According to the apex court, introduction of a paper trail in EVMs during the next general elections in 2014 would ensure free and fair polls
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Election Commission to introduce in a phased manner a paper trail in electronic voting machines (EVMs) for the next general elections in 2014, saying it will ensure free and fair polls.
The apex court also directed the Centre to provide financial assistance for introducing the vote verifier paper audit trail (VVPAT) system. A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, "The VVPAT in EVMs will ensure free and fair polls and will help in sorting out disputes."
The court’s order came on a plea of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dr Subramanian Swamy seeking a direction to the poll watchdog to ensure EVMs have a paper trail and issue a receipt to each voter.
The Election Commission had earlier told the court VVPAT was successfully and satisfactorily utilised at 21 polling stations in Nagaland during the Assembly elections in February this year.
The poll panel had also informed the bench that VVPAT can be introduced in a phased manner and cited administrative and financial reasons for it. It had said 13 lakh VVPAT machines would be needed for the general elections.
The Election Commission had said about Rs1,500 crore would be required for procuring VVPATs and installing it at all polling booths across the country for the Lok Sabha polls and there were only two State-owned companies — Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) — which manufacture the machines.
Swamy had said both BEL and ECIL were capable of producing the number of machines required for the general elections.
In the VVPAT system, when a voter presses the button for the candidate of his choice in the EVM, a paper ballot containing the serial number, name and poll symbol of the candidate is printed, which can be verified by the voter.
A VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines, designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
Following several complaints and reports by Moneylife, the Reserve Bank is understood to have directed Prof Dr Anil Pandya to step down as executive chairman of High Mark, the troubled and cash strapped credit bureau
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is understood to have asked Prof Dr Anil Pandya to step down as executive chairman of troubled and cash strapped credit bureau High Mark Credit Information Services Pvt Ltd. Subsequently, Prof Dr Pandya has reportedly resigned from High Mark after the Board meeting and gone back to the US. Prof Dr Pandya was a tenured full professor at the College of Business, Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management, according to High Mark's website.
Our mail sent to High Mark remained unanswered till writing the story. We would incorporate their response as and when we receive it.
In response to a Right to Information (RTI) application, the central bank had said, “Following complaints and adverse reports in media (mainly Moneylife) the RBI conducted an inspection of High Mark during May 2013.”
Earlier in August, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has sought a factual report from the chief vigilance officer (CVO) of RBI in granting licence to High Mark.
This follows complaints from former executives of High Mark over the appointment of Prof Dr Pandya. They claimed while appointing Prof Dr Pandya, High Mark has violated Credit Information Companies Regulations (CICR) Act, 2005 (CICRA) as well as Companies Act.
While High Mark never appointed Prof Dr Pandya on a whole-time basis, he was able to continue teaching in the US as well was working with the credit bureau on a part-time basis. As per the CICR Act, when a credit bureau appoints chairman on a part-time basis, it then must have a managing director or full-time director to look after the management and affairs of the bureau.
Prof Dr Pandya has an employment contract with High Mark under which he was to devote his full time for the services of the company and was paid a salary of Rs60 lakh per annum. "However, over and above this, he was also entitled to a huge sum of money (Rs12.5 million or about $230,000) towards 'procurement of the in–principle license from RBI' (clause 4(b). Further payment of Rs30.25 million (around $560,000) was also made to him under clause 4(c)," said one of the executives who worked at High Mark.
High Mark, the only bureau started by individuals, has been under severe financial stress following the exit of several of its top managers and the failure of its rights issue. According to sources, the company has almost run through the Rs43 crore, it raised and was about to cease operations in couple of months, unless it finds a new investor. Last year, the credit bureau was negotiating with Italy-based credit bureau CRIF SpA for a bailout. High Mark was offered Rs30 per share by CRIF, which owns 9.09% stake in the Indian credit bureau. However, RBI rejected the proposal because of its reservations about CRIF’s ownership pattern.
Experian Credit Information Company of India Pvt Ltd (Experian India), one of the four credit information companies (CICs) in India, was in talks with High Mark and reportedly had also completed the due diligence process. According to the sources, Experian has increased its bid to Rs27 from Rs25 to buy minimum 26% stake in troubled and cash-strapped High Mark.
As Moneylife has been pointing out there is a dire need to have checks and balances in the quality of technology or data-matching algorithms used by credit bureaus in India. In addition, there is need to have proper redressal process for users, especially when these systems fail.
According to sources, the Reserve Bank has initiated an inspection of Credit Information Bureau (India) Ltd (CIBIL), following several complaints and media reports.
At Moneylife’s ‘Open House’ with RBI deputy governor Dr KC Chakrabarty on 3 June 2013, an angry customer stood up to complain about CIBIL, which practically enjoys a monopoly of the credit bureau business. On 4th June, we received an angry letter from one Umesh Dhawan whose Rs5-lakh loan was rejected because he was shown as a defaulter by CIBIL. He was under the impression that his banker had reported him. But we discovered that the problem was far worse. CIBIL apparently used its own algorithm to match data and ended up mixing his data with that of another person called Umesh Uhawan.
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Mutual fund distributors would be allowed to use stock exchanges' infrastructure to purchase and redeem mutual fund units on behalf of their clients. What benefit is it for investors?
