The striking pilots, of whom 101 have been sacked, are protesting alleged discrimination in career progression vis-a-vis their counterparts in the erstwhile Indian Airlines
Hyderabad/Mumbai: Hardening its stand, the Union government has made it clear that it is not waiting for striking pilots from Air India to return to work but making plans to move ahead with fresh inductions, reports PTI.
Reminding the pilots and other employees that their survival was linked to Air India, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said that nobody is going to give anymore public money to the airline and "they will not survive for too long" if the company does not become competitive.
"We are not waiting. We are making plans. If you take the pilots trained in V-737 or Airbus 320, (in) three to six months they can be trained to fly these planes," he told reporters on the sidelines of a book release function in Hyderabad.
Later in Mumbai, the minister stuck to his stand during a meeting with executive pilots who urged the minister to look at an early solution to end the strike by nearly 400 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
"We want an early solution to the strike by the IPG pilots. We wanted the minister to resolve the issue but he stuck to his stand, saying that the pilots will have to end their strike first and the reinstatement of the 101 terminated pilots will be taken up only on case-to-case basis," sources told PTI after the hour-long meeting.
The meeting was held against the backdrop of the executive pilots writing a letter to Singh stating that they were stressed out and would not be able to maintain the curtailed international schedule much longer.
The striking pilots, of whom 101 have been sacked, are protesting alleged discrimination in career progression vis-a-vis their counterparts in the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The pilots have been on strike since 7th May.
On a two-day visit to review the Mumbai airport modernisation and upgradation work, Singh is learnt to have bluntly stated that the strike is illegal and that the agitating pilots have not heeded sane advice to return to work.
The minister earlier said, "In our plan for revival, when we implement Dharmadhikari report, we have to be very patient and firm at the same time. There will be many such hiccups on the way." Singh said plans were afoot to induct and train more pilots.
He, however, said the government is ready to listen to the concerns of pilots once they return to work and address them seriously without being vindictive in any way.
"I don't understand why they are on strike to begin with.
There are no issues. Whatever few issues they had, that?s what exactly Dharmadhikari report was meant to address.
Meanwhile, a joint front of as many as seven Air India unions also called on the minister and submitted a representation demanding a review of the Air India's proposed plan to hive-off engineering and MRO divisions into a separate subsidiary.
Of the 1,539 Air India pilots, 657 belong to the erstwhile Indian Airlines, 610 in erstwhile Air India and there are 272 executive pilots in the management cadre.
In a bid to put pressure on the government to resolve the crisis, the executive pilots had served a warning in a letter to Singh stating that they cannot maintain the truncated global flight schedule for too long as they are fatigued and do not want to jeopardise lives of passengers and crew.
These senior and management-level cockpit crew have been operating 38 out of 45 flights as part of the truncated international operations.
On the other hand, Air India has already invited applications to hire around 100 new pilots.
"It is up to them (striking pilots) whether they want to come back to work....They can always respond to the advertisements of Air India," Singh had said recently.
By repeatedly decrying the CAG and trying to malign the person occupying that Constitutional office, the UPA government is weakening an important pillar of democracy and lowering its own credibility
Admitting that there is a great deal of uncertainty and a perception of policy paralysis in the government these days, a senior Cabinet colleague of the prime minister recently observed that it was being created by the activities of (Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)! “We have to think ourselves whether we have selected a proper person... I haven’t seen something like this (CAG’s numerous reports on the scams of the UPA) in the 45 years of my career as a politician”. What he unwittingly implied was that the scams associated with the UPA were the biggest ever to take place during the sixty-four years of independent India and, had CAG remained a mute spectator to them, UPA would have succeeded in keeping the Parliament and the people of the country in blissful ignorance of the sheer magnitude and the virulence of those scams.
It was indeed the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India which audited the accounts of the government in recent years and provided comprehensive reports to the Parliament and the people at large on the irregularities and the excesses committed in the infamous Lavasa scam in Maharashtra, the 2G (second generation) spectrum scam at the Centre, the improprieties committed in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games, the design and implementation of the production sharing contracts entered into with private oil company (Reliance Industries) that is developing the Krishna Godavari natural gas fields and the arbitrary allotment of captive coal blocks to private companies, all having huge financial implications to the public exchequer.
The CAG’s revelations on the captive coal scam touched the sensitive nerves of the UPA politicians because the UPA, largely during the time when the prime minister himself headed the coal ministry, allotted 248 captive coal blocks to companies mostly in the private sector, in a highly non-transparent manner, yielding huge windfall profits to the latter. On a complaint received by it, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), yet another statutory body, rightly ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to ascertain whether there were any improprieties committed and determine the responsibility of all those concerned. When Anna Hazare and the opposition demanded that the investigation should also cover the involvement of the PMO, the latter rubbished it saying that there was no need for it, thereby pre-empting both the CVC and the CBI in one go from doing anything that would tarnish PMO’s image!
