The widespread problems of Indian customers will stop only when regulators put in place a formal process to redress investor grievances meaningfully by forcing companies indulging in mis-selling or fraudulent practices to compensate investors for their losses and impose exemplary damages for needless harassment.
Our regular readers know that Moneylife is proud of its pro-investor stand and has a string of successful interventions on behalf of ordinary savers. But are savers always right? Here are a few examples of other kinds of customers that we come across, albeit rarely (all names changed).
Customer1: Krishnan writes to Moneylife’s insurance helpline expressing shock that his insurer had rejected his mediclaim because he omitted to disclose an angioplasty that he went through before buying the policy. When we told him that the insurer was well within its rights to reject his policy, he quickly came back with a modified story. He now wanted to approach the insurance ombudsman claiming that “my agent has misled me and forged my signature on the form.” Where did this allegation come from? Isn’t this mischievous?
Customer2: Kumar is happy with the returns on a unit-linked insurance product. After three years, he buys it again, this time in his grandson’s name. But now, the market is not doing well and the ULIP’s net asset value is pathetic. Kumar claims he was mis-sold the second ULIP. How does one believe the claim?
Customer3: Mr Patel and his family have been trading in stocks and shares for over 30 years and had long-term investments in several depository accounts. Then a broker convinced them that they could speculate in the derivatives market with the core portfolio as a kind of margin/surety. He promised them a fat return with no further investment. They fell for it and signed a power of attorney empowering the broker to trade in their accounts.
Worse, they did not check their accounts regularly, nor enter into a written agreement to say that the core portfolio would remain untouched. The broker quickly ran up huge volumes in their books and a loss of Rs15 lakh in three accounts which he threatened to adjust against their core portfolio. Clearly, these are not financial illiterate investors but greed got the better of them.
Why else would they not document their transactions? Why would they believe that a broker would choose stocks and make money for them without a portfolio management fee? Tens of thousands of investors were cheated in this manner during the market mania that crashed in 2008. That it happened again in 2012 only shows that temptation gets the better of good sense.
Customer4: Cindy and her friends are all qualified professionals. One is a company secretary and another is a chartered accountant. They, too, like the Patels, entrusted their money to a sub-broker who offered to make handsome returns for them by speculating in the derivatives market. It so happened that this sub-broker was among the most reckless and dubious in the market.
During the crash of 2008, his terminals were shut down for overtrading. Subsequently, he has been expelled from the two exchanges and has dozens of regulatory and punitive orders against him; there are multiple arbitration awards he has not honoured and the debt recovery tribunal has ordered liquidation of the company.
Clearly, with no likelihood of getting anything from the brokers, Cindy and her friends hope to collect from the clearing member for giving ‘unlimited exposure’ and funding to their own dubious sub-broker by flouting various regulations. Can they make a case? It may require a long legal battle.
Customer5: In each of these cases, the individuals have suffered a loss. Now, consider this case. We received a letter from Dr Sheela Naik asking us to publish her experience with a “very, very reputed portfolio management company (PMC)” in which she had invested since 2003.
In 2011, she noticed investment in a loss-making company and began to ask the PMC for an explanation. She says that she did not receive an answer nor was the stock sold. Dr Naik alleges a ‘a staggering’ loss of Rs3 lakh or 30% over a two-year period from just one scrip. Consequently, she asked the company to close her portfolio account and demanded a compensation for the loss incurred.
We found this story shocking enough to write to the company. We were in for a surprise. The PMC chairman pointed out that the good doctor was meticulously calculating her losses, but not her profit. She had earned a return of 17.59% compounded annually between 2003 and 2010 when the Sensex had returned 11.77%.
In fact, while the doctor pointed out a ‘staggering’ loss of Rs3 lakh, she ignored a total profit of Rs32.95 lakh made over the few years. “I am a practising doctor and hence quite ignorant of the financial intricacies,” says the doctor, who is sharp enough to calculate her losses while ignoring her profit.
In fact, Dr Naik is one of the reasons why Moneylife Foundation invests so much of time on spreading financial awareness. Consumers who do not understand the returns that they can expect from equity investment over a long term and are blinded by the expectations created in a bull market are just as ignorant as those who do not understand markets.
