Tourists on a tour with Cox & Kings' European Whirl lost all valuables they had kept in C&K bus as per instructions from their guide on the last day
It is widely believed that travelling abroad with a reputed tour operator ensures safety, security and fulfilment of the promises made. However, those on Cox & Kings’ (C&K) European Whirl tour found that their Roman Holiday will be memorable for the wrong reasons. In a shocking incident, passengers allege that their valuables were stolen from their hand luggage right from the bus engaged by the tour operator.
The bad news doesn’t end with being robbed. Instead of helping them file a complaint with the local authorities, they were advised to return to India and file a complaint with Cox & Kings (C&K), which denies any responsibility and points to some opaque fine print in a brochure that was given to the tourists before commencement of the tour.
Here is what happened. YN Bhattacharya, a senior banker and his family were booked on C&K's “European Whirl” tour. The 11 night-10day package cost was Rs1.28 lakh per person. On the last day, the passengers having checked out of their hotels were on the last hours of their tour at Rome, before heading for the airport. Mr Bhattacharya says, the tour manager Marina Coutino repeatedly advised all passengers to carry all valuables and items purchased in person, in backpacks or side bags, to avoid pilferage at the airport and also advised them to claim VAT refund. Accordingly, each passenger had these with them in the bus (on which they had travelled all the way from London), during their last hours of shopping and sight-seeing of the tour.
"On the way to airport, the bus was parked on the road Via Portuense outside a shopping mall and we were advised by Ms Marina Coutino to leave all the belongings in the bus and spend time in the mall till 17:00 hours. No one was allowed to stay in the bus. She also advised that no baggage would be permitted in the mall", says Mr Bhattacharya.
Everyone vacated the bus and entered the mall for lunch and shopping. After couple of hours, the tour manager contacted some of us and informed that baggage inside the bus was missing and everyone should check their belongings in the bus immediately. We immediately rushed to the bus and found that everything was missing from the bus except a hand purse, which had the travel tag on it. Even jackets worn and food packets were not spared".
According to Mr Bhattacharya, almost all the 32 members in the bus on way to airport lost their valuables and one member, Mr Chatterjee even lost his passport and air tickets and was stranded at Rome. Me and my family suffered a loss of around Rs2 lakh, apart from loss of peace and suffering mental agony with sleepless nights.
Moneylife spoke to Mr GS Kutty, who told us he lost his iPhone, laptop and a Blackberry and other valuable items worth over Rs2 lakh. We are in the process of calling others.
The tourists were in for a bigger shock on returning to India. C&K washed its hands off the entire episode. When Moneylife called C&K to ask for its comments, the spokesperson emailed us denying that its tour guide was in anyway responsible for the theft. He said, “We regret that such an unfortunate incident did take place. In the terms and conditions (Page 98) of our brochure we do mention that passengers should not leave behind any property in the coach while disembarking. The company would not be responsible or liable in case of loss of such property under any circumstances. It may be noted that the tour manager Ms Coutino assisted the passengers in filing the FIR at the local police station and a copy of which was provided to the clients".
But Mr Bhattacharya has a very different version. He alleges that the tour manager was in a hurry to take the passengers to the airport and advised them to take up the matter with Cox & Kings on reaching India. She only took them to the police station when the passengers insisted on it. His complaint says, “She (the tour guide) was compelled to take us to the nearest police station in order to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) for lost items. We were not allowed to go inside the police station but were handed over a limited ‘Questura di Roma’ form to fill in and hand over to her. We were not even given adequate time to fill up the forms for all four members. The partially filled forms were handed over to the tour manager for transferring the same to police station. Acknowledgment of only three forms were received out of the four submitted by us which was immediately brought to her notice but she declined to approach the police station to collect the remaining acknowledgement form, which she was to handover to us. This was around 17:00 hours and we were only five miles away from the airport when our flight was at 22:00 hours. This makes it evident that she had enough time to take care of documentation from the police station on the loss of valuables which were in exclusive custody of Cox & Kings, but she did not perform".
In fact, giving the brush off they have received, Mr Bhattacharya wonders whether the theft was an inside job in collusion with the driver and the guide, especially since he was not even given an insurance claim form when he asked for it at C&K’s Vashi office at Mumbai.
Specifically, he cites the following actions questionable actions on the part of the tour operator.
1. Specific advice of the tour manager to carry all the valuables and items purchased in their handbags, backpacks. This facilitated pilferage of all items collectively from inside the bus.
2. Specific advice of the tour manager to leave all valuable belongings in the bus and to vacate the bus for about five hours to go shopping. Nobody was allowed to stay back in the bus.
