich insurance companies drive stock market too.
It is also fact of life, the really needed help to a needy is quite often denied or only pittance granted at the mercy of mercenary insurance officers whose bonus is tied with net profit to company
The common man at the bottom of this ladder, finally finds all round mechanisms to only drain him for his cash.
That is development of course.
This is what a Goan fisherman told me that I was stupid.
He wears only shirt and loin cloth , catches fish blocking tidalfow, cooks rice grown own field , makes his feni, eats, drinks, rests happily on beach gazing up in sky! Paradise! Why development?
Rural folk in India really get benefited or or urban business communities enjoy better finance options and earn , so that they can go to Goa and lie down next to that happy Goan, is a moot point.
China seems to have resisted . Or I am wrong?
On Konkan Rly acted as self insurer for accidents and health care , using funds which otherwuse I was asked to pay by insurance companies. A virtual company I ran. Let me tell you. Huge profits ! I saved money not insuring for the company!
Hare Krishna!

REPLY

sivaraman anant narayan

In Reply to Rajaram Bojji 2 years ago

Couldn't agree with you more. We had a very savvy finance director who refused to insure the fleet of company cars,believing only in self-insurance,saving a lot of money for the Co.

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