Also, portfolio management, by its very definition, comprises a basket of securities of which some may give high returns and others may not. Even in the loss-making stocks that Dr Naik complained about, the PMC had an explanation for holding on—almost all of them offered a decent dividend yield and had the potential to appreciate over time. But, the doctor who does not understand portfolio management or ‘financial intricacies’ is quick to malign the service-provider—without knowing the pathetic performance of many other portfolio managers.
Moneylife has reported several stories about PMCs destroying the wealth of high net worth individuals. We have fought a long battle with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) culminating in ruling from the Central Information Commission (CIC) under the Right to Information Act directing the regulator to post the PMS performance of all companies on its website.
SEBI has now posted the data in a manner that is virtually impossible to access, leave alone compare. It is not clear who SEBI is shielding, but were this information available, the dissatisfied doctor could have been shown comparable data to cool unreasonable expectations.
Unfortunately, while we have a situation where large segments of the shadow financial economy remain outside supervision any or regulation—from real estate to chain-money schemes promising high returns, even in the regulated segments (banking, insurance or capital markets), customers get the short shrift. There is neither uniformity of regulations, systematic enforcement nor collaboration among regulators. Consequently, the incidence of brazen mis-selling, misrepresentation and downright cheating that Moneylife comes across is so high that when consumers occasionally try to pull a fast one on companies, our first reaction is to give them the benefit of doubt.
Frankly, it is not easy for a tiny media company like Moneylife to play this role of handling customer grievances. But the widespread problems of Indian customers will stop only when regulators put in place a formal process to redress investor grievances meaningfully by forcing companies indulging in mis-selling or fraudulent practices to compensate investors for their losses and impose exemplary damages for needless harassment.
Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]
Who is monitoring the implementation of quality of services and in cases of violations, what the TRAI is doing? If a service provider explicitly or deliberately violates the QOS, it gets immunity till the violation is set right and no penal action for such anti–consumer act is transparently envisaged
Most of the telecom operators are taking undue advantage of the genuine complaints of consumers, under the loopholes of time bound action. Especially, service providers (SPs) are not strictly complying with the provisions of quality of service (QOS) in the arena of deficiency in service, wrongful or excessive billing and value added services (VAS) without explicit consent included, within the specified time.
This is in spite of the Telecom Consumers Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012, and the Telecom Consumer Complaints Monitoring System for implementing the QOS standards to resolve issues within a specified time span.
The Consumer Complaints Cell (CCCell), which is a voluntary association of gratis workers to provide guidance and services for redressal of any consumer grievance, has been receiving such complaints from time to time. Majority of the complaints are redressed or resolved directly by the SPs; but when a complaint is not solved, the CCCell or the consumers directly complain to the designated Complaints Officer of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) viz: [email protected] Unfortunately all the complaints addressed or marked to the Complaints Officer of TRAI remain unacknowledged and unreplied. So far, TRAI has not made known any time bound deliverance system of disposal of complaints received by it in transparent a manner.
In the beginning of 2012, there was an interactive telecom consumers’ meet with the top authorities of TRAI at IMC hall in Mumbai, where the then TRAI chairman JS Sarma was also present. When this writer had specifically complained of “Lack of Deliverance and Monitoring” the complaints in a time bound transparent manner by TRAI, he had accepted this lacuna and had said that TRAI has already made such “Monitoring System” and it will soon be notified. True, such a scheme called “Telecom Consumer Complaints Monitoring System, 2012”, along with the updated “Telecom Consumers Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012,” were notified in July 2012 which are in operation now. But unfortunately, although it strengthened the redressal system with some new provisions like declaration and implementation of “Telecom Consumers Charter” by each service provider; these rules of monitoring system failed to provide any relief to the wronged consumers from the regulator in issuing directions or penalizing the SPs for violation of the declared benchmarks of QOS.
No doubt TRAI made it clear that it will not direct the SPs for any monetary compensation or relief which the consumers may claim, and for that the consumer will have to go to the proper court under CPA. But then the vital question remains to be specified as to who is monitoring the implementation of QOS and in cases of violations, what the regulator or its Complaints Officer will do and within what time and consequence. TRAI is completely silent about that at least in a transparent manner. It only provides for a “Quarterly Audit” of QOS implementation by the SP and the audit specify areas to set right the failures. That means, if a SP explicitly or deliberately violates the QOS it gets immunity till the violation is set right and no penal action for such anti–consumer act is transparently envisaged.