3. We were not allowed to keep the luggage in the locker room of the hotel as she declined to pick up the luggage later from hotel on way to airport, although it was hardly five miles away.
4. The bus was parked on the road away from the shopping mall in spite of parking space available inside the mall complex.
5. The bus was parked outside the range of security surveillance of the shopping mall, monitored by cameras and CCTVs.
6. There was no tampering on the door of the highly technologically advanced Mercedes-Benz bus, which was fitted with security door alarms. Thus, raises doubts about pilferage being an inside job.
7. The tour operator was reluctant to approach the police station for filing the FIR. After almost three hours of the theft, she could be persuaded to take us to the police station.
8. She neither allowed sufficient time to lodge the complaint nor permitted anyone to leave the bus to meet the police officials.
9. The tour operator did not hand over the complaint acknowledgement from the police station for Sayanti Bhattacharya although she had filled the complaint form.
10. Although the bus was parked outside the police station, no police personnel inspected the bus.
11. Although there was plenty of time available to file a detailed complaint (about five to six hours until flight time) she was in hurry to push us to the airport and didn’t want the travellers interacting with the local police.
12. On reaching airport, she was not traceable anymore.
The question then is, don’t tour operators get any insurance for the tours? That is a separate story. Watch this space.
Science has become too powerful, too pushy and too dangerous to be left on its own. We need to have controls or else we will have more moon missions in preference to saving dying children in thousands from starvation
“An inventor is a person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization”— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1958
I think that science is only one of the many ways of understanding this universe while admitting that there are many other ways of doing so. The present craze and teaching that unless one has a scientific bent of mind this world can not progress looks like pure propaganda by the vested scientific lobby. Real scientific temper is a part of living; that is trying to look at everything critically before accepting it. Scientific temper does not simply mean studying BSc, PhD etc. Their misplaced emphasis on evidence base in science is also shaky as the evidence itself is not pure and is based just on the five senses of the scientist. The whole world out there cannot be grasped with our five senses alone.
Unfortunately, today science seems to have acquired a new meaning of trying to teach nature a lesson or two. In the bargain, scientists look for methods to make money—big money at that—in the form of sponsorship by vested interests, funding by research organizations, patenting their findings and fattening their CVs, huge sums of money from the industry for advising them, and of course, occasionally the ‘great’ Nobel Prize, thanks to big money involved in technology which applies these scientific principles to make money. In addition, the star performers in the area get social status, media projection and many other perks.
The worst part of the enterprise is the fight over intellectual rights. If one gets an idea, how can one call it his/her own? Cell biology tells us that ideas do come to our antennae from the universal consciousness and they do not belong to any individual. The same ideas might have occurred to others at other times. One has only to look at the famous PhD thesis of 1956 written by Imre Lakatos published as Proofs and Refutations, which is one of the greatest twentieth century contributions to the philosophy of mathematics which forms the basis of all sciences as is known to the present generation. It was published and supervised by Karl Popper who ruled the London School of Economics those days. The greatest thinker on science was Popper himself. He was very fond of his pet theme Conjectures and Refutations which will show the science of today is just as hypothetico-deductive. A proposition is scientific only if it is falsifiable, as otherwise, it becomes metaphysical. One could sum up today’s definition of science by quoting two of their thought leaders—Marie Curie and John von Neumann. “Science is measurement and measurement is science” was Marie’s idea while Neumann defined science as “making models, mostly mathematical constructs, which, with verbal jargon, are supposed to work”! Even the great Albert Einstein wrote that “when it comes to reality, mathematics is not applicable.”
Science has become too powerful, too pushy and too dangerous to be left on its own. We need to have controls or else we will have more moon missions in preference to saving dying children in thousands from starvation and Nutritional Immune Deficiency Syndromes (NIDS), grand total of 67 million in all.
Two examples of how knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is universal and not personal are here. Keinzel, a professor Rustum Roy’s laboratory at Pennsylvania state, was working on radio waves to kill cancer cells. Serendipitously, the rays passed through one of the test tubes containing salt water. That test tube could burn like a flame from water. It was then confirmed by professor Roy that what came out of water when radio waves pass through it are hydrogen atoms (not molecules). The water still remained as water and the hydrogen that came out was fully hydrogen atom. Prof Roy, in fact, was inspired by the Vedic saying “poornam idam; poornam adaha…” which simply means that this is a whole and that is a whole. If a bit comes out of the whole the bit becomes a whole but the whole remains a whole! Prof Roy used to quote another sloka (stanza) from the Rig Veda—“Oorj”—which graphically describes water as the mother and father of fire! Amazing all-time wisdom indeed! They are able to run engines on water thus. This technique does not leave nascent oxygen behind like when one removes hydrogen molecules from water. The nascent oxygen would destroy any engine.
