IRDA’s record penalties on HDFC Life, ICICI Pru Life signal a change

IRDA’s action in slapping stringent penalties on two of the biggest names in the sector has gladdened the hearts of consumers battling misselling and escalating costs. Record penalties should deter insurers straying from their responsibilities

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) order against HDFC Life makes it the highest penalty of Rs1.47 crore imposed on any insurnace company and is significantly higher than the Rs1.18 crore fine imposed on ICICI Pru Life a few weeks ago. Both are substantially higher than the penalties in the past, which used to be in the range of Rs5 lakh to Rs20 lakh, which were not even a slap on the wrist for large companies.

On 28th June, IRDA imposed a penalty of Rs1.05 crore on HDFC Life for unfairly rejecting 21 death claims based on a 90 day waiting period clause. The regulator has imposed a penalty of Rs5 lakh for each of the 21 death claims that had been wrongly rejected on the grounds of it having occurred in the 90 day waiting period.  IRDA has pointed out that the clause had no business to exist as per its directive for "file and use" clearances of insurance products.  

The IRDA action signals that high penalties will be a significant deterrant to companies that have been ignoring consumer complaints about wrongful rejection of claims. IRDA's policy of considering each death claim or each corporate agent related violation as separate case and make the insurer pay for each has allowed it to aggregate the fines to a significant number. And this may be just the beginning.

At Moneylife Foundation's seminar in May 2012, IRDA chairman J Hari Narayan had stated that "The malpractice is reducing and penalties are increasing. The level of penalty IRDA can levy is minimal and, hence, there is need for amendment to arm us with sharper teeth." Moneylife itself has forwarded several glaring examples to the regulator, some of them have even featured as our cover stories (How you can get ripped off by the staff of insurance company themselves!).

In HDFC Life's case, another breach for which it paid dearly was the heavy payment to corporate agents like HDFC Bank and HDFC Securities in the name of "skill building programme" and 'training'. This infraction resulted in penalty of Rs5 lakh per incidence amounting to a total of Rs35 lakhs. IRDA order states-"As could be noticed that the actual expenses on advertisement and publicity, etc incurred by those entities, is far less than the marketing expenses paid by insurer in case of HDFC Bank in all the years and HDFC Securities for the years 2009-10 and 2010-11. The submission of the insurer that taking into account only the marketing expenses incurred by these four corporate agents may not be a correct comparison and that the expenses under various other heads like printing and stationery, postage and telegram shall also be considered as these entities book the costs of acquisition under different heads is considered totally untenable."

A fine of Rs5 lakh was levied for availing services of individuals and corporate which were not licensed by IRDA for solicitation or procuring insurance business. Many charges were let-off with or without warning after hearing the insurer side.

Insurance customers know that this is only a way of rewarding their parent entities in order to hard-sell products to bank customers. In many case, it leads to mis-selling of products that are neither needed nor beneficial for customers, only so that the bank earns a high fee.

In fact, Moneylife Foundation, at an interaction with the IRDA chairman had recommended that the regulator should consider a ban on sale of insurance through banks and their relationship managers. While Mr Narayan was unwilling to consider such an extreme step, he did assure the Foundation that stringent deterrent penalties would certainly be considered. It is heartening to see that Mr Narayan has followed this up with a steep increase in penalties on two of the biggest names in the industry - there cannot be a bigger detterent than this.

Incidentally, Mr Narayan has also been the rare regulator who agreed to interact with consumers and listen to their issues, as well as those of insurance agents, first hand. This positive beginning promises better days for insurance customers in India.


Public Interest Exclusive Exclusive
Ex-servicemen flay deplorable state of CSD canteens

Following the state of CSD canteens, ex-servicemen has decided to boycott the canteens on 15th July in protest

Canteen Stores Department (CSD), a unit of the Indian armed forces, runs canteen stores all over the country with an objective of providing consumer goods to serving soldiers and ex-servicemen at a price cheaper than prevailing market price. However, ex-servicemen (ESM) say that the quality of service provided by these canteens has gone down over the last two years. To highlight the deplorable state of CSD canteens, a boycott is being planned on 15 July 2012.

Cdr Ravindra Pathak (Retd) laments the current service levels of CSD canteen which has forced many ex-servicemen, who have served the country for a long time, to buy various goods from the open market, without any concessions. According to Cdr Pathak, canteen services are shifted now from Army (QMG Branch) to Ministry of Defence (MoD), which often ignore ESM community. As per new CSD Policy the ESM community is being alienated. This problem is not only for the veterans and the ESM, but also for the serving soldiers and canteen employees as well. Cdr Pathak highlighted and described the sad state of affairs of CSD below:

"    Car sales through CSD Canteen have been stopped since last more than one year. There are only very few special cases which are accepted at MoD level by its civilian staff (as per MoD/QMG L/dt 22/2/12). A common ESM has no access to this facility (of scooter/ motor cycle), due to the problematic CSD Depot system. Similarly, there has been difficulty in procuring electronics items like TV, fridge, air-conditioners, etc.
"    Against Firm Demand (AFD) purchase facilities are also choked up and facing the same CSD Depots system. Even though an ESM pays in advance for each item they purchase, the CSD Depots cites funds, or lack of it, as the main excuse. Thus, the ESM community is being forced to buy these items from the open market.
"    The CSD General Store's purchase, stocking and sale has been clamped down financially at CSD Depot level and at URCs (Unit Run Canteens) as well. As a result, most of the URCs stock level has come down tremendously. The CSD often gives a deserted look after two-three days' sale. Most of the ESM do not reach their purchase quota ceiling limits. ESM strength is increasing but facilities level is decreasing day by day.
"    ESM Welfare Dept (EWD) in MoD rarely proved useful to ESM community. It always opposes AFP in each and every case. To deny few hundred rupees concession to the ESM community, the MoD is spending lakh of rupees to contest in the Supreme Court. EWD plays no positive role on their Grievances and appeals.

