Food Poison

Once in a while, we do a Cover Story that is not about you as a financial consumer but, simply, as a consumer. This time, it is about the foods we consume. A few weeks ago, inspired by a popular US blog (www.foodbabe.com ) by Vani Hari, we started to look at food additives in India and we have found three major problems.

 

One, the unorganised sector uses banned additives regularly (the golden yellow of the tempting jalebis comes from a non-permitted colour metanil yellow). Two, supervision by the regulator, Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), is lacking. Indeed, in a recent case, FSSAI itself had allowed the import of a banned substance! Three, big international brands are constantly innovating to trick us into buying more of their products—our health be damned! That is why they add extra ajinomoto, or monosodium glutamate, to potato chips so that, like Saif Ali Khan, we too cannot stop at one packet.

 

That is why, that buttery flavour the popcorn tantalises with you is really a proven harmful chemical called diacetyl.

 

It’s an unequal battle between trusting and uninformed consumers and the mighty food industry. It is up to you to be vigilant. Subject to resources, we hope to focus more on food-related consumer issues, in the coming years.

 

Sucheta, in her Different Stokes column, makes an important point that there is something wrong in regulatory action that penalises investors and not the promoters and ‘independent’ directors, as we have just seen in the case of DLF and Financial Technologies.

 

Moneylife Foundation has launched its fourth free helpline that will focus on issues regarding loans and borrowings. Check out the ad on page 13 and feel free to seek help. As always, if you like what we do, spread the word. Now, you even have an incentive to! We have launched an attractive referral programme by which if four of your friends subscribe to Moneylife, they get a 25% discount AND your subscription is free. Check it out on http://www.moneylife.in/referrer.html

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Withdrawal of Cash by a Bank Customer

This is with reference to Sucheta Dalal’s article “RBI vs Consumers”. I would like to present the following two scenarios with regard to withdrawal of cash by a bank customer.

 

Scenario 1

 

A customer, who has a debit/credit card, approaches either his or other bank’s ATM, and withdraws money without any hassle.

 

Software cost of each transaction to the bank is not in public domain. The customer may not wish to withdraw a large amount at a time. This would be for security reasons as he may not wish to have a big amount in the house. Or, more importantly, he may not wish to lose interest.

 

Scenario 2

 

In case he has exhausted all the free ATM withdrawals, then what happens? He may not want to pay transaction fee of Rs15/ Rs25.

 

a) He writes a ‘self' cheque, goes to his bank and stands in a queue.

b) When his turn comes, he presents the cheque to the cashier and gets a token.

c) The cashier sends the cheque, after marking the token number, to his/her officer/ manager.

d) The manager checks on the computer for the balance available, signature, etc.

e) The manager shouts for a peon (who are unionised and do not hear since they are busy chewing tobacco) to take the cheque back to the cashier.

f) The cheque comes back to the cashier and he/ she shouts (electronically) the token number.

g) If the customer has not gone to the sleep in the meanwhile, he gets up and goes to the counter.

h) The cashier counts the currency notes and hands over the cash to the customer, who also starts counting.

 

Can Dr Raghuram Rajan calculate the cost of each of these two scenarios and the discomfort to the bank customer?

I failed to find the e-mail ID of Dr Rajan on RBI’s website.

Bankim Gor, by email

 

Problems of ‘Free’ and ‘Cheap’ Things

 

This is with reference to the well-analysed article “The Pampered E-com Consumer” by Sucheta Dalal. I am completely bowled over by the last line of the article. “This frightening sense of entitlement extends even to the free help that people receive from NGOs; and that does worry us.” This is exactly the point I was hesitating to make openly.

 

She had the courage to come out, in black & white. Thanks Sucheta.

 

My NGO, Consumer Complaints Cell, gets an average 10 phone calls a day. Sometimes, even at odd hours. We give the required advice gratis. The consumer says ‘thanks’ and that is the end of the matter. The consumer never returns to us to give any feedback.

 

Why? Why should they? After all, the advice was free! They feel they are entitled to it.

 

No grouse on our part; we get a sense of satisfaction—that we are able to serve someone.

 

That is the spirit that keeps us motivated. At least a dozen consumers did become my Facebook/email friends.

 

That apart, let me share a line of sunshine with the ‘Flipkart flop’. As pointed out by Sucheta, in the process, not only Flipkart but Amazon, Snapdeal and Ebay also made money. There was one big lesson for all online sellers. ‘If you want to survive, do not cheat or erode the confidence of the customers; have a transparent and clear deal.’ I hope, online sellers, who had a dubious record in the past because they faced no fierce competition, will adopt a consumer-friendly attitude now.

 

I do not want to name the notorious online sellers. There were plenty of them; but, of late, many have either closed shop or their customers have ditched them forever. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise; liberalisation has brought foreign players to reform the desi online manipulators. Where are indiatimes.com, naaptol.com, indiatoday.com (BagItToday) etc, and others of their ilk?

Mohan Siroya, online comment

 

Vitamin D Deficiency

 

This is with regard to “Linus Pauling: A great scientist and/or a crooked quack?” by Prof BM Hegde.

 

Dr Hedge, what is your view on Vitamin D? Your last paragraph seems to indicate that Vitamin D should not be taken as a supplement. It is practically impossible to get it from food, for most people. If you are an office executive, it is impossible to get from sun exposure. Nearly 97% of the ‘normal’ people we have tested for Vitamin D3 are deficient.

