Citizens' Issues
Food security for labourers and people at the lower economic strata, a new twist!

If we cannot export or do not want to export our foodgrain at cheap prices, can we at least divert a reasonable quantity of the available surplus to meet the needs of millions of workers, who are in the lower rung of the society?

Due to the poor conditions prevailing in the Parliament, the presiding officers of both Houses had to declare sine die as the efforts earlier to get the Food Security Bill passed was in vain.
The Opposition had waged relentless battles on the need to dismiss the ministers concerned, and in the end, both Pawan K Bansal and Ashwani Kumar tendered their resignations, as the investigations by CBI continued. It would be a couple of days before the work can commence again.
In the meantime, the BJP lost its bastion in the South and the people of Karnataka, fed up with the corrupt administration, brought in the Congress by a simple majority vote.  Siddaramaiah took over as the chief minister, on the Akshaya Tirtya day and the ceremony was attended by over one lakh people in the Kanteevara Stadium.
The very first act of the chief minister as to make an announcement of various schemes that he had promised in the manifesto, which would start with the benefit being extended to 98.17 lakh people below the power line (BPL) by making available rice at Re1 per kg, with a maximum of 30 kg per family each month, effective from 1st June.  It may be remembered that earlier, BJP government had distributed 20 kg of rice per family at Rs3 per kg through the PDS.
So far, so good for the BPL families in the state. And what about the national level?  What is the foodgrain situation in the country, and what are the prospects for the ensuing monsoon which is around the corner?  Let's take a look.
 Last year, despite drought conditions in parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka, the country's foodgrain output reached 254 million tonnes. Food stocks in the central pool stood at 59.67 million tonnes (MT), consisting of 35.46 MT of rice and 24.20 MT of wheat. This was after our exports.
Last year, rice exports reached 10 MT but this year, it is unlikely to reach 6 MT due to serious price competition from Vietnam and Thailand. Likewise, after exporting 5 MT of wheat, due to cheaper supplies from Ukraine, Indian export can not make much headway unless the price is reduced or matched. Such delays in deciding the export quantum or price level is detrimental to our exports.
A similar situation is likely to be faced in the export of corn to 3 MT against 4 MT last year due to shipments from larger producers like USA, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine.  Only in the case of soya meal, India is in a better wicket due to higher prices obtainable from Iran but this can change at short notice, because of the political developments in that country right now.  The elections are around the corner in India and we need to watch the political climate with great care and interest.
The fact is, when prices globally fall or rise, exporters need to be able to take the decision without delay in order to maintain our customers abroad. In the long run, it is cheaper to accept a loss in the falling market rather than trying to maintain perishable commodities like foodgrain, when new arrivals are expected in the months ahead.  Or otherwise, plan alternative uses for the same!
No doubt, there is the urgent need to secure supplies for consumption locally. So far, the monsoon predictions are favourable, but the actual rainfall alone will determine the farm output—right time and in right quantities.
Meanwhile, grains stored both in the open areas and closed warehouses, are subject to natural rot, rodents, and other forms of damage on which we have little or no control.
So, this issue will take us to the innovative canteen scheme of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, who has sponsored these canteens, initially with 73 centres (target of 2,000) by supporting women's self-help groups. The corporation makes available suitable housing locations from where these women make and supply the popular breakfast dish of idli at Re1 a piece, sambhar rice at Rs5 and curd rice at Rs3, from seven in the morning till 10 pm. Such centres will cater to the needs of mainly daily manual labourers, slum dwellers and people from the lower economic strata. Already, these centres are overflowing with people who form early queues even before these are open for business.
The question now, therefore is, if we cannot export or do not want to export our foodgrain at cheap prices, which are currently available due to intense international competition, can we at least divert a reasonable quantity of the available surplus to meet the needs of millions of workers, who are in the lower rung of the society?  Farm labourers, daily wage earners and others in this category can be fed by introduction of this scheme all over the country, with each state providing for basic infrastructure facilities and encouraging women's self-help groups, and these are healthy and good quality food that can sustain their work?
Such a move to popularize the idea will be a boon to a lot of workers all over the country, avoid waste in foodgrain rotting in the warehouses, permit export when international prices stabilize and when new harvest comes in, there is adequate space available for storage for a rainy day?

While the concept of idli, sambhar and curd rice may be workable in the Southern region, a suitable alternative or modification may be in order when it comes to the North, where food consumption is wheat-based. Some food/nutrition experts may have to work out suitable alternatives, but what is important is work on this innovative idea to use our foodgrain in the granaries, and meet the needs of the hungry people.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was 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.)


Shared ATMs in India

While thanking you for your initiative on the T+1 settlement system, I wish to highlight a problem. At present, banks are supposed to establish their own ATM network. For prominent banks, it is beneficial but, for a smaller one, it is a financial burden. Smaller banks have to close their ATMs in certain areas due to lack of frequent transactions at the ATMs. Sometimes, we come across ATMs of many banks in Qs where ATMs of prominent banks are more active. This is while ATMs of other banks are lying dormant in the absence of users.