Here is my own specific case of such violation causing “Deficiency in Service and mental torture” for no fault of mine.
My present service provider is Idea Cellular for my post-paid mobile no. 93222XXXXX. In mid-March, I had opted for their services. It was good going except for the “weak signals” in my building. To refurbish the infrastructure in my area for powerful signals, the company wanted time which I had agreed.
In mid-April I had purchased a branded smart phone with 3G. Since Idea now is not permitted to use 3G spectrum, I had put a pre-paid SIM card of Aircel, which has 3G. It was put in the main slot and the Idea card was in the secondary slot. The seller demonstrated all the features with the 3G facility including internet. Once this was over, I did not wish to use pre-paid Aircel SIM and had consented to subscribe Idea GPRS with 2G “Pay on use basis” and from 22nd April, I disabled my Aircel SIM. However, this did not help on Idea GPRS for Internet as often it clashed with the 3G disabled SIM of Aircel. When complained, Idea arranged to send a technician to me to properly set and demonstrate the use of Idea GPRS on my smartphone, but for that I had to discard the Aircel SIM and keep the handset only on Idea SIM. Once I was convinced that it can work on internet, I had immediately put ‘GPRS’ on off mode as I do all my internet work from my laptop having a high-speed BB. I did not operate my Idea SIM for GPRS/Internet.
When the April E-bill was sent to me, I was flabbergasted to know that my GPRS use has been of 30534.57 kb (about 30 MB) only between 22nd April to 30th April for which I was billed for Rs639.31 (+ ST). I instantly (4th May) complained to the Customer Care with a copy to the Appellate Authority of Idea and copy for information to the Complaints Officer TRAI, disputing the heavy GPRS charge without actual use, and requested the SP to waive off this arbitrary charge. The Customer Care (CC) did not relent and maintained that it is actual and unable to “waive off”. Thereafter, I wrote to them, since I never used GPRS and kept it on Off Mode, how such huge amount of space in down/upload was shown unless it is kept on “Automatic”/In Auto Mode” at the SP’s level without my request or subscription. Since this is not allowed under TRAI rules, I will escalate the issue at all possible levels including the social media to expose this “Unfair Practice” of Idea. Then the CC offered me to convert my GPRS under a fixed Rs98 plan with 1 GB space and thus I could save almost Rs540.
I maintained, my fight is for the ‘Rights’ and what is fair for the consumer and not for mere monetary advantage, therefore, the SP should in fairness, Waive off the total GPRS charge. Further I insisted for the entire use of ‘GPRS’ log per second. When the log sheet was provided; it clearly mentioned the use for almost 27x7, except a few second gap in between, as if I was using my Internet during sleep or resting time also.
Now without explaining how I could use such heavy net space, when GPRS was kept by me on “Off Mode”, the company wrote back saying offer of “GPRS 98” is withdrawn and SP cannot waive of anything from my GPRS bill. At this stage, I had to put this “Unfair and arbitrary” billing practice on all social media websites as my complaint for redressal with a copy to Idea Appellate and the TRAI complaints Officer. Thereafter, the SP offered me to “Waive Off” a sum of Rs500 if I accept that offer. That was 14th May. 16th May was the last date of my payment. This ‘Resolution’ offered was under unique docket no. SRXXX. To avoid the consequences of “disruption of service” as periodically threatened by the SP for non-payment of the bill amount; on 14th itself I accepted the offer of Rs500 waiver but subject to my right to go in Appeal against this partial waiver. Same day, I wrote to the CC to send me the amended bill amount before the 16th to enable me to pay in time, but if they delay I also had requested not to “disrupt my services” as threatened. (Unfortunately TRAI also left this ‘loophole’ as a penal tool in the hands of SP).