 

How does one rectify that problem? Or are the normal levels recommended by NIH (National Institutes of Health) too high and wrong?

Madhur Kotharay, online comment

 

Namo’s Secrets

 

This is with regard to “Narendra Modi the Master Communicator” by Sucheta Dalal.

 

NaMo has literally laid siege on media with whose active support he created a mirage of a NaMo wave. Media is yet to decipher this Gujarat model! There is one dictum, ‘use & throw’ that the media is yet to experience fully. Media and media persons have to learn the art of not being used.

 

Until the ascent of [email protected], media and media persons often succeeded in manipulating chief ministers and prime ministers for their own ends. Politicians were easy targets. In turn, politicians too manipulated media persons having an inbuilt desire for wealth, wine and women!

 

Proprietors of media used their employees as contact persons to serve their ulterior motives in getting revenues in the form of government advertisements, imported news print, realty dealings and, often, criminal activities like running a chit fund or stock-market rackets. The complete circle cannot affect NaMo because he has understood all the strengths and weaknesses of media and media persons. He would prefer to rely on a PR agency to serve his PR needs. I don’t see any media baron or media person in India who has an erect spine and can look him in the eye. NaMo knows how to handle them to his best advantage. With the progress of social media and understanding its importance, NaMo has mastered its techniques. He has a battery of loyal IT experts paid by/from unknown source/s. These professionals create a mirage of a huge number of followers on Twitter, Facebook and other such handles. It is easy, cheap, and convenient to communicate through social media. News, or no news, can be generated in only 140 characters. This man, NaMo, has concentrated all the powers of government and governance in himself and so others have to look to him for everything.

Bankimchandra Desai, by email

 

Valid Concern

 

This is with response to “The Pampered E-com Consumer”. Very valid concern and properly highlighted. What could be the solution?

V Raghunathan

 

Nice article

 

This is with regard to “The ‘Made in India’ Problem” by Sucheta Dalal. Nice article. But all the problems cannot be solved by a single man—the prime minister (PM). All of us have to contribute, slowly and steadily. Of course, the lead role has to be provided by the PM.

Kinshuk Chandra

 

Acchhe Din

 

This is with regard to “Fortnightly Market View: Churning Continues” by Debashis Basu.

 

The prices of industrial commodities have been crashing and those of a few others would continue to crash. This would benefit material-intensive industries... If there is higher demand for sectors like textiles, etc, due to the Modi effect, the operating leverage would boost earnings in labour-intensive industries. The cascading effect of low crude oil prices would have a great impact on consumer inflation. Acchhe din aanewaale hain—at least for the medium term.

Vinayak Bhimrao Mudholkar

 

Idle Capacity of Diagnostic Machines?

 

This is with regard to “A Pill for Every Ill?” by Prof BM Hegde. This article (and other articles by Prof BM Hegde) has unnerved me so much that I am really scared to go to a doctor or a hospital. Recently, some doctors from AIIMS have opposed the ‘fad’ of executive health check-ups, i.e., routine, periodic health check-up of normal individuals.

 

Hope the MCI (Medical Council of India) and government listen to them and to eminent doctors like Prof Hegde. I firmly believe that these periodic health check-ups are primarily meant to utilise the idle installed capacity of diagnostic machines and to increase the revenue of hospitals.

Rajesh Pandey

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Adani Power gets plant expansion approval after 6-year delay

The final approval from the MoEF comes with 17 conditions which Adani Power will need to comply with.

 

Adani Power was looking for suitable land for sometime, in order to expand their existing 3,300 MW power plant in Tiroda. They eventually they zeroed in on land located in Gorada, Mendipur, Kachewani and Khairbadi villages, totalling 148.59 hectares.

 

The Collector of Gondia issued a certificate, on 14th June 2008, saying that "(since) no alternative non-forest land" was available, suitable for a thermal plant, this lot has been made available to Adani Power for this expansion.

 

It took another three years before the Forest Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) granted the project "in principle" approval on 9th December 2011. Almost a year later, the State government submitted its first compliance report to the MoEF, on 30th May 2012. Another report followed one year later on 25th September 2012. Ultimately, the final compliance statement was issued yet another two years later on 16th July 2014.

 

This was not the end even though final permission was given by the MoEF on 29th August, 2014. Seventeen conditions were to be met by the Adani Power. On 20th October 2014, the NDA government issued the order to set aside land for development of the power plant.

 

Adani Power reportedly paid the present value of the land immediately and also the required sum of money to the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority, so that they could take appropriate action for the compensatory afforestation procedure.

 

Among the 17 conditions stipulated, possibly the most important one mandates, "proper mitigative measures to minimise the soil erosion and choking of streams," besides ensuring the development of green belt along the power station and water channels located in the plant.

 

The environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, has been assuring the public that the MoEF will not be a stumbling block, but in fact, would do everything it can to expeditiously handle all such clearance matters. The MoEF is already said to be working on unified procedures for making such clearance formalities easier to comply with. It would be ideal if a standardized national policy on environmental clearances is prepared and announced, making a suitable provision for small variations that may became necessary due to geographical factors affecting a given area. Such long delays, of six years or more, should not become a regular feature if we want to make the 'Make in India' campaign successful.

 

All investors, whether they were domestic or foreigners, need power, and this should be made easily available. This can only happen when all matters which relate to "clearances", "land-lease" agreements and other "approvals" from local state bodies are made simpler and easier to comply with.

 

(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.)

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