Saritsa Foundation assists people with disabilities caused by disasters
In 2012, 1,503,320 Indians were displaced due to natural disasters. Each disaster leads to thousands being displaced and lives torn apart. When a disaster strikes, the poor and underprivileged are the worst affected. Col Nagar M Verma, who used to lead the 7th battalion of the Sikh Light Infantry, noticed during the rescue operations, which the army is often called to undertake, that people were clueless about routine safety measures and that even elementary first-aid could help save lives or alleviate suffering. Most often, people simply wait for government to provide succour. Delays in administrative response often lead to loss of lives or disabilities and, consequently, loss of livelihood. Many, especially women and children, remain traumatised for years. So when Col Verma retired, he put in some of his retirement funds to set up Saritsa Foundation on 5 June 2000 with the unusual aim of providing information, knowledge and training in disaster management to save lives and return to earning a livelihood.
Col Verma says that many of his ex-colleagues help in imparting training. Although there is a national policy for disaster management, in reality, there needs to be a structured framework to guide its working and constant evaluation to study its efficacy. Also, because disaster management is a top-down approach, it takes time for help to reach the grassroots. The only solution, feels Col Verma, is for people to be trained and become self-sufficient to take care of themselves, until help arrives.
Despite the initial resistance, Saritsa has make remarkable progress in the past 12 years working through schools, colleges, political organisations, NGOs, international and religious groups as well as social institutions like Rotary Clubs. But a lot more needs to be done; knowledge about safety and disasters is still very poor. Col Verma’s team works at building understanding and trust among communities, to hone skills and to sensitise individuals on how to respond to disaster situations and to promote a culture of safety. Saritsa imparts education and training for disasters such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunami, droughts, cyclones, terrorism, bomb blasts, as well as chemical and biological hazards. It conducts workshops, seminars, debates, mass contacts, family conferences and street plays on issues of rescue and trains through evacuation drills.
Saritsa Foundation has established a mobile university for disaster risk reduction. It has already reached out to thousands of volunteers, including a few people with disabilities, across rural and urban areas of 18 states. At the national level, the Foundation has empowered over 0.2 million school children, orphans, women and differently-abled people, along with vulnerable citizens. Its programmes have raised the awareness on the right to life and has helped people in cultivating skills to respond to disasters using local resources.
People who have been trained by the Foundation are inspired to raise further awareness among their families and friends, and are implementing disaster preparedness plans in schools. Next on its agenda is to equip and empower 15,000 school children, women and differently-abled citizens annually. It is working towards raising funds for this initiative which, even with the use of local resources, requires administrative expenses of around Rs300 per head or Rs45 lakh. Col Verma says that Saritsa’s accounts are audited and it makes ethical and judicious use of donations. You can help Saritsa in its mission by volunteering to train people or by financial support. Donations to Saritsa Foundation are eligible for tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.
Contact: Col Verma / Prof Smita Kadam Flat No 3, Ground Floor, Pankaj CHS, Sitaram Keer Marg, Bhandar Lane,
Mahim (W), Mumbai - 400016
Tel: 91 22 24366370, 24370138
Information about defaulters of payments cannot be considered third party information and in fact must be available suo moto under Section 4 of the RTI Act. This is the 27th in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
Taking a serious note of denial of information about defaulters, the Central Information Commission (CIC), ordered the Public Information Officer (PIO) of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to put up the list of all defaulters with amounts on the website of NDMC. While giving this important judgement, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner said, public authorities are allowing large amount of defaults by some people for which the normal law abiding citizen suffers.
“The PIO is also directed to put up the list of all the defaulters giving the amounts on the website of NDMC under its Section 4 obligations. This will be done before 15 December 2009 and a compliance report will be sent to the Commission before 20 December 2009,” the CIC said in its order issued on 10 November 2009.
Delhi resident Piyush Jain, on 2 June 2009, sought information about defaulters in property tax at NDMC. He asked...
a) The number of people who regularly pay their property taxes in New Delhi Municipal Council area.
b) The names and addresses of people who owe more than Rs50,000 to NDMC in property taxes.
The PIO in his reply on 27 July 2009, stated that there are number of assesses against whom property tax of Rs50,000 and more is outstanding. “However, the information sought by the appellant (Jain) has not been complied in the said format. The appellant could, if he so desired, inspect the records available with the department,” the PIO said.
Not satisfied with the answer, Mr Jain then filed first appeal before the First Appellate Authority (FAA). On 7 August 2009, the FAA directed the PIO to provide the information of third parties without disclosing their names and addresses, subject to payment of relevant charges. He said, “The charges would have to be computed and communicated to the appellant within a week. In case the appellant was interested in knowing the names and addresses of the third party, the PIO was instructed to proceed as per provision of section 11 of RTI Act.”
