Are consumer courts your only option? Or do some issues have faster, alternative solution? Three experts, Adv Bapoo Malcolm, Indrani Malkani and Shirish Shanbhag say yes
Finding a solution or redress of your grievances requires you to make smart choices and act strategically. Most people are unaware of the alternative dispute resolution forums like Lok Adalat and Lokshahi Din to resolve their issues. Also if one decides to go for legal recourse, one must chose right lawyer or end up in deep trouble. These were the words of advice provided by three experts, Adv Bapoo Malcolm, Indrani Malkani and Shirish Shanbhag, at a panel discussion organised by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai.
There are several other fora like tax, insurance and banking ombudsman, alternative dispute resolution fora like Lok Adalat, Lokshahi Din held in government offices, counselling offered by Council for Fair Business Practices and Disha Financial Counselling and consumer courts that help people to resolve grievances quickly.
According to Shirish Shanbhag, a retired professor, who provides guidance to people on several issues, grievance of citizens is best resolved in Lokshahi Din. There are four levels of Lokshahi Din and one can escalate her grievance from taluka level to the chief minister level as well.
If one follows the simple procedure, like submitting the application in prescribed format, well before the prescribed time limit, she can get quick and effective redressal. Raising public grievances through Lokshahi Din is less time consuming, and is an inexpensive solution. In addition, there is no need to hire a lawyer and one can represent herself, Mr Shanbhag said.
Social activist Indrani Malkani who is also a trustee of vCitizens Action Network (V-CAN), said Lok Adalat works on a system of reaching a compromise between the disputed parties. Lok Adalat is a non-adversarial system, whereby mock courts (called Lok Adalats) are held by the State Authority, District Authority, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee, or Taluk Legal Services Committee.
The Lok Adalats can deal with all civil cases, matrimonial disputes, land disputes, partition/ property disputes, labour disputes, and compoundable criminal cases, Ms Malkani said.
She said, in Lok Adalat, disputing parties plead their case themselves. No advocate or pleader is allowed, even witnesses are not examined. No court fee is levied. Speedy justice is given to the people of all classes of society and the award has the same effect as of a Civil Court decree.
According to Ms Malkani, disputes can be brought before the Lok Adalat directly instead of going to a regular court, which provides speedy justice.
How to choose the right lawyer?
Advocate Bapoo Malcolm, who practises civil and criminal law as well as documentation and arbitration, said before looking for a lawyer, one must think about the outcome she wants and what branch of law applies to her specific problem. Since legal cases may drag on for years, one must also consider if the battle is worth the time and cost, he said. According to Adv Malcolm, it is always better to hire a lawyer who is highly recommended from people in one's inner circle who have dealt with legal issues. While credentials are important, knowledge of the lawyer about penal provisions is equally important, he said.
He said, well-established and reputed lawyers charge higher fees than the upcoming ones. At the same time, well-established lawyers don’t always charge fees for consultation or first visit, Adv Malcolm added.
One must have a frank and open discussion with the lawyer and should not hide facts. She must also ask for a realistic estimate of cost and duration to resolve the particular issue. "If you do not understand what your lawyer is saying, seek an explanation. Don't get intimidated," he said.
Bombay HC had asked IRDA to have insurers issue guidelines to TPA on claims recommendation within four weeks. They should also see if the insurers can declare pre-packaged rates for 42 ailments in the same guidelines. Are TPAs still settling claims?
The Bombay High Court (HC) had asked Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) to make the insurers comply with its August 2013 circular asking insurance companies to issue guidelines to third party administrators (TPA) on claims recommendation within four weeks. Even though General Insurance Council (GIC), a statutory body representing all non-life insurers, has expressed inability to comply with the HC order of declared pre-packaged rates for 42 ailments, HC has asked IRDA to see if insurers can conform to it.
