Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu was the most affected, with damaged roads rendering it difficult for rescue teams including those from National Disaster Response Force and Fire and Rescue Services to reach the cyclone hit fishing hamlets
Chennai: The very severe cyclonic storm, ‘Thane’, today crossed the Tamil Nadu coast, leaving six persons dead and causing extensive damage to Cuddalore and the neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry which remained cut-off from the nearby districts of the state, reports PTI.
Five persons died in Cuddalore in incidents of wall collapse and electrocution, officials said. A 45-year old man of Vanarampet village in Puducherry died in house collapse.
Train services from southern Tamil Nadu were hit as many of them ran late or were stopped in the nearby station while flights to international destinations by private carriers including to Kuwait and Malaysia from Chennai were cancelled.
Puducherry district collector SB Deepak Kumar told PTI that rescue operations were in full swing in the Union Territory. Uprooted trees were being removed from the roads.
The regional weather office here said, “The very severe cyclonic storm ‘Thane’ over southwest Bay of Bengal moved further westward and crossed north Tamil Nadu coast between Cuddalore and Puducherry between 6.30 and 7.30am today.”
It had now weakened into a severe cyclonic storm and lay about 30km west of Cuddalore and 35 km southwest of Puducherry, it said, adding wind speeds of up to 140 kph was recorded during this period.
“Under the influence of this system, rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places would occur over north coastal Tamil Nadu and Puducherry during next 12 hours and over north interior Tamil Nadu during next 24 hours,” a weather bulletin said.
Further, isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur over south coastal Andhra Pradesh during next 12 hours and over Rayalseema, north Kerala and south Karnataka during the next 24 hours.
Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu was the most affected, with damaged roads rendering it difficult for rescue teams including those from National Disaster Response Force and Fire and Rescue Services to reach the cyclone hit fishing hamlets.
District collector Amuthavalli said even as communication lines remained affected, over 5000 houses of fishermen had been damaged.
An official said around 400 trees had been uprooted on the Cuddalore-Chidambaram road, resulting in suspension of vehicular movement.
Power production at Neyveli Lignite Corporation was affected as the mines were submerged.
Puducherry was cut off from the neighbouring districts of Villupuram and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu as several trees fell on the roads due to the impact of gale, official sources said.
Bus services between Puducherry and Tamil Nadu and other distant pockets were suspended due to disruption of traffic.
Power supply was suspended since last night as a precautionary measure.
At Chennai, the City Corporation moved more than 2,700 persons to safer areas and had made all arrangements for providing food.
Around 50 trees had been uprooted following the overnight squally winds, but no casualty or injury was reported, the civic agency said in a release.
Meanwhile, high wind speed, reaching up to 90-100 kmph and gusting to 110 kmph was likely along and off north Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coasts and adjoining areas of north interior Tamil Nadu during next few hours and then decrease gradually, the weather office said.
Sea condition was very high along and off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and adjoining south Andhra Pradesh coasts and fishermen were not asked to venture into the sea.
The EPFO trustees took up the issue for a final decision on the rate of return for its subscribers at a meeting held this month.
The 4.7 crore EPFO (Employees' Provident Fund Organisation) subscribers were left guessing during the year on continuance of 9.5% interest rate for this fiscal, with the retirement fund body, in an unprecedented development, deciding to refer it to the finance ministry for a final decision.
Despite intense deliberations during the year, the EPFO’s apex decision making body, Central Board of Trustees (CBT), headed by the Labour Minister, failed to arrive at a conclusion on the issue. The EPFO trustees took up the issue for a final decision on the rate of return for its subscribers at a meeting held this month. It has provided three different alternative rates to the Finance Ministry for consideration, including its own recommendation of 8.25%, 9.5% as demanded by the unionists and employer's prescribed rate of 8.5% for current fiscal.
"There are different views that emerged on the issue of rate of interest to be paid this fiscal. We will send the viewpoints of the EPFO, unionists and employers' representatives to Finance Ministry for a decision," said Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge. As per the practice, the EPFO, which is an autonomous body, decides the interest rate on provident fund deposits for every financial year in advance on the basis of income projection and then seeks finance ministry's concurrence.
