Think Foundation is about blood, the key to our survival, and blood-related ailments, Alekh Angre reports
Ironically enough, Think Foundation is not about thought, except that campaigning and coordination for blood donation is born out of good thoughts. Think Foundation is about blood, the key to our survival, and blood-related ailments. Only those who have desperately tried to find blood during emergencies, or have been harried about finding donors to match rare blood groups know the time and effort involved. Many a time, finding blood banks is difficult enough and they may be unable to meet a patient’s need. It is as an answer to these issues that Think Foundation was set up in 2006 as a not-for-profit organisation.
In 1980, Vinay Shetty, then a student (now vice president at Think Foundation), conducted a blood donation drive for Mumbai-based Nair Hospital. The drive was a great success, but Vinay’s real aim was to start and maintain the list of donors. Soon, he started receiving calls inquiring about donors with particular blood groups. “We (he and a few friends) responded to the calls, identified donors and sent them to hospitals which had specific requirements,” he says.
As the calls increased, Mr Shetty and his friends became regular visitors at various hospitals, coordinating and arranging the blood requirements. In 1998, Breach Candy Hospital contacted him to inquire about their work and urged his group to also spread awareness on thalassaemia.
After reading and meeting people working with thalassaemia patients, he decided to pitch in with some specific activities. It started with the formation of charitable trust ‘Citizen’ along with his six friends. Its mission was to give a thrust to promoting blood donation and creating awareness about thalassaemia. With donations trickling in from individuals, its activities grew. In 2006, Citizen was renamed Think Foundation after registering it under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.
The Foundation conducted around 300 blood donation drives in colleges and companies in 2011 and worked at encouraging voluntary blood donation. It works closely with about 60 blood banks in Mumbai and is apparently the only organisation to have donors with the rare ‘Bombay blood group’. “I can guarantee that people who need this blood group anywhere in the country, will eventually come to us,” says Mr Shetty.
For thalassaemia patients, Think Foundation conducts screening camps for college students (as part of its prevention drive) and counselling for those detected with thalassaemia minor. Mr Shetty says, “Anybody with thalassaemia minor is perfectly healthy. A child is born with thalassaemia major when both his parents are thalassaemia minor. So it is essential for people to get themselves tested. It will help to stop thalassaemia. It will also help blood banks, as most of the blood is used for kids with thalassaemia major.” Last year, Think Foundation conducted 150 screening camps. It also runs seven day-care centres across the city where thalassaemia major children are provided with blood transfusion facility, along with iron chelation tablets, essential for the treatment, free of cost.
Think Foundation runs a Lifesavers’ Club, which has a list of platelet donors and coordinates with them as well as blood banks whenever there is a request for platelets. The organisation campaigns actively about stem cell therapy and wants to ensure that India has a functional stem-cell registry. Mr Shetty believes that stem-cell therapy is a solution for thalassaemia as well as leukaemia and other blood disorders.
Think Foundation also provides educational support to needy children and financial help on a case-by-case basis. Currently, it receives funding from individuals as well as corporate houses. You can volunteer for the various activities conducted by Think Foundation, apart from making financial donations which are exempted under Section 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.
A-101, Valmiki Apartments,
Sunder Nagar, Kalina, Santa Cruz (East),
Mumbai 400 098.
Contact- 91-22- 6518 1341/ 6518 1343
Email- [email protected]
SEBI chief UK Sinha is concerned about mutual fund underperformance but what action can the regulator really take, given its hand-off regulatory policy
Underperformance of mutual funds seems to be a cause of concern for the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). At the CII Mutual Fund Summit yesterday, SEBI chairman UK Sinha said, "There are nine fund houses where over a period of three years, 50%-100% of their schemes have performed less than the scheme benchmarks. So, imagine if more than half of their schemes over a period of time on a continuous basis have been performing less than their benchmarks."
"If it is happening on a continuous long-term basis for a significant percentage of the schemes then it becomes a SEBI issue," he said.
The regulator has also said it will engage with fund managers and CEOs of these asset management companies (AMCs) to understand why their funds are trending below their benchmarks on a continuous basis. The SEBI chairman further states, "The credibility of the industry and the credibility of the individual fund houses, their trustees shareholders directors, it is important that these matters are discussed and remedial measures are taken."
Mr Sinha may be right in saying that underperformance is a concern but what action can SEBI take? SEBI keeps on saying that investor protection and transparency is its top priority, but what action has SEBI taken in the past? SEBI in the past has come out with regulations where fund companies have to disclose their fund manager performance and a fund manger should not be allowed manage two or more similar schemes, these and many more. This would help the investor to a certain extent but what more?