Here is what Section 11 in The Right To Information Act, 2005 says...
11. Third party information.-
(1) Where a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof on a request made under this Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall, within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party of the request and of the fact that the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, intends to disclose the information or record, or part thereof, and invite the third party to make a submission in writing or orally, regarding whether the information should be disclosed, and such submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about disclosure of information: Provided that except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law, disclosure may be allowed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party.
(2) Where a notice is served by the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, under sub-section (1) to a third party in respect of any information or record or part thereof, the third party shall, within ten days from the date of receipt of such notice, be given the opportunity to make representation against the proposed disclosure.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 7, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall, within forty days after receipt of the request under Section 6, if the third party has been given an opportunity to make representation under sub- section (2), make a decision as to whether or not to disclose the information or record or part thereof and give in writing the notice of his decision to the third party.
(4) A notice given under sub-section (3) shall include a statement that the third party to whom the notice is given is entitled to prefer an appeal under Section 19 against the decision.
Mr Jain then filed a second appeal before the Commission due to failure of the PIO to comply with the orders from the FAA. During the hearing on 10 November 2009, Mr Gandhi, noted that the FAA had erred in asking the PIO to make a demand for additional fee for the information since the 30 days already elapsed. The PIO has sent a letter after the FAA’s order and demanded Rs276 for supply 138 pages of information.
The Commission mentioned that according to information provided by the PIO, the annual budget of NMDC was about Rs1,000 crore while the amount due from defaulters just from property tax was over Rs650 crore.
Mr Gandhi, then directed the PIO to put up the list of all defaulters giving the amounts on the website of NDMC so that citizens can know the individuals and institutions who are being financed by public funds. “The PIO will provide the information free of cost to the appellant before 25 November 2009 on a CD. The PIO is also directed to put up the list of all the defaulters giving the amounts on the website of NDMC under its Section 4 obligations. This will be done before 15 December 2009 and a compliance report will be sent to the Commission before 20 December 2009,” the Commission said in its order.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2009/002317/5452
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2009/002317
Appellant : Piyush Jain,
Respondent : PK Sen
Public Information Officer & Accounts Officer
New Delhi Municipal Council
House Tax Department,
Palika Kendra, New Delhi
Settlements and penalties of the last year have a lesson for every international bank, whether big or small, as they provide a peep into the alacrity of crimes committed by the white collar banking fraternity, predominantly in the developed world
The just concluded 2012 can be remembered as the year of banking ignominy, as a number of big international banks were involved in scandals that were beyond easy comprehension. The sheer magnitude of the penalties imposed on them by different regulators was an eye-opener for all the banks in the world. Here is a short synopsis of the major banks involved and their alleged complicity in the art of short-changing the investors and or the State, leading to their prosecution and penalty or settlement. Most of the settlements arrived at were without accepting guilt, but were agreed to with a view to stop further prosecution and investigations. But these settlements and penalties have a lesson for every international bank, whether big or small, as they provide a peep into the alacrity of crimes committed by the white collar banking fraternity, predominantly in the developed world.
Settlements agreed to and penalties levied on banks in the western world:
1. In September 2012, Bank of America agreed to pay investors a whopping $2.43 billion (equivalent of nearly Rs13,000 crore) to settle claims from shareholders led by pension funds, who had accused it of providing misleading information about the health of Merrill Lynch, which it bought just before the 2008 financial crisis. Besides, Bank of America also paid $150 million (about Rs800 crore) to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle a lawsuit brought against it in relation to suppression of information about big bonus payments agreed by Merrill Lynch before the merger.
2. In December 2012, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) agreed to pay a total of $1.9 billion (over Rs10,000 crore) to various US authorities to settle investigations into violation of US anti money-laundering regulations. The bank was alleged to have got involved in illegal transfer of billions of dollars from Iran and Mexican drug cartels to the United States.
3. The Swiss banking giant, Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) agreed to pay a total of $1.5 billion (over Rs8,000 crore) in fines to various authorities in the US, UK and Switzerland to settle charges of manipulating London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) , the global benchmark interest rates over the period between 2005 and 2010. UBS had said that it would pay $1.2 billion to the US Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of the US, 160 million pounds to the Financial Services Authority of the UK and 59 million Swiss francs to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, (FINMA). This is the second bank; afterBarclays, to be charged with rigging LIBOR and investigations are still on to identify more banks involved in this scandal.
