What senior citizens expect is personalised service and understanding of their needs with a humane touch. But the report does not contain any specific suggestion to meet several special requirements of the elderly—the Committee has only made a few generalised statements
The report on banking customer services submitted by the Damodaran Committee constituted by the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) contains a few good recommendations as far as pensioners are concerned. But it has touched only a few of the problems faced by senior citizens and pensioners, and a lot more could have been done to improve the service extended to these special category of customers, who have been at the receiving end of banks' apathy towards customers in general and senior citizens in particular.
The report, unfortunately, does not contain any specific suggestion to meet several special requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers of banks. Instead of making clear, workable and practical recommendations, the Committee has made a few generalised statements, which do not meet with the expectations of senior citizens. In fact, what senior citizens expect is personalised service and understanding of their needs with a humane touch. Not all of them are tech-savvy and hence they need special attention when they visit the branches of banks. For instance, the very first recommendation on the subject of pensioners and senior citizens reads as under:
"There should be prioritised service to senior citizens, physically handicapped persons by effective crowd/people management available at all branches."
This is only a generalised statement which gives room for each bank to do what it considers reasonable, though it may not fully serve the needs of senior citizens. This could have been more specific, as stated in one of the suggestions given here below later in this article.
Another recommendation reads as under:
"Banks should streamline and fine-tune the functioning of their Centralised Pension Processing Centres to ensure timely disbursal of pension, commencement of family pension on time and error-free calculation of pension."
This looks good on paper but what if the banks continue to delay payment of pension for reasons of their own? Should the banks not be liable to pay a penalty for delaying release of pension, if it is not due to the fault of the pensioner?
The RBI has now called for feedback from the public on this report. In deference to this, following suggestions covering some of the additional requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers are submitted for the consideration of the RBI. It would be appreciated if the apex bank asks banks to ensure compliance of these suggestions as well, in addition to what is contained in the report submitted by the committee.
1. Each branch of a bank should have a separate counter earmarked for attending to senior citizens/physically challenged customers, who should be given priority over other customers at that special counter.
2. Senior citizens and physically challenged customers should be provided with single window service, without their having to move from counter to counter to complete all their banking transactions.
3. All the requests/requirements of senior citizens and physically challenged customers must be attended to then and there, without them being asked to come the next day, as is the practice in most bank branches. This means, their request for cheque books,
updating of pass books, pension payments, issue of deposit receipts, issue of interest/TDS (tax deduction at source) certificates, and all other requests should be complied with instantly on the same day without them having to visit the branch again and again.
4. Senior citizens are at present offered an additional interest of up to 1% on all fixed deposits. The same benefit of additional interest should be offered to them on their savings deposits also, as there is no reason to exempt savings accounts from the preferential interest rates offered to them.
5. The penalty, if levied on withdrawal of deposits before maturity, should not be applied to senior citizens/physically-challenged customers, who should be given the normal rate of interest applicable for the period for which the deposit has run, without any deductions. This is based on the assumption that in most cases, their medical requirements might force them to encash their deposits before maturity.
6. A certain percentage of safe deposits lockers, say 10%, may be reserved for senior citizens and physically challenged customers, so that they are have a reasonable chance of getting a locker facility in the same branch where they maintain their savings accounts.
7. Senior citizens must be properly guided without exception, the facility of submitting Form 15H for non-deduction of tax at source, if they are not in the tax bracket. This would facilitate them, if they wish, to submit the forms in time to avoid TDS on their deposits.
8. Every bank should send a written communication to every senior citizen in the beginning of the year, enclosing Form 15H, and requesting him/her to submit the same within the stipulated time, if the depositor is not liable to pay tax on the interest earned on the deposit during that financial year.
9. Form 15H submitted by a senior citizen once, as required in the beginning of the year, should be valid and must hold good for all the subsequent deposits also placed by the depositor during the same financial year. The CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes) may be advised to suitably modify the Form 15H to meet this requirement.
10. In case the payment of pension to the customer is delayed due to the fault or mistake of the bank, the pensioner should be properly compensated by giving appropriate savings bank interest on the amount for the delayed period. If the delay is beyond a reasonable period, say seven days, the bank should be asked to pay a penalty of Rs100 per day of delay, as is the system followed in failed ATM transactions.
11. At present, pensions are disbursed only through the public sector banks, due to which many pensioners have to travel long distances to get their monthly pension, causing considerable strain on the pensioners. To prevent this problem, the RBI should arrange with both the Central and state governments to disburse pensions through all banks in the private sector also, so that the pensioners have the option of getting pension from any commercial bank, public or private bank, nearer their place of residence.
12. The biggest problem faced by pensioners is the variation in their signatures due to passage of time and their old age. Banks should be asked to update the signatures of all senior citizens in the their records periodically, say once in two years or as often as required, so that banks do not have to dishonour their cheques due to variation in their signatures.