Moneylife is only publication that has consistently highlighted underperforming fund houses. (Recent Articles: Equity Mutual Funds to avoid at all costs , Fund Performance: Worst Equity Funds ). What we have noticed most of the schemes which are consistently underperforming come from the same set of fund houses. Such gross underperformance over different periods can't go unnoticed by the AMC and the trustees. But SEBI has not done the only thing it could have done-question the trustees.
We did analysis of the top 20 fund houses as per AUM over a five-year monthly rolling periods from April 2006 to March 2012. We only considered consistent underperformers, that is, those that have underperformed the benchmark in the last 12 rolling periods. As you can see, LIC Nomura MF and JM Financial MF top the list of underperformers. Even in the last three-yr period ended 15 June 2012, all the schemes of these two fund houses have failed to perform.
Underperformance: 5-year monthly rolling period ending March 2012
Underperformance: 3-year as on 15th June
These are just equity schemes of select fund houses. They charge the highest from the investor for managing the fund and such is the performance. The least the investor would expect is returns on par with the benchmark. Even the index fund of LIC has given below par returns. Unless SEBI takes active interest and introduces stricter norms, AMCs would continue their business as usual.
Given that India has adopted a hands-off disclosure-based regime (meaning, a man charged with murder can make a public issue as long as he discloses it in the prospectus), it would be interesting to see how SEBI can change anything by calling mutual fund CEOs, trustees and fund managers for a chat. Any other action would have to be justified by activist regulatory stance, which SEBI is neither mandated nor equipped to carry out.
A tourist on tour with Cox & Kings' European Whirl was asked to pay more and still could not visit many places as the guided tour was “panoramic view only”. Is it due to cost cutting or cutting corners by operators to cope with the rupee depreciation?
The sharp depreciation of the Indian rupee over past several months may have started taking its toll on overseas travelling. To cope with the fall in rupee against the US dollar, several tour operators are either asking tourists to pay more or cutting costs by keeping the packaged tour limited.
YN Bhattacharya, a senior government official, recently witnessed this phenomenon. Mr Bhattacharya booked a packaged tour "European Whirl" with Cox & Kings India (C&K), which offered 48% cash back for travelling ex-Mumbai. The package cost was Rs1.28 lakh per person for 11 days and 10 nights. The cost was inclusive of main tour price post cash back, compulsory supplements and compulsory tips. Mr Bhattacharya, on 22nd April booked tickets for himself and three of his family members by paying Rs12,000 as advance. His tour date was fixed as 1st June.
Later, on 27th April, he paid additional Rs1.5 lakh and handed over the required documents to C&K's Vashi office. However, C&K told them that their tour date was being rescheduled to 3rd June as it could not accommodate them in the earlier tours. The tour operator also assured them that there would not be any change in the charges agreed upon.
Suddenly, on 17th May, C&K asked Mr Bhattacharya to pay additional Rs29,164. He was told to pay the additional money during his visit on 26th May to C&K's Vashi office. Mr Bhattacharya paid the money under protest, but again on 29th May, C&K asked him to pay additional Rs3,000 citing as human error in calculations. To avoid any further controversy and ending up paying more money, Mr Bhattacharya, finally paid full amount to C&K.
In an email reply, C&K, however maintained that the additional charges were collected from passengers due to increase in taxes charged by airlines, government and airports. "The UDF charges for departing international passengers was increased by Rs675 per passenger effective 1 May 2012. The government increased the service tax effective April 2012 and airlines increased the charges and we passed it on to the passenger. The airlines also hiked their taxes and surcharges. In our brochure page 67 (of which you have a copy), it is clearly mentioned under 'What Your Tour Price Does Not Include'. Any increase in the airfare, taxes will have to be borne by the passenger," the tour operator said.
After reaching Europe, Mr Bhattacharya found that the list of hotels for check-in at different locations was not what he expected and they were accommodated in sub-standard hotels outside city limits.
C&K, however, denied this. It said, "We have provided hotels as mentioned in our brochure or hotels of similar category. This is clearly mentioned on page 88 of our brochure. Secondly, it is mentioned in the brochure that the hotel location for Super Saver Tours will be away from the city centre. This information is very much in the brochure which the customer is provided with when he books the tour. Please see page 11 of the brochure."
The tour operator may be right in saying that we had mentioned everything in the brochure, but usually nobody bothers to read the fine print. In addition, according to Mr Bhattacharya, the tour operator did not provide any brochure to him. Moneylife received a copy of the brochure from C&K, but we also have difficulty in locating the exact reference mentioned above on that particular page. But more about that later.