4. The Standard Chartered Bank Plc of the UK had to cough up a total penalty of $667 million (about Rs3,600 crore) in investigations by two different authorities in the US during 2012. This British bank had in August 2012 agreed to pay $340 million fine to the New York Department of Financial Services over Iranian sanctions, when the New York banking superintendent had termed this bank as a “rogue institution” that had shown contempt for banking regulations, leaving the United States vulnerable to terrorists, weapons dealers and corrupt regimes.
Again in December 2012, Standard Chartered Bank agreed to pay a fine of $327 million to the US Department of Justice to resolve allegations that it violated US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and two other countries and moved millions of dollars through the US banking system on behalf of customers in the four sanctioned countries.
5. In June 2012, ING Bank of the Netherlands agreed to pay a penalty of $619 million (over Rs3,400 crore) as per the settlement arrived at with the New York Department of Justice for allegedly falsifying the records of New York financial institutions and moving large amount of funds from Cuban and Iranian clients through New York banks, which violated economic sanctions. The US government through sanctions prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing US banking system as a safeguard against terrorist and money laundering activities, and banks violating these crucial regulations are penalized for such illegal actions.
6. In August 2012, Citigroup entered into a $590 million (about Rs 3,250 crore) settlement with shareholders in a class-action law suit that accused the bank of suppressing vital information about its dealings in toxic derivative instruments before the sub-prime crisis of 2008. Though the bank denied any wrongdoing, it said that it agreed to the settlement to avoid uncertainty in continuing with the litigation, which may be dragged on for a long time. Citibank was one of the banks bailed out by the US government at the height of the financial crisis that hit American banks and financial institutions in 2008.
7. In June 2012, Barclays Bank Plc, one of the largest banks in the UK agreed to pay a penalty of $453 million (about Rs2,500 crore) to US and UK authorities to settle allegations of rigging while fixing LIBOR, the benchmark interest rate, that caused political storm in the UK. This scandal, which cost Barclay’s CEO his job, resulted in sweeping changes in the way in which Libor is set, as LIBOR benchmark rates are used for trillion of dollars worth of loans around the world.
8. In November 2012, JP Morgan Chase & Co agreed to pay$296.9 million (about Rs1,600 crore) to settle US civil charges of misleading investors in the sale of mortgage bonds before the financial crisis of 2008. As per the Reuters report, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) had accused JP Morgan of materially overstating in a prospects the quality of home loans that backed a $1.8 billion residential mortgage backed securities offering that it underwrote in December 2006.
9. In similar case, along with JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, a Swiss bank, also agreed to pay$120 million (about Rs650 crore) to settle with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) for the alleged negligence in the packaging and sale of risky mortgage backed securities. As per the SEC statement, the Swiss bank also misled investors by falsely claiming when it would buy back mortgage loans in two offerings in which borrowers had defaulted on their initial payments, and that “all first payment default risk” had been removed.
What does this teach the banks and regulators in India?
The first and the foremost lesson to be learnt from these episodes is that Indian banks operating in different geographies outside India should not only comply with the regulations of the home country, but also scrupulously follow and comply with the rules and regulations of the host country, where they operate, in order to ensure that they are within the ambit of laws in both the countries.
The second important step every bank operating outside India should take is to ensure that they have put in place measures to protect the banks from the reputation risks. Any laxity in safeguarding the banks’ reputation under such adverse circumstances may result in winding up the operations to the detriment of the bank’s image. Banks all over the world function only with the trust and confidence of the depositors.
Thirdly, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) too should play a very active role in closely monitoring the functioning of our banks outside India too. It is equally responsible for the orderly functioning of banks, both within the country and outside, so far as Indian banks are concerned. Simply getting a certificate of compliance from the CEO of the foreign branch, as is done by some banks now, is not adequate in the face of the aggressive stance taken by the regulators in western countries. The RBI should, in its own enlightened self interest, call for a certificate of compliance of all local regulations from independent auditors in respective countries, who should be held accountable, if they fail to bring out any lacunae in the functioning of the banks concerned.
At present, a number of public and private sector banks are vying with each other to get a license from the RBI to open branches abroad. The RBI should not only be discreet and selective in its approach, but also ensure that only banks with high capital adequacy ratio and with strong and effective risk management techniques are considered for such branch expansion, to jealously guard the interest of not only the banks concerned but also the fair name of RBI, as a large number of banks are owned by the central government in our country.
As it is said, “ignorance of law is no excuse”, the RBI should ruthlessly enforce statutory and legal compliance both in domestic and overseas operations of every Indian bank and all domestic operations of foreign banks operating in India without fear or favour.
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(The author is a banking professional and writes for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’)