In case the ATMs are installed at a certain distance by a single company (I have suggested the name ‘ATM Corporation of India’ ATMCI) under RBI (Reserve Bank of India), it will serve the purpose in a better way, especially in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.

Accordingly, I suggest that all ATMs be installed by the single company under RBI. Banks can be its members to offer ATM service on payment of fees on a per transaction basis (which is free to customers as of now). The ATM cards issued by any member bank should be accepted by the all ATMs of ATMCI.

In this way, VISA & Master cards can be phased out and replaced by RUPAY card easily. ATM service will be better even in remote areas and evenly distributed. Redress of complaints will be easier. ATM maintenance expenses and transaction costs will come down drastically. The matter needs to be taken up by RBI. Banks should surrender their present ATM network to ATMCI. ATMCI, in return, should allot equity shares to each bank for the price of the ATM network.
Trivendra Kumar Sharma, by email


LIC’s cash counter timings

I sincerely thank Moneylife for starting the insurance helpline. According to the LIC circular Ref: Per/A/673 dated 25 October 1962, LIC has fixed five hours of time for cash collection. In LIC Branch 888 Goregaon (E), Mumbai, for the past 15 years, cash counters used to remain open for full five hours from 10.45am to 3.45pm. But in the past one year, the branch closes the cash counter from 1.30pm to 2.15pm. This is a violation of rules.

Throughout the country, except for a few branches, the cash counter is kept open without closing for lunch time. Keeping the cash counter closed for lunch results in very long queues for payments. Policyholders have to waste their valuable time standing in queues, in a city like Mumbai. Kindly take up the matter with LIC.
SM Bapna, by email


Forum for investors’ safety

I am a longstanding reader of Moneylife’s personal finance site. It is taking up serious issues related to the securities market and other financial issues concerning a number of investors and investors’ community as a whole. It is a noble approach and it is praiseworthy. I have been associated with the stock market for a couple of years and have seen many of my friends following stock tips. The tips-provider charges a lump sum in the range of Rs10,000 to Rs25,000 through SMS, emails, etc. I have noticed that on a few occasions the tips click. But, most of the time, they don’t click, causing losses to the investors. However, if you look at such sites, they claim that their tips are 99% accurate.

The most interesting thing is that such advertisements or claims are easily noticeable in their web page but the disclaimers, terms & conditions, etc, are given on a separate link, or in a font not easily noticeable by the reader. They give the disclosure that they are not responsible for any losses made by acting on their recommendation. I think it must be looked into as a serious matter, where people are easily falling into their trap and losing money. The stock market regulator and the advertisement standards board must act on them or regulate them so that no investor loses money, because s/he is misled.

Moneylife is a big forum with a strong presence in this field.  I hope it will take up this issue with the right quarters for investors’ safety.
Bulu Babu, by email

Many thanks for your email. Indeed, we do take up these issues from time to time. We warned about Stockguru more than a year before it collapsed and about several others too. But one cannot prevent a person from chasing dreams without checking. Even for this, we conduct FREE workshops and seminars through Moneylife Foundation—but people have to attend them to benefit. — Editor


Congratulations are in order, and in large numbers! I have checked the new website of Moneylife Foundation; it is fast in its responses and easy to access, even for someone like me who is not very tech-savvy.

It is very ‘newsy” and, as always, has a lot to give. It is a ‘jolly good show’! More success to you all!
Captain Ashok Malkani, by email


Wow! This is fantastic improvement and more empowerment to the common man and the investor. Hearty congratulations and compliments to Moneylife Foundation and its competent young team. Certainly, one more step towards Info-Edu-tainment.
Mohan Siroya, by email

Punish the criminals!

The case of Saradha Chit Fund does not appear to be any different from several other such cases in the past.

The pronouncements of Mamata Banerjee seem to be in rather poor taste. Instead of pressing to nail the criminals, she has worked out a plan to protect them. Out of the loss of Rs2,000 crore, she has a plan to recover Rs550 crore. She wants to increase taxes on cigarettes and wants people to smoke more (never mind the adverse impact on their health and greater suffering and medical bills, which too she might pay through public hospitals and funds) so that money can be collected faster!

Are the rest of the investors, who are set to lose about Rs1,500 crore, in any way less genuine than those to whom the money will be repaid? On what basis will the money be apportioned to investors?
This seems to be fit case for a probe by the economic offences wing, serious fraud investigation office and central bureau of investigation. The perpetrators and promoters of Saradha need to be meted the severest punishment as a deterrent to other such unscrupulous promoters with a strong political backing.

There is no case to protect investors who are tempted by very high rates of return (Ponzi and other chain-investment-like shady schemes). Such investors should be left to fend for themselves. There is no case for the government to deploy public funds to selectively protect them.   

The ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) must allow only secured borrowings. Utilisation of public funds for the political ends of individuals or the ruling party in the state should not be allowed. It is not for the government to protect ‘small investors’ through public resources to shelter shady borrowers of dubious history and background.