Instead of sending me the “Amended bill” the CC asked for some more time. To be at a safer side ,therefore, on my own I paid the balance amount of the bill “Under Protest” with a specific written notice by email as well as a hard copy. In spite of this, the SP neither informed the billing department nor to me about this “Waiver adjustment”. As per the QOS rule of TRAI, implementation of the resolution of the grievance, has to be done by SP within a period of seven days .In this case, on or before 21st May. However, to my chagrin, I noticed on 21st May at 2.30pm that my “outgoing call facility” had been withdrawn by the SP for non-payment of full bill amount. This was a pure and simple case of deceit and victimization of the consumer to teach a lesson by “mental torture” violating the TRAI norms and rules openly. This “illegal act” thus resulted in my strong complaint letter, along with an indictment mail from the secretary, Consumer Complaints Cell too, to all Idea (SP) authorities, Complaints Officer, TRAI and the social networking websites including the print media (including Moneylife forum).
Next day, as SP failed to honour or restore the “outgoing call facility”, I had to put a strong formal complaint to the Department of Telecommunications. The department was requested to take “appropriate penal action” against the violations of the provisions of “Consumers Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012,”in specific reference to the QOS guidelines viz:
The same complaint was reiterated by the secretary, Consumer Complaint Cell by putting it as “FEEDBACK/SUGGESTIONS” at the national portal of Consumer Complaints.
“We shall be grateful, if this feedback/request for violation of laid down provisions of the binding rules is conveyed/forwarded to the concerned authorities for an appropriate urgent action to safeguard the interests and legal rights of the consumers at large ,and the complainant here in below Mohanlal Siroya with Idea mobile no. 93222XXXXX, in particular.
Awaiting your response,
Meanwhile thanking you
Hon. Secretary- Consumer Complaints Cell”.
This perhaps had the desired effect. Next day on 23rd May at 1.20pm the disrupted incoming call facility was restored. At the same time the SP’s CC replied that the “Waiver of Rs 500 has been credited in the account and the same will be reflected in the current month’s bill.
Now, in the interest of the larger telecom service users, it is to be seen if the TRAI or the DOT authorities take any appropriate action for intentional violation of TRAI regulations by the SP, Idea Cellular which is an arm of prestigious Aditya Birla Group. Besides, as a consumer activist I would suggest the Department of Telecom (DoT) to frame “Transparent Penal Regulations” for such violations by telecom SPs.
Needless to say that I will file an appeal with the SP’s Appellate Authority and the Advisory Committee to decide my claim of “full GPRS charge waive” on merit and to grant me suitable compensation for going without “Calling facility” for two days with connected suffering of mental torture because of SP deficiency and sincerity.
(The author is the chairperson of the Consumer Complaints Cell, an NGO based in Mumbai.)
As long as the justice delivery system remains slow and our courts refuse to order crippling monetary penalties, zero-tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace will be discussed endlessly at HR seminars but never implemented.
High on IQ but low on common sense. That, in a nutshell, would sum up Phaneesh Murthy, the IT-whiz who turns out to be a serial sexual harasser. Will he get away again, with insurers and iGate paying the bill, allowing him to make a fresh start with orchestrated publicity? Already, many women are saying that the companies that employed Phaneesh Murthy initiated quick action only because it happened overseas, the women involved were foreigners and the information technology (IT) industry is particularly conscious about their reputation.
Other than Mr Murthy’s, there are barely three cases where sexual harassment charges have been quickly settled. This only goes to show how badly the decks are stacked against Indian women. One was when Coca Cola reportedly paid over Rs1.45 crore to former Miss Universe Shushmita Sen for charges brought against Shripad Nadkarni, its India head. The company claimed it was a contractual dispute but Mr Nadkarni quit soon thereafter. This happened in 2002-03 when the first Phaneesh Murthy episode was widely debated in the media. Coke would also have been conscious that Shushmita Sen’s super-celebrity status at that time would have damaged it considerably.
Another hush-hush episode involved a Tata group employee, Lenny Menezes, who was allegedly accused of sexual harassment by an overseas employee named Neena Helms. Here again, the matter was apparently settled with a $75,000 payout. Another major case was that of David Davidar who had to leave Penguin on charges of sexual harassment. For Indian women, the ‘better’ choice will always be to move on, rather that press charges. As long as the justice delivery system remains slow and our courts refuse to order crippling monetary penalties, zero-tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace will be discussed endlessly at HR seminars but never implemented.