With specific reference to the coal scam, a UPA minister even went to the extent of flaying the role of the CAG and said, “the CAG has no business, power or authority to question the government’s policy... They can only consider if the due process is followed or not... Nowadays what happens is that the CAG has become an organization that questions the policy of the government.”
To the billion people of this country, what really matters is not whether the CAG or CVC can question the executive’s actions but whether the executive itself has acted in the larger public interest. The minister was evidently trying to obfuscate this central issue! The people of this country have not forgotten how the UPA had earlier tried to make a questionable appointment to the office of CVC itself and how the not so palatable facts came to light, entirely through judicial intervention.
By repeatedly decrying the role of the CAG and trying to malign the person occupying that high Constitutional office, these political functionaries have not only lowered their own government’s credibility but also done something unpardonable, that is, tried to weaken an important pillar of our democracy, created as such in Part V of the Constitution. The CAG is as an important instrument of the Parliament to exercise control over the executive, in terms of the way it manages the public finances. What these politicians have deliberately or unwittingly done was to weaken the Parliamentary system of democracy itself by making such irresponsible statements. Not one of these politicians has ever tried to strengthen the hands of CAG to help promote greater transparency in the way the government manages the resources of the public exchequer.
As it is, the CAG’s audit covers only half of the public expenditure incurred in the country. The Parliament has no way to get authentic information on how the rest of the expenditure is incurred, especially the amounts routed through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), Self Help Groups (SHGs) and so on. Article 149 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament to enlarge the ambit of CAG to cover this. To meet this end, as long ago as in November 2009, the CAG proposed a far reaching amendment to CAG (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971. More than thirty months have elapsed and the government is yet to refer the draft to the Parliament.
Coming to the role of the judiciary the apex court of India, in its order of 27 July 2010, found fault with the government for allowing millions of tonnes of foodgrain to rot in the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) and asked the government to consider distributing the foodgrain to the poor, free of cost. This invoked a righteous indignation among the UPA leaders who questioned the judiciary's authority to ‘intrude’ into the executive’s policy domain.
Free foodgrain to the poor would no doubt cost the nation a whopping Rs1,00,000 crore and, for the UPA, ‘subsidy’ is apparently a bad word, if it were to be given to the poor. On the other hand, the same UPA leaders had no compunction whatsoever in doling out tax exemptions to the corporates to the tune of Rs5,29,432 crore (latest Budget estimate for 2011-12). The concessions given to the industry are “economic incentives” for promoting growth. There seems to be one theory of economics for the poor and a different one for the rich!
One could feel the heat of UPA’s resentment against the apex court’s order on rotting foodgrain when the prime minister himself made the following remarks, addressing an international conference of jurists a couple of months later.
“I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court should not go into the realm of policy formulation. I respect the sentiments behind the (court) decision that when foodgrain are rotting and people are suffering from deprivation, then some way should be found to ensure that the food needs of the deprived sections are met. But quite honestly it is not possible in this country to give free food to all the poor people.”
The Indian Constitution has always guaranteed food and nutritional security to its citizens. However, the successive governments have never thought it obligatory on their part to translate that guarantee into a well-defined policy for more than six decades since Independence! It was only when the judiciary nudged them into action that they thought it fit to introduce a Bill on food security. What the National Advisory Council (NAC) proposed by way of food security was not to the liking of some senior leaders of UPA. As a result, there has been a further delay in processing the Bill. Meanwhile, foodgrain continue to rot in FCI’s godowns and the poor continue to starve.
Has the UPA executive sincerely tried enough to take the people of this country into confidence on matters of public importance?
Certainly, the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005 was a defining step taken in that direction, though it was the civil society that forced the executive to enact the law and it was the judiciary that interpreted the ambit of Article 19 of the Constitution that such a law would be necessary.
Unfortunately, subsequent moves made by the UPA failed to invoke public confidence in its intentions. The subjective way in which the information commissioners were chosen left much to be desired. When the government tried to exempt the official file notings from RTI Act, it was the citizens who resisted that move, since the notes recorded in the files of the public authorities revealed the thought processes that went into decision making. When investigative journalism exposed the various scandals, some of which have been specifically referred above, it was the judiciary that intervened to direct the CBI to investigate the same, independent of the executive. As if to keep the public in the dark about what the CBI was doing, the present UPA government hurriedly exempted CBI from the RTI!