Cdr Pathak says that the bureaucracy is in the habit of blaming the ESM community for misusing the facilities. However, he notes that the staff of MoD sits in Delhi and enjoys all CSD/liquor facilities, while a braving soldier posted in Siachen is also entitled to the same facilities. He feels that the Armed Forces Personnel (AFP) are one of the most dedicated lot but are still dependent on others for their most deserving welfare measures, and the same would apply to the ESM community. A letter had been sent to the Joint Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee residing in South Block, to restore the sanctity of CSD and bring back the hassle-free service available to the ESM, and put their operations into the hands of the army, particularly ESM rather than the MoD.




5 years ago

The very purpose of issue of smart card is to buy items from anywhere in the country, which is now denied. Is it not a mis management of the authorities? When the world is stepping forward in technology, why our CSD authorities are stepping back to the Stone Age ?

JT Nayaham

5 years ago

I totally agree with Sanjay Sinhval's point of view regarding the CSD Smart Card. I add a few more points:
1. The Instructions on rear side of the Smart Card state in unambiguous terms 'Provide Access and Interoperable in ALL URCs'. Why then are URC's imposing restrictions to issue of Liquor or Groceries from outlets other than the 'Parent' URC?
2. The argument that this is being done to 'prevent misuse' is at once vacuous and absurd. After all, it does not take rocket science to figure out that if an individual wants to indulge in such activity, what stops him/her from doing so after procuring the items from his/her 'Parent URC'? In any case, the quantum of Liquor/Groceries bought by any individual cannot exceed the limits programmed in the Smart Card - be it from the 'Parent URC' or any other URC.
3. What happens if the individual goes on leave/vacation to a location away from where his/her 'Parent URC' is located? It is most unfair and totally unmerited to deprive any Serving personnel/ESM his/her right of availing Canteen facilities from outlets of his/her choice or convenience.

Wg Cdr (Retd) JT Nayaham

kujad Jani

5 years ago

Kudos to Cdr Ravi Pathak for voicing the grievances of Ex Servicemen in general. I fully agree and support his contention that the Services, the bureaucracy and the local formations all are jointly responsible for the deplorable state of those who were serving the country yesterday for a better tomorrow.
Its ironical that serving personnel don't think that they would be ex servicemen very soon.
Its a shame that a retired officer has to seek permission from QMG's "Babu" for buying a car from his own hard earned money and justify as to "Why the officer wants a car"......I couldn't buy liquor for want of a smart card which was delayed for almost a year after I had applied for one. Nobody from the local formation (powers that be) offered to make use of that "Gold Card" facility to ward over my problem. This much for brother officers helping each other. Why blame the "babus."?
But then, we are ALL Indians !! In uniform or Out of Uniform!
Jai Hind
Cdr KP Jani, IN (Retd)

Anant Balkrishna Dhavale

5 years ago

It was assumed that Smart Card will remove the anomalies in selling and distribution practises but it does not seem so. As explained by Cdr Pathak and Mr Sanjay the Ex Serviceman has to spend at least 3-4 hours to get these items and most of the items are not available in the URCs. These anomalies can be checked at URC levels as well as depot levels and authorised quotas should be strictly adhered 100% and it should not be left to the URCs to cheque the misuse of this facility given to the serving as well as ESMs. The suggestion to hand over the complete system to ESMs through ESM Society's etc can be a solution to this problem. And a common ESM who is so called "OR" in the heirarchial structure is at the receiving end as persons of upper ranks get special treatments in URCs.


5 years ago

Some more points :-
1. CSD SMart card is not being used the way it was envisaged. Most of the URCs are turning away the ESMs & Also serving officers & personnel if they don't belong to their unit.
2. Liquer on Smart cards is denied if not purchased from parent unit.

Smartcards were issued to ensure that it can be used at nearest canteen & not necessarily at Parent canteen. Also many times one has to buy an item at another canteed as it is not available in parent canteen.
This anamoly is to be resoled urgently

Finance ministry proposes monetary threshold for invoking GAAR

As per the guidelines, GAAR provisions would be invoked only in cases where foreign institutional investors (choose to take the benefit of double tax avoidance treaties

New Delhi: To address investor concerns over taxation issues, the finance ministry on Thursday proposed a monetary limit for invoking the controversial General Anti-Tax Avoidance Rules (GAAR) in its draft guidelines issued late last night, reports PTI.

Although the draft did not specify the monetary limit, it said that those deals which are over a prescribed limit should be covered by GAAR provisions.

The guidelines further said that GAAR provisions would be invoked only in cases where foreign institutional investors (FIIs) choose to take the benefit of double tax avoidance treaties.

"Where an FII chooses to take a treaty benefit, GAAR provisions may be invoked in the case of the FII, but would not in any case be invoked in the case of the non-resident investors of the FII," the draft guideline said.

The provisions, it said, will apply only to the income arising to taxpayers on or after 1 April 2013.

The draft guidelines also proposed setting up a three-member Approving Panel to decide whether a particular case would attract the provisions of the GAAR.

The guidelines have proposed time limits for completion of various actions under the GAAR.

The GAAR provisions were proposed by former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in his budget to prevent tax evasion. The provisions, however, invoked sharp criticism from foreign and domestic investors, following which the government constituted a high-level committee to look into their concerns.

The committee, headed by the Director General of Income Tax (international taxation), looked into the concerns of the investors and came out with draft guidelines to seek comments of the stakeholders.

"We have finalised the GAAR draft rules after three meetings with the stakeholders. The draft will have examples for what would be deemed as permissible and impermissible arrangement," finance secretary RS Gujral had said earlier in the day.


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