Hans Peter Durr, another great physicist who propagates E=M hypothesis calls the same as aduality. Hans, who is the Emeritus Director of Max Planck Institute, in his paper Matter is not made out of Matter, takes pride in mentioning that the Indian sages of yore knew about this when they coined the term advaitha!
“We cannot discover the world we presuppose when proceeding with it. We need an external standard of criticism, an alternate set of assumptions, an entire alternate world—a dream world in order to discover the features of the real world we inhabit (which may be another dream world)… the first step in our criticism of ‘facts’ must be an attempt to break the circle.”, writes Paul Feyerabend in his classic, Against Method, an epoch making book, nay a collage. This is better clarified by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, an English physicist, in his “fish net hypothesis.” When ichthyologists went to sea to study fish scientifically, they collected samples from all the seas. Analysing their data they came to some vital theories. One of them was “that all fish in the sea are bigger than two inches.” The theory became science and the fish got sold in the market with this scientific tag. Every one concerned was happy. Closer scrutiny, of course, revealed the hole in the theory. If the ichthyologists had taken a net with smaller holes even smaller than two inches fish would have been caught!
The same fish net explains why there are so many ‘scientists’ and Nobel Laureates describing the electron in different ways. Come to think of it philosophers and spiritualists like Charles Leadbeater, Benjamin Guy Babington and Anne Beasant, one time physicists, had come to better conclusions about the atomic structure without any gadgets way back in 1920 in India meditating in yogic trance, described in Besant’s book, Occult Chemistry. The lepto-quark, the last bit of the sub-atomic particle, has been graphically described in a stanza in the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita, another point against patenting!
Modern medicine is another one of those pseudo-sciences, in fact, it is not even science, and it is just statistical science. Steven Milloy PhD, an epidemiologist in Washington DC, calls medical science “a science without sense,” in his book by the same name. Albert-Szent Gyorgyi, a Nobel Laureate biologist, in his magnificent publication, Sub-molecular biology, has torn the medical scientific base into pieces. One sentence from Gyorgyi would suffice to show the gravity of the problem. “I am not able to define cancer as I do not know the difference between a normal cell function and cancer cell function.” Writes James Dewey Watson, the Nobel Prize winning DNA man, about cancer research thus: “scientifically bankrupt, therapeutically ineffective, and wasteful” Another Nobel Laureate, Macfarlane Burnet, says that a comprehensive and unbiased survey of cancer research, “the surveyor would end up with a devastating sense of futility—the end-result of the hundreds of thousands of man-years of work on the various aspects of cancer has been precisely nil.”
Our problem in cancer starts from the very definition. Rudolf Virchow, the father of cell pathology, wrote that “no man, even under torture, could define cancer!” The medical sciences of other areas are still worse. I quoted cancer in some detail as this is the biggest research grant getting area attracting lots of young people who have only read their textbooks in medical school; the latter are now known to be ghost written by the vested interests! Medical scientists should, for a change, start thinking before doing. The end result of all the madness in the medical area, as shown by audits based on US governmental data, has been that modern medical establishment in all its ramifications, is the leading cause of human death and disability!
Our curse in India has been that from the time of political independence in 1947, we, unlike the Chinese in 1948, totally ignored the vast sea of medical wisdom that already existing in this country for eons in Ayurveda, and many other systems in preference of the colonial western science. This is like a religion, with a tight-knit hierarchy to keep it the way they want by rigid rules for publications, a ritualistic research style, and the “so called” peer review which is built in to curb all new knowledge. They are feeling the heat now in their own backyard. Lamenting on medical science, the chief of NICE, the highest body that keeps medical science activities under control in the UK, Sir Michael Rawlins, said that “RCTs, the benchmark of quality in medical research has been placed on an undeservedly high pedestal.”
The whole field of medical science smacks of a fanatical religion. “A great country with great traditions is subjected to western domination and is exploited in the customary way. A new generation recognizes or thinks it recognizes the material and the intellectual superiority of the west and traces it back to science. Science is thus imported, taught, and pushes aside all other wisdoms and traditional elements. Scientific chauvinism triumphs. What is compatible with that science should live, what is not compatible with science should die,” writes Paul Karl Feyerabend in his classic Against Method. This one paragraph in Paul’s book tells all that I have been saying for the last half a century. Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar, a great medical scientist, in his book The Limits of Science and John Bockris of cold fusion fame from A& M University in Texas, in his book The New Paradigm have argued more convincingly of the need for a change sooner than later. Science has become a boondoggle.