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) recently issued a circular to the stock exchanges, clearing corporations and depositories to enable the mutual fund distributors to transact on the stock exchange platform on behalf of their clients. A mutual fund distributor registered with Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), would be able to use a recognised stock exchanges' infrastructure for purchases and redemptions of mutual fund units directly from the fund houses or asset management company (AMC) on behalf of an investor. At present, this facility is available for stock brokers and clearing members only. Though this service was introduced in November 2010, it found few takers as an investor would have to bear additional costs.
Mutual funds are sold through large nationwide distributors like banks and also small independent financial advisors. Most distributors log in applications for redemption and purchase requests through the registrar and transfer agent (R&TA) of a fund house. The stock exchange platform would open up a new route for transactions. However, the mutual fund distributor just enables the transaction, with the units credited and debited directly from the demat account of investors. Therefore, it would be necessary for an investor to open a demat account if they do not have one already.
There could be other issues as well. According to Ramesh Bhat, former president of IFA Galaxy, an association of over 10,000 independent financial advisors, “How the exchange will take the money from the client account? Even if the money is taken out of the account will he get the same day NAV? An investor should not lose a single paisa on this deal. Pay in is the major issue (From client account to exchange). Let us wait for the amendment in their existing byelaws, rules and regulations.”
Uday Dhoot, deputy CEO, International Money Matters, a financial planning-cum-investment advisory organisation mentions that, “The stock exchange route brings in a different process of transaction execution. In a normal account where there is no client—distributor power of attorney (POA) involved, the client still has to give a written instruction for a transaction to be processed, which is equivalent to signing of a transaction slip/ form. If there is a POA setup the distributor still needs to keep records of client confirmations of transactions on email or recorded phone lines.”
He further says that, “The stock exchange merely provides an order routing system with the above processed getting added. Some clients would prefer signing a POA, some may not and others are comfortable signing transaction slips. All this means additional processes and costs for the distributor to cater to all kinds of clients.”
There are also liquidity concerns. Mr Dhoot mentions that there is a possibility that one might want to sell some units and there may not be buyers for the same. In such a situation, you are then compelled to go back to the old system of signing a form and submitting it to the AMC or R&TA.
SEBI’s move to get investors to buy mutual funds through the stock exchanges has failed to work in the past and the regulator seems to be looping in mutual fund distributors to enable investors to transact in mutual funds through the stock exchanges. One can't assume that there are large numbers of eager investors who would want to invest through a demat account. If they don't yet have a demat account, it means that they simply don't want to invest in markets or do not wish to go through the hassle of paperwork and the burden of poor grievance redressal.
In his email reply, Mr Bhat expressed his concern that, “More than 40 % of the clients (in Tier-1 City) have a demat account, and yet 60 % do not have maybe due the annual charges levied by the demat service providers. These demat service providers must charge only ONE TIME FEE for these accounts to increase its reach across all investor class. Clients having demat MF units may be less than 5% in Tier-1 cities and may be 1% or less in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities”
Mutual fund units are already offered by fund companies in electronic form as there is no physical certificate for MF units. Why would anyone want to demat something that already exists in electronic form? Mr Dhoot mentions that, “Opening of a demat account requires further paper work in addition to the mutual fund KYC. Moreover, holding units in a demat account involves additional costs charged by the depository participant. Investors already have an option to buy/sell units online. There are also some third party platforms that allow distributors to buy/sell units for the clients which are cheaper, involve less processes and paper work.”
A demat account may consolidate all of one's holdings and allow a view of investments in a single snapshot. Buying and selling in dematerialised units is supposed to be faster and simpler, but this would come with a transaction costs as well. SEBI's decision to continuously push the demat route shows that the regulator has lost touch with what is happening on the ground. Taking this route has not added benefits and will continue to keep investors away.
There are several layers of costs associated with holding mutual fund units in demat form. One would have to pay a charge to open the demat account, as well as the annual demat fees. Sales of units would also involve a charge on each occasion. This charge varies from DP to DP.
Leading registrar and transfer agents, CAMS and Karvy, both of which service almost the entire industry, have a system to provide consolidated statements across all mutual funds to investors. AMFI is also in the process of developing a platform to enable mutual fund transactions online. With this in place, what need it is for the regulator to ask exchanges to amend their infrastructure to enable mutual fund distributors to transact through the stocks exchange when it has no additional benefit for investors.
SEBI mentions that this would allow MF distributors to improve their reach. But would this move benefit distributors? Mr Bhat says, “Provided there is no complicated registration procedure and clear route for the transfer of money from the clients’ account to the AMC account and issue of proper allotment of units in clients demat account on time. This will be definitely a boon for distributors in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities to expand their business. However, more clarity is needed on the operating guidelines”
Mr Dhoot says “We do not think that the stock exchange route for mutual fund transactions would benefit a large section of distributors as it involves a lot of added and some parallel processes which mean extra costs. This makes it a viable option only for very large distributors. This also requires distributors to register with the stock exchange or have tie ups with registered broking houses there by giving up their own title as the primary distributor. There is also no significant advantage to hold mutual fund units in a demat account.” He adds that, “AMFI is anyways planning a MF wide platform for order routing therefore we would not like to take up the stock exchange platform.”