(The author is a banking and financial consultant. He writes for Moneylife under the pen name 'Gurpur').
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The nation cannot depend on the US—and of course, Pakistan, to nab the terrorists. Security issues have to be dealt with directly by India through an efficient mechanism with an effective intelligence gathering system, swift combat response, hot pursuit and follow-up methods to effectively fight and eradicate the menace of terrorism
Pakistan's reluctance in prosecuting the sponsors of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks has angered us continually even though a few suspects including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) operations commander were arrested and put through trial under pressure of mounting world opinion. However, the Indian government, media and people—all have been fuming at the Pakistan government's unyielding attitude on the issue. Nevertheless, while an atmosphere of peace, friendship and cooperation is always the best option for both the countries, aren't we asking for too much in expecting Pakistan to prosecute the people who, it secretly believes, deserve gallantry awards? How naïve of India to expect that her tormenter would come to her rescue! As if we should have asked then President Musharraf to hand over or prosecute Pakistani Army officers and men guilty of the Kargil 1999 intrusion. Agreed, these are the times of outsourcing businesses; but outsourcing matters of national security to Pakistan or the United States would be simply preposterous with disastrous outcomes. Security issues have to be dealt with directly by us through an efficient mechanism with effective intelligence collection system, swift combat response, hot pursuit and follow up methods to effectively fight and defeat the menace of terrorism.
What is more dangerous for the national security is a corruption aided tendency in our officialdom to pass the buck and cover up the mounting inefficiency in police, local administration and intelligence agencies at all levels. Neither our intelligence agencies nor the Mumbai police had any clue about David Headley—the Lashkar member and lead scout of 26/11, who continued visiting and holidaying in Delhi, Mumbai and rest of India for years before and after the Mumbai attack until he was arrested by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) sleuths in the United States.
And now we want him to be made over to us for 'further action'. The working of the police and intelligence agencies has been disappointing because blinded by rampant corruption they keep groping in the darkness without seeing much. Local suspects arrested from far-off places like Kolkata, Srinagar and Delhi have not led Mumbai police beyond primary level information like how the terrorists managed Indian SIM cards and little else. They did not examine their own surroundings and failed to penetrate the network in Mumbai that made 26/11 possible, no matter how well the ISI had trained and equipped them.
An operation like 26/11 could not have been possible without a prearranged foolproof support base in Mumbai. Typical, military operations in border areas may be carried out without a 'support base in situ' if the objective is clearly identifiable and covered approaches are available. 'Covered approach' in military parlance means a concealed route chosen by the attacker to obscure his movement from enemy observation. But navigating through the hustle and bustle of Mumbai roads and carrying out a simultaneous raid at 10 different targets including Taj Hotel, Oberoi Trident Hotel, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Leopold Café, Nariman House Jewish Centre and Cama Hospital by terrorists coming ashore for the first time ever on an alien land humming with activity will be a foolish idea most unlikely to succeed unless intimately supported from the target end. A terrorist squad, howsoever well trained, leaving Karachi for Mumbai, not by air but by sea, would require pre-positioning of a reliable and well organised 'support base' with tentacles at sea, at the beach and in the city. It is understood that the overall coordination and monitoring controls would continue to function from Pakistan. And lo, we have not yet looked for those who constituted this support base for the terrorists and arranged for their reception, guidance, security/disguise, logistics, transport and, if possible, a get-away plan after the operation is over.
Having planned and participated in operations in the elite counter terrorist force, the National Security Guard (NSG), I have some idea about the functioning of Special Forces like ISI (Pakistan), Mossad (Israel), Delta Force (US), GSG-9 (Germany), SAS (UK), et al. While it might sound highly unethical and illegal, it is not unusual for the state secret services to recruit and utilise terrorists, smugglers and criminals to carry out covert operations deep inside enemy territory. Even assassinations and kidnappings are part of the game. Sometimes, victims also are grouped, armed and trained to fight insurgents on behalf of the state like the 'Salwa Judum' in Chhattisgarh. Therefore, it is no big revelation that Ajmal Kasab and his buddies were trained under the ISI's supervision. The manner in which Mumbai 26/11 was executed made it abundantly clear that the operation was planned and executed under expert supervision of the Pakistan Army and the ISI. The tactics, weaponry, grenades, composite survival provisions, medicines, steroids and communication system used by the terrorists pointed towards them unambiguously. Nevertheless, what has got overshadowed by the 'Headley confessions' is the need and urgency of home scrutiny that could have busted the 'in-city network' before it melted away.
Some vital aspects that should have been explored on priority by the Mumbai police and intelligence agencies involved in investigations are:
1. An operation of the type of 26/11 has to be preceded by detailed reconnaissance and surveillance of the target area to assess its vulnerability vis-à-vis security status, suitable time of attack; communication, route, transport, navigational assistance and disguise required.