Mr Bhattacharya also alleged that as per the itinerary provided to them during booking and before departure, all the places as committed were not covered in the tour. He said, "We were not taken close to the Buckingham Palace Gate, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and palace, St Paul's Cathedral at London, and were not allowed to come out of the bus as it was always on move. Even it did not have any photo stop at these attractions."
C&K, however, said visiting these places on foot or disembarking from the bus was not part of the tour package. "According to the European Whirl itinerary, the London tour was a guided panoramic guided tour of London, where you get to view the sights/monuments as you drive past in your coach. A panoramic tour means that you will see the places while driving past and not on foot. This is mentioned on page 12 under Pearls of Wisdom. Secondly, they disembarked at the Tower of London for a photo stop. However, as the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations were in full swing on that day, the vehicle could not be parked on busy streets," the tour operator said.
However, Mr Bhattacharya feels that "the definition of panoramic view of C&K is innovative" and the operator is just trying to defend its stand under the pretext of some clauses in its brochure, which was never give to him.
During the tour, one exclusive visit was cancelled and all the tourists in this package tour had to spend time either on the streets or in the bus. "Exclusive half day excursion to Parc Asterix at Paris was not undertaken, for which the tour manager Ms Marina Coutino assured to refund 15 euro per person without any regret. As a result we were on the streets throughout the day, confined in the bus without any visits to any of the museums or places of interest. We were not taken to the famous museum of Louvre or its pyramid, even for a photo stop. Moreover, the committed Illumination tour, driving past spectacularly lit landmarks of Paris, was not undertaken," Mr Bhattacharya alleged.
While admitting that the Parc Asterix was closed, C&K said it is in the process of refunding the ticket cost of 15 euro to all passengers. It said, "We would also like to state that as Parc Asterix was closed, Cox & Kings as goodwill gesture took all the passengers to the Fragonard Perfume factory, even though it was not part of the itinerary. As for Louvre, it is not part of the tour itinerary. See page 64, Louvre is part of the orientation tour, i.e. see Louvre while on the bus... Finally, the illumination tour was part of an 'Optional Gala Evening' in Paris and this was provided to all who paid for the particular Optional. It may be mentioned that Mr YN Bhattacharya's wife and daughter opted to take the Optional tour, while he stayed back."
However, the tourist categorically said Parc Asterix was open on the day of their visit but the tour operator avoided it to save on expenditure for which all passengers had made payments in advance. He said, "It was not our intention to get refund of a meagre 15 euros but to visit the land mark location. Moreover, the entry fee was 44 euros which was already paid while C&K proposed for refund of only 15 euros apart from the cost of travel of 35 km which it had to incur."
Mr Bhattacharya said, in Switzerland, on Glacier 3000, Alpine Coaster ride was not facilitated to them. "C&K was aware that Alpine Coasters was not operational and yet they included this in the itinerary to mislead travellers," he said.
C&K said the Alpine Coaster was not operational as it was under maintenance. "However, all the passengers were taken to the snow fun park in lieu of the Alpine Coaster. This was communicated to the passengers and that's the reason why an alternate attraction which is similar was offered," it added.
While visiting Golden Roof, Imperial Church in Innsbruck and Doge's Palace in Venice and Duomo in Florence, the passengers were no allowed to see these places from inside, Mr Bhattacharya alleged. Denying the allegation, C&K said visiting these places from inside was not part of the tour package. "In Innsbruck the viewing of the Golden Roof and the visit to the church was part of the orientation tour and the same was facilitated. The visit inside the Imperial Church, Doge's palace in Venice and Duomo in Florence are not part of the itinerary," it said.
Coming back to reading all points and fine print in any user guide or manual is very tedious process. We tried locating the particular references mentioned by C&K in its brochure they sent to us, but could not find particular references easily.
In addition, Mr Bhattacharya said while booking tickets for a tour, the passengers are supposed to sign on about two dozen documents across the table. There is no time to read all fine prints and each and every point in these documents. So most of the time, the tourist signs on all papers in good faith and then pays the price later.
Just for information, since early March the Indian rupee has depreciated over 15%. Continuing its downslide for the fifth day in a row, the Indian rupee on Friday breached psychological 57-mark and logged its intra-day record low of 57.31 for the second day in a row and also registered its new closing low of 57.15 against the greenback, recording biggest fall of the current calendar of a whopping 85 paise.
Looking at the experience of Mr Bhattacharya and his fellow passengers, we would advise everyone to read each and every word mentioned by your tour operator in their brochure or tour package. Also do not use the verbal mode, instead opt for written communication and keep all copies safe and intact till your tour gets over. And don't forget to check (if possible take it in writing from the tour operator) if the fluctuation in the currency rates would adversely affect your tour cost.