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.
The government needs to do a quick policy review to cover simultaneous extraction of coal and methane. Existing coal block allottees should be cleared to proceed with plans for extracting methane gas without any further delay
Since 1950, methane gas, or coal bed methane (CBM) as it is otherwise known, has been extracted successfully, by the US. Many other western countries, such as Canada, East European nations, UK and others like Australia and China have benefited from this source of energy. India is lagging behind in developing this important source of fuel.
Coal bed methane is gas that is stored and buried deep in the coal seams and is like any other natural gas. This is lethal, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, if inhaled, but a clean fuel for generating power. During the excavation or mining of coal, this methane escapes, literally evaporating into thin air.
The Central Mine Planning and Design Institute has been studying this very important fuel source and has prepared data on eight prospective coal bed methane blocks in Johilla, Singrauli coalfields and Cambay basin. Recently, they have submitted their reports to the Director General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) and these blocks are likely to be put for global bidding soon.
According a press report available on the subject, the estimated recovery of potential coal bed methane gas in India is said to be between 710 and 948 billion cubic metres methane. Coal block owners like Coal India, NTPC and others could also explore for CBM themselves. In fact, since 2001, as many as 33 CBM blocks have been allotted in four rounds of global bidding. Government has prepared a policy on coal bed methane, but it has no separate policy covering the extraction of both coal and methane simultaneously.
In the interest of long term planning, it would be imperative that such a policy is prepared, as both are interlinked, and cannot be separated from each other, when it comes to extraction. At the moment, Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is responsible for Petroleum and Natural Gas, while Minister Piyush Goyal takes care of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy. It would be desirable that one of them is made responsible for dealing with the generation of methane gas. Otherwise, there would be an avoidable clash of personalities that would affect the nation's progress in tapping this important fuel resource.
This is based on the past experience of the Ministers in the UPA government. In the past, it appears, that Veerappa Moily, as Petroleum Minister, had proposed that private players be allowed to explore CBM along with Coal India in its existing mines but the Coal Minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal was not in favour. In the end, nothing really happened, while the methane evaporated in thin air!
Therefore, the tug-of-war between these two ministries is said to cover: "as to who will implement the production sharing contract?" This situation would continue even today, if a clear-cut cabinet decision at the Prime Minister level is not made. The focus of getting the methane would be lost in the wilderness of this argument.
Digressing for a moment, the 11th Five Year Plan has listed in-situ tapping of coal bed methane as a key intervention that will also help reduce greenhouse gas emission from mining activities and recovery of methane.
In the meanwhile, Reliance Power now has 4 CBM blocks, in MP (609 sq kms), Rajasthan (1,168 and 739 sq kms) and Andhra Pradesh (735 sq kms), and is supported by a consortium partner, Geopetrol International Inc. They have drilled 12 core holes. Two test wells are producing incidental gas from day one! Commercial quantity of CBM from Sohagpur block from August 2014 has been higher than 4,000 m3/d and the Director General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) has accepted "gas-in-place" reserve of about 54.5 BCM!
On the other hand, the Kaveri delta CBM project undertaken by the Great Eastern Energy Corporation Ltd (GEECL), Gurgaon, Haryana, has been recently suspended due to some environmental issues and farmers’ agitation.
The issue before the government is to draw up a quick policy review to cover simultaneous extraction of coal and methane. Existing coal block allottees should be cleared to proceed with plans for extracting methane gas without any further delay.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)