2. Contingency plans to strike at other targets in the event of initial plans becoming too difficult to execute.
3. Necessity to maintain total secrecy till the last moment.
4. An unobtrusive but tactically useful location near or at the target itself for reconnaissance/surveillance personnel to acquaint themselves with the profile of the target and routine activities, state of security vigilance, vulnerability level etc. Ideally, such surveillance would be mounted several days ahead of the D-day. These advance elements may either join the assault team or withdraw just prior to the H-hour for other tasks.
5. A suitable 'Safe House' for the advance elements and contingencies.
6. Elements who are assigned such missions also need local contacts to merge with the local milieu without rousing suspicions.
7. They might use more than one type of electronic network like satellite phones, mobile phones, radio, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) etc.
8. It may sometimes become necessary for such terror teams to kill their supporters whom they consider might get caught and blow up in the operation before it is launched, for example the killing of the Captain of the fishing trawler 'Kuber' and taxi drivers.
9. Requirement of subsidiary support like planted media stories, flare up of communal violence, sympathetic political leaders diverting public attention, human rights activists blaming police and security forces, help line activists provoking help seekers etc., can tilt public mood adversely. We have live examples of this support extended by our own leaders like the Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh who blamed "the RSS inspired Hindu extremists for Hemant Karkare's death" and by AR Antulay, then a Union Minister who said "Hemant Karkare's death might be linked to his investigation of the 2006 Malegaon blasts believed to be handiwork of some Hindu extremists."
It is also important for the investigating agencies to understand the mechanics of planning and execution of such operations. Unlike the earlier blasts and shooting incidents in Mumbai, the attack of 26/11 was qualitatively different. Local assistance and coordination must have been provided by helpful elements at sea, on the beach and in the city, perhaps closer to designated targets. The investigating agencies should have focused on the distinct stages and phases of the operation that would have helped narrow down their search on matters of direct relevance rather than groping all over the globe, looking for a needle in a haystack. An analysis of how the events unfolded suggests that most probably the operation went through the following stages:
1. Preliminary Stage: Selection of volunteers, grouping, training, and other preparations.
2. Phase I: Movement requiring means of transport and navigation at sea from Karachi to Indian waters;
3. Phase II: Reception and marrying up with the advance elements, final briefing from a stand-off distance at sea; and landing on the beach;
4. Phase III: Quick dispersal of teams in pre-arranged vehicles for their designated targets;
5. Phase IV: Execution.
Normally, terrorists tasked for such operations are so deeply indoctrinated that they operate almost under a spell and will normally neither surrender nor get arrested alive. Kasab is a rare and lucky find for the Mumbai police.
But it is not only the Mumbai police; the entire system of our governance has been seriously damaged by corruption. It is because of corruption that failure in performance does not get punished and the inefficient and delinquent officers manoeuvre their way up the ladders without much hassle. Gratuitous returns have sickened our leaders, departments and forces that nothing seems to move us speedily in the direction required. We all are aware about the power base of the underworld in Mumbai, the finance capital of India. With Dawood's clout spread in Karachi, Dubai and Mumbai, it should have been possible to pick up more leads to reach more logical conclusions unless these leads led to someone too hot to touch.
Last week I ran into a Pakistani journalist at a seminar in Delhi and asked him why his government was sheltering the LeT operatives like Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and other criminals wanted by India even when his country is suffering most from terrorism. He retorted, "You are quick to blame Pakistan for not proceeding strictly and swiftly enough against those who are accused of their role in the Mumbai attack of 26/11. Whereas we have proceeded against the suspects of the Mumbai attack despite India not sharing the evidence collected in this regard, aren't you sheltering Afzal Guru despite a death sentence by your own Supreme Court even after his review petition has been rejected and the sentence again confirmed? I'm happy you have not yet blamed Pakistan for this." (Afzal Guru was sentenced to death in 2004 for the attack on the Indian Parliament, was to be hanged on 20 October 2006 but lives on for no apparent reason. His mercy appeal for presidential clemency has been under consideration since 2006!). I tried to explain to him the legal rights of such convicts but he countered me yet again, "In another case, it was your cabinet minister who escorted Maulana Masood Azhar and his co-prisoners aboard a special flight and delivered them to freedom and safety in Kandahar and now you want Pakistan to arrest and send them to you. Isn't it funny?"
I had no answer. At the functional level of administration, we lack professionalism. At the national level, we do not know how to deal with serious situations at home or abroad. Result: no police or army officer knows about the 'government policy' in the event of a hijack or hostage situation because unlike Israel, India has no defined policy on it. Likewise, diplomatically, we are still in an ambivalent state while dealing with nations involved in the Arab Spring. Is India on the right path to assume her global role in the emerging world? Course correction in our governance was never needed more.
(The writer is a military veteran who commanded an Infantry battalion with many successes in counter-terrorist operations. He was also actively involved in numerous high-risk operations as second in command of the elite 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guard (NSG.) He conducts leadership training and is the author of two bestsellers on leadership development that have also been translated into foreign languages).