The main grievance of the people residing around Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is that they have all along been kept in the dark about the activities that revolved around the project. The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) headed by the prime minister himself made a mockery of the RTI by not complying fully with the mandatory disclosure requirement under Section 4. Instead of respecting the citizen’s right to know under Article 19 of the Constitution, the UPA government has slipped in a non-disclosure clause in the recently introduced Bill on nuclear regulation, once again in open defiance of the RTI. By making light of the RTI, the UPA government has eroded its own credibility.
The UPA leadership should understand clearly that no political party has the right to undermine the integrity of the institutions that play a central role in nurturing our great Parliamentary democratic system. After all, no political party is ever certain that it will remain in power permanently. It is the Constitution and the institutions created by it that help the ruling party to deliver good governance and the opposition to play the role of a constructive critic, expected from it. Any weakening of the institutions will only upset this delicate balance that is so crucial for the working of our democracy. Sooner the UPA leadership realises this, the better would it be for the future of our democracy.
(Dr EAS Sarma, IAS, is a post-graduate in Nuclear Physics (Andhra University) and in Public Administration (Harvard University) and a Ph D from IIT, Delhi. As a Union Secretary he has held the portfolios of Power, Economic Affairs and Expenditure. He quit the government in 2000 over differences regarding policy issues with the National Democratic Alliance government. He is the convener of Forum for Better Visakha (FBV), a civil society group set up in 2004.)
The IRDA initiative is welcome, but it will help only a subset of orphan policies. The customer with lapsed policies expecting new allotted agent may be in for a surprise
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has recently issued guidelines on an orphan life insurance policy. The guidelines allow 100% of the renewal commission to allotted to the agent for revival of a lapsed policy as well as for future renewals. At present, a new agent is entitled to renewal commission of only 50% of what the procuring agent would have been entitled had the policy continued to be in force and that too if lapsed policies required medical examination.
The guidelines are good for life insurance agents who help in revival of lapsed policies which were sold by another agent who may no longer be working with same insurer or dead. A policy on which premium remains unpaid even after six months from the due date is considered as lapsed policy.
Here are some important points:
• Single premium or policies on which no further premiums are due for payment are not eligible for new agent allotment.
• The allotted agent shall not part with the policyholder information to any third party/entity nor use it for any other business purposes. However there is no bar in an allotted agent to canvass new policies to the policyholder after reviving the lapsed allotted policies.
• No upfront/advance payments to agents are allowed on account of the policy allotments.
• The payment of remuneration shall cease with the exit of an allotted agent by any means.
• The policies that are allotted for servicing shall not be counted for persistency of the allotted agent.
• The number of policies allotted to an agent shall not exceed 20% of the total number of policies that were introduced by him/her and in-force as on the date of allotment.
• Insurers shall have in place a board approved policy for allotment of lapsed orphan policies which is in compliance with these guidelines.
• Insurers shall also take into account the track record of the agent and complaints registered against an agent, etc. while allotting the orphan policies.
• Where the lapsed orphan policy allotted is not revived within six months from the date of such allotment, life insurers shall have the discretion to undo the allotment by issuing a formal notice to the allotted agent and re-allot to any other agent.
The guidelines have been hailed by the media, but the details are in the fine print. The renewal commission can be paid to the allotted agent only if the original agent who sold the policy is not entitled to the commission. This is a big if, as per insurance regulations.
Under Section 44, except on grounds of fraud, an agent who has served an insurance company for a period of five years shall be entitled, subject to certain conditions, to renewal commission on policies if s/he discontinues his agency. Agents who have completed 10 years of service with a given insurance company and stops for any reason his/her agency business but does not join another company are entitled to renewal commission on all such policies which they had placed. The agent’s heir will get it even after the agent dies. It is a contract between an agent and the life insurance company as renewal commission is just deferred compensation which cannot be taken away if the agent has completed certain time with the insurance company.
IRDA’s initiative to have the insurance company allot a lapsed policy to another agent and give the allotted agent the renewal commission is only applicable to a subset of lapsed policies. Addressing the issue of lapsed policies by incentivising agents is welcome step by IRDA, but who will help to revive the lapsed policies wherein the policy seller is still entitled to commission even though s/he is no longer with the insurer or may be even dead?
A veteran life insurance agent asks: “Who will help such customers with services like loan processing, change of nomination or even filing to death claim? The agent who sold the policy is gone (left the insurer or dead) and there is no allotted agent to the policy for any kind of servicing. Life insurance companies keep renewal commissions when the policy seller is not entitled for renewal commission. It happens as many agents leave the business after one or two years. The insurer should use these funds to incentivise agents to revive a lapsed policy even when the policy seller is entitled for the commission, but has left business after completing required years or dead.”
While a life insurance agent can get renewal commission after leaving the business and even passing it to his/her heir, a general insurance agent does not get anything. Most of the general insurance policies are renewable every year and there is no concept of renewal commission payment if the agent has left business or dead. It’s something on the wish-list of general insurance agents.