On the 28 November 2013 hearing, Bombay HC judge questioned IRDA about not including it in health insurance regulations to mandate transparency for 42 standard ailments pricing. IRDA replied that insurance companies cannot comply and hence, GIC has intervened to be made party to the public interest litigation (PIL). In short, IRDA put the ball in health insurer’s court instead of mandating transparency from insurance companies.
In the following hearings, GIC agreed that there should be uniformity in packages offered in insurance policies. GIC kept expressing inability to comply with the HC order citing lack of hospital regulator in India as one of the reasons. Mr Damani had argued that there was a provision in the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act to appoint a regulator to regulate the hospitals. Unfortunately, IRDA has not appointed such an authority.
Finally, in today’s (21 March 2014) hearing, GIC said that they will need IRDA to mandate pre-packaged rates in the health insurance guidelines. It means the ball is back in IRDA’s court. It is now up to IRDA to mandate pre-packaged declared rates rather than putting blame on insurer unwillingness. The buck certainly stops at IRDA.
According to Mr Damani, “If mediclaim policies indicated the amount an insured was eligible for specific ailments, it will ensure that they have clarity on which hospitals to go; the hospitals too would know how much they would get.” Packaged rate for standard procedures specified in the policy will force the insurance companies and TPAs to become more transparent about what they are willing to pay, avoiding nasty surprises for the policyholder later.
Today, the average claim payment for cashless is Rs25,000, but it is only Rs13,000 for reimbursement. It means there is a large chunk of claims that are only partially settled; it is not in consumer interest. There are cases of TPA still writing cheques, which is not in compliance with health insurance regulations effective from October 2013. Moreover, TPAs are not supposed to have any target for claims settlement. But, one TPA internal emails show that employees are given a target for daily claims payment. They cannot pay an amount more than the daily target.
According to Mr Damani, “The good old cashless mediclaim days are no longer available with government insurers, who realised it was more expensive than reimbursement claims. There is no financial incentive to restart cashless facility. Information on package rates for 42 standard procedures will help policyholders know what they are entitled to. Today, there is a lack of transparency and third party administrators (TPAs) have huge discretionary powers. Bills for same procedure undergone in the same hospital are settled with different amounts.”
Citizens from the tri-city of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula launched a signature campaign asking Haryana government to stop prosecution of Dr Ashok Khemka
Citizens from Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula have launched a signature drive asking Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to stop prosecution, drop charge sheet and an enquiry by CAG against IAS officer Dr Ashok Khemka.
Already over 17,500 people from India and abroad have signed an online petition at Change.org started by Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife and founder-trustee of Moneylife Foundation.
Dr Khemka dared to question the land deals of Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, with the powerful realty giant DLF, which magically transferred into humungous profits from Mr Vadra.
When that happened, the Haryana government did not stop at mere transfer. It wants to crush and victimize Dr Khemka. The Haryana chief minister served Dr Khemka a charge sheet for "having caused damage to the reputation of Robert Vadra and that of DLF," and also for "illegally" cancelling the land deal. It also started an investigation into Dr Khemka's role as the MD of Haryana Warehousing Corporation, designed to harass and intimidate him. In an unprecedented move, the state government has ordered an audit by State Auditor General targeted only at him.
Anish Aggarwal, a concerned citizen of Haryana, who is helping Change.org, reach out to the public, said, "Dr Ashok Khemka has remained dedicated to the task of serving the people of India in line with the ethics of the elite service that he joined. But that has not gone down well with our politicians. He has been transferred 44 times in 22 years - and thrice in 2012 alone."
"He (Dr Khemka) is unique because his actions have never been targeted at any political party, but only against corruption. We need more people like him to rebuild India’s steel frame, which is our administrative service. Let us tell Haryana that we, the People will not stand silent while the state persecutes and crushes honest officials," Aggarwal said.
At Moneylife Foundation’s 4th anniversary celebration, Dr Khemka spoke about how people remain mute spectators even when they see someone being bashed in public.