“The most ordinary things are to philosophy a source of insoluble puzzles. With infinite ingenuity it constructs a concept of space or time and then finds it absolutely impossible that there be objects in this space or that processes occur during this time... the source of this kind of logic lies in excessive confidence in the so-called laws of thought.”— Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) b Vienna, Austria
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is the former vice-chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London. Prof Dr Hegde can be contacted at [email protected])
Maharashtra sells thermal power to industry and commercial units at Rs8-Rs12 per kWh, while solar power prices have dropped to Rs7 per kWh
Frenetic bidding for solar projects have brought down feed-in tariffs to just Rs7 per unit (or kWh), Union minister for renewable energy Farookh Abdullah confirmed this to a gathering in Delhi two months ago. Even power data released by the government confirm this fact.
That’s a big tumble from a few years ago, when solar photovoltaic (PV) prices were hovering at a stratospheric Rs19 per unit. Feed-in tariff is the money paid by a power distribution company to producers who supply electricity to the grid. This tariff covers all costs for power producers—recurring costs, interest, depreciation and also includes the profit that the producers would make.
While that’s great news for solar enthusiasts, it spells greater trouble for Maharashtra. This is because Maharashtra has the largest industrial and commercial base among all the states in India. Maharashtra’s state distribution company, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MSEDCL) or Mahavitaran, earned Rs34,000 crore through electricity sales in the last fiscal. As much as 60% of this came from sales to industry (at Rs8-Rs10 per unit) and commercial units (shops, malls, etc, at Rs10-Rs12 per unit).
The biggest fear among state officials now is that industrial units will opt to set up rooftop solar power generation capacities and reduce purchases from MSEDCL by at least 20% or Rs5,000 crore. By saetting up rooftop solar, they could reduce their electricity costs from Rs8 (or more) per unit to less than Rs7 (because solar power producers also make profits when selling electricity at this price). In fact, power analysts are convinced that what happens in Maharashtra will spur a tariff revision across the country.
There’s merit in the argument. For perspective, take the example of Orissa, which recently awarded five solar photovoltaic projects worth a cumulative 25 MW to meet the requirements of the Solar Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) with feed-in tariff at Rs7 per unit.
Since this tariff includes costs such as interest, depreciation as also profit for the producer, it can be safely assumed that the actual cost of generation could be under Rs6 per unit, may be even Rs5.
This savings could translate into cost reduction of lakhs of rupees for each industrial unit in Maharashtra every month, while for commercial units, the gains could be more.
Conversely, revenues of the state would also decline, so the writing on the wall is clear: Unless Maharashtra revises all power tariffs downward immediately, Mahavitaran will be swimming in losses.
First murmurs about the need to do this are already being heard along official corridors. A senior bureaucrat said the refrain is about the need to bring about a uniform tariff of Rs5 per unit.
That would mean subsidised users who pay 20 paise to Rs1.20 per unit will have to shell out a lot more, while industry will get it cheaper.
To ensure this tariff does not result in a whiplash of protest from marginal users and from politically powerful agriculturists, bureaucrats have been mooting targeted subsidies to the deserving. This could change the way power is distributed to farmers, and also the way it is stolen by canny businessmen.
“This will allow the needy to get subsidised power—whether it will be through cash transfers to their account or through the issue of coupons,” said a senior state official. So what’s the solution for the state?
Crisil, which rates the ability of companies to repay debt, said at a seminar on power tariffs in New Delhi in the first week of May that growth in income and the spending pattern of Indian households leads it to believe that consumers have the capacity to bear higher tariffs.
Crisil’s managing director and CEO Roopa Kudva said this indicates policymakers may have more flexibility to increase tariffs than they are currently exercising. “Had power tariffs kept pace with other household expenses, power utilities would have earned additional revenues of about Rs95,000 crore (during the last four years). Instead of making losses of Rs87,000 crore, they would have made an aggregate profit of Rs80,000 crore,” she pointed out.
For the industry, there could be more cheer as competitive bidding for solar projects are yet to take place in Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Considering the trend so far, solar power costs, and therefore industry power tariffs, could only slide further. That, and a profusion of solar rooftop facilities, may be what could break the state’s tariff regulatory back. Unless power tariffs get revised, and the manner of subsidy dispensation gets changed.
CULPRITS & FUNDERS
SUBSIDY CULPRIT: Agriculture consumes 22.7% of electricity generated, but contributes less than 10% of state's power revenues
POWER THEFT: Residentials consume 18% but generate only 16% of state’s power revenues
AND THEY PAY: Industrial and commercial clients consume 25%, but provide 70% of revenues