The EPFO's way of handling the issue invited sharp reaction from the unionists with Hind Mazdoor Sabha Secretary AD Nagpal, who is also a trustee, saying: "This is unfortunate. It has happened for the first time".
Similar views were expressed by another trustee and All India Trade Union Congress Secretary DL Sachdev who said CBT should have taken a decision on the matter.
The CBT takes the final call on the issue on the basis of the recommendations of its advisory body Finance and Investment (FIC) and sends its decision to the finance ministry for its concurrence. Interestingly, even the FIC could not give a firm recommendation and reported its unionists members' reservations on the issue.
However, it pointed out in its recommendations to the CBT that providing 8.25% rate for the current fiscal would result in a deficit of Rs24 lakh which would further swell to Rs526.44 crore at 8.5%.
During the FIC meeting on December 22, the unionist punched many holes on the accuracy of the EPFO's official estimate of income projections and demanded maintaining 9.5% rate of return during 2011-12 as in the last fiscal.
The employees' representatives in the FIC meeting sought clarification about the income estimation error, which was Rs458.73 crore. They pointed out that when rate of return on over 85% of the investment made by the EPFO is fixed, how could they calculate this amount on entire possible income of the body.
The unionists were of the view that if this estimation error is factored in properly, then EPFO can spare around Rs400 crore which is sufficient to pay additional 0.25% over projected 8.25% rate of return this fiscal.
EPFO has reduced 2.5% (Rs458.73) crore as estimation error from an estimated income of Rs18,349.20 crore and projected an income of Rs17,890.47 crore for 2011-12. The unionists, on their part, also raised the issue of interest income on the inoperative accounts on which EPFO has stopped paying interest rate from April 1, 2011, to the subscribers. Inoperative accounts are those accounts which have not received any contribution for 36 months or more. There is about Rs15,000 crore lying in those account, which was also invested and was yielding some returns, it was pointed out.
These points were again raised during the CBT meeting on December 23, with the unionists again demanding 9.5% rate of return for the current fiscal.
However, the minister clarified on the issue of distribution of income from inoperative accounts to live accounts, and said that "it could not be done as actual income assessment from those account will be possible only after end of this fiscal".
Besides the interest rate, the trustees also deferred the decision on their ambitious plan of fixing minimum pension at Rs1,000 per month for its subscribers and issuing contribution cards similar to bank passbook to its members.
Grievance redressal mechanisms like the Lok Adalats need to be encouraged as it is an efficient way to reduce pending cased before various courts. People as well as lawyers also should make use of this kind of alternate dispute redressal mechanisms says social activist Indrani Malkani who is also a member of the Lok Adalat for Maharashtra State Consumer Redressal Forum
Moneylife (ML): What is the driving force of the Lok Adalat (LA) in the State Consumer Redressal Commission of Maharashtra?
Indrani Malkani (IM): Lok Adalat (LA) is an Alternate Dispute Redressal (ADR) mechanism and conciliation through mediation is its driving force. The matters that the LA takes up are such litigations which are usually 10 to 12 years old and which are pending in the courts. However, litigants can also voluntarily approach the LA bench for resolving their matters. The message that goes from the LA is that perhaps litigation is not the only answer. We tell both the parties that litigation in the court is bound to take a long time and will also be expensive. On the other hand, they could well approach the LA bench and try to see reason and resolve their dispute. In LA we do not go strictly by the merits of the case. We do hear the merits in order to understand the matter but do not strictly look only at the merits, because when one is going for settlement there is always some give and take from both sides. So the merits of the case are there at the back of the matter but they do not play the all important role as they do in the regular courts. Conciliation between both parties is what LA is all about.
ML: It is said that LAs are speedy, amicable and cost effective. To what extent this is true?
IM: It is inexpensive in the sense that the panel members give their services voluntarily and do not charge any fees unlike in arbitrations. Further, we make LA more time and cost efficient as we (the panel) try not to give adjournments. We are very particular about this aspect. There may be genuine situations where dates may have to be given but this is more the exception, rather than the rule. If it is noticed that one of the parties is prone to taking dates not because he is settling the matter but because of delaying tactics, then we revert the matter to the main bench. The bench usually then passes a very strong order against the party, based on the facts and the observations recorded by us.