Please convey this to the higher authorities who can appropriately act on the matter.
MS Mirchandani, by email


Fantastic article!
This is with regard to “Gold Turns Cold” by Debashis Basu and Jason Monteiro. Fantastic article! Gold is a financial instrument where banking is not strong or not helpful. Many small- and mid-sized businesses use it as buffer currency. It serves the dual purpose of jewellery-cum-buffer. It is a hedge against personal financial crisis and has better liquidity. I believe, investing in gold exchange traded funds, and other commodities, is just greed; greed will never die.


‘Something is unrealistic?’
This is with regard to “How to protect yourself from becoming a victim of mis-selling” by Vivek Sharma. As usual, it is very good stuff from you, Vivek. I would like to add a few more points from the experience from my friends/relatives: Check the sentences properly. An assured return of 18% may not be 18% per annum, but 18% one time. Read the form carefully and fill it up yourself. Even, if the agent gives you an assurance in writing, check whether it is issued by the agent himself or by the company. The basic motto should be: “If you feel that something is unrealistic, it actually is.”
Sudheer M

The reason is greed
This is with regard to “Keep your Money Safe: Avoid money traps and MLM schemes”. This is an eye-opener for the common man but cheats are extraordinarily smart as seen from City Limousine fraud where ‘over-smart’ people were cheated. The reason is greed.
Vaibhav Dhoka

Overseas medical insurance
This is with regard to “Expensive death: Lack of innovative policy” by AK Ramdas. At a small extra charge, insurance companies do have an option to cover ‘repatriation of remains’ while on overseas travel. In fact, most of the European countries require an overseas medical insurance which includes this clause, before they issue a visa.
Harish Kohli

Too bad now!
This is with regard to “US Immigration Bill would affect Indian IT sector over the long term”. Too bad; now, we shall have all those export-rejects ‘cribbing’ about things. Where will they go next, I wonder?
Dr Sharmila Rao PN


All Great Truths Begin as Blasphemies

A new study shows that control trials are flawed. What helps is their faith in the treatment. This puts the onus of patient care on the physician


“It is only those who are in constant revolt that discover what is true, not the man who conforms, who follows some tradition. It is only when you are constantly inquiring, constantly observing, constantly learning, that you find truth, God, or love.”— Jiddu Krishnamurthi

George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote the title that we have used for this article. I have become unpopular in my profession, and all I did was tell simple truths in my articles and speeches. I get blamed for every article that I write. My professional brethren follow their medical school teaching and the plethora of ‘scientific’ literature, to the letter. Unfortunately, most are doctored to suit the vested interests in the name of science. They want to sell the idea that the solution to every ill is a pill or an operation. The propaganda along these lines has been so effective that it is almost impossible to convince a patient and/or his doctor that the patient’s illness does not require any outside intervention, in a majority of the cases.

I feel so relieved that a new study, published in one of the leading medical research journals, The Journal of Translational Medicine showed that almost all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have been seriously flawed and that their conclusions cannot be relied upon! This boils down to the simple truth that reductionist scientific base of modern medicine, the so-called evidence-based medicine (EBM), is only a myth. The study elegantly showed that what helps patients at the end of the day is their faith in the treatment that the doctor gives: the placebo effect. This puts the onus of patient care on the treating physician. We have come a full circle from the time Robert Hutchinson wrote that medical consultation is the vital meeting between two human beings: the patient and his/her physician. It is the faith that the former has in the latter that works.
What we need are good human beings as doctors. A doctor, following any one of the many systems of medical care prevalent in India, is as good as any other, if only he/she is a good human being who has the ultimate good of patient at heart. The wise people at the helm of affairs at the Medical Council of India should read the writing on the wall that quantity, not quality, is the issue. They have been losing sleep in getting the magic number of 10,000 extra doctors per year in India at one go!

There are two kinds of doctors. The placebo prescribing doctors are ones that generate positive mental attitude towards treatment in patients while the nocebo administering doctors create the opposite effect. They scare the patient away with their bleak deterministic future predictions like ‘you have six months to live’, etc. No one can predict the future, as the future is yet to be born. To be able to predict, in any dynamic system, one must have the complete knowledge of the organism. Albert Einstein rightly said that, “All complicated problems in this universe have very simple solutions.” Mind and body being but one single entity, good doctoring boils down to caring for the patient. We need to de-school society and doctors to develop the placebo trait in them.

As Winston Churchill said: “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” We need doctors to guide every patient to the right path. Authenticity should be their goal and compassion their path. Vaidyo Naarayano Harihi (Doctor is the God incarnate). Some of our great brains in the past had predicted this. “If the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the seas, it will be that much worse for fishes and that much better for mankind,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes. “More people make a living off hypertension than dying of it,” wrote Sir George Pickering. “Patient care is CARING for the patient,” wrote Sir Francis Peabody. The most powerful drugs ever invented by man a re the kind words from a caring doctor. Long live doctoring.

“Truth is the property of no individual but is the treasure of all men.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.


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