ML: LA rests on its informal structure. How informal are the proceedings at LA?
IM: The LA is informal to some extent. However, there is a code of conduct. It is not a formal sitting judge’s bench, but instead consists of a panel of three members who together brings in collective expertise to mediate with the litigants. The proceedings are basic in nature and more inclined towards bringing the parties together on the discussion table. Both parties are given an equal opportunity to elaborate their positions so that, as a panel we are able to find out what is the crux of the dispute. One of the crucial aspects of mediation is to allow the parties to express their emotions within a reasonable limit. This allows the parties to understand the other’s point of view, thereby creating a better understanding. Having arrived at this situation and frame of mind, the panel is then able to guide both parties to a mutually acceptable settlement and resolve the matter
ML: Is the panel given the authority to pass the final order?
IM: The final order is passed by the judicial members on based on the panel’s notations and the settlement form signed by both parties. The notations made by the panel during the settlement proceedings are made known to both parties and based on those notations an order is passed by the judicial bench.
ML: To enhance this system of grievance redressal, equal contribution from the lawyer fraternity is required. What are the steps taken to ensure this?
IM: The public’s mentality today is not tuned to settle matters through the arbitration and mediation route. This mechanism of grievance redressal needs to be encouraged and given wide publicity. ADR is being widely used worldwide, as it reduces the pressure of pending cases in the courts. Therefore, not only the people’s perception towards ADR needs to be changed but also that of the lawyers. The lawyers’ fraternity has been reluctant to accept ADR. However this is not the case in the consumer forum and most certainly not in the state commission.
The Consumer Courts Advocates Association is very active in the state commission. Most of the lawyers are sworn to strengthen the LA. Hence they make all the efforts to convince their clients that it would be in their client’s best interest to settle their matter through the LA bench.
As a panel, all of us members convey our appreciation to the lawyers and encourage to make use of the LA bench.
ML: In the year 2002, an amendment was made in Civil Procedure Code (CPC) saying—the courts should transfer the cases to ADR forum as far as possible. Is the amendment being implemented?
IM: Yes, this is true. The amendment is being implemented by the courts and cases are being transferred to their respective ADR mechanism. In the state commission’s LA bench, the statistics are not known however, the cases are regularly put on the board for the panel. Often cases are transferred from the courts if they can be settled through the ADR mechanism.
ML: LA is meant to settle the matters and come to a final conclusion. But do all matters come to a settlement? What if the matter is not settled?
IM: The purpose for coming to the LA is settlement. If the parties are not happy with the settlement terms there is no settlement and the matter goes back to the regular courts. There is no appeal to a settlement arrived at the LA bench. Either there is a settlement or there is no settlement. There are good number of cases wherein both the parties in spite of eight to 10 hearings do not come to a settlement. In such cases the matter is sent back to the regular courts with appropriate notations from the LA panel and the court hears the matter for final disposal.
ML: What are your suggestions to make the Lok Adalats more efficient in thier functioning?
IM: a) Infrastructure. The infrastructure in the state commission courts where the LA panel is part of is rather dismal. This is an important aspect that needs great attention. It is ironical that the courts dealing with deficiency of services and products, find themselves suffering from the same deficiency.
b) The number of cases coming to the LA has reduced in recent times. We, as a panel, have suggested that more matters be directed to the LA because the purpose of the panel is to give its time is to help the consumers. Therefore we recommend that more cases come to LA and reduce the burden on the courts.
c) Advantages of using Lok Adalats should be publicized widely by consumer organizations and the government.
(Indrani Malkani is a member of the Lok Adalat for the Maharashtra State Consumer Redressal Forum. Ms Malkani is also a Kathak dancer, a homemaker and lifetime member of Malabar Hill Resident Association. She actively participated in setting up a dedicated hawking zone in Malabar Hill area, helped clean up Girgaum Chowpatty and decongest roads, courtesy a software-run school bus service.)