An alternative view of mining, development, environment and the aspirations of people on the ground
An inescapable truth of mining globally is the back-roads through jungles and forests. That’s how it starts. Often, the first contact people in remote areas with newly discovered or exploited mineral wealth have with the debatable wonders of ‘civilisation’ is when the truckers land up seeking everything from right of way to local support, and provide something in lieu. The days when they could grab by force or by trickery are not exactly over, but things are not so easy anymore either and we can thank good communications as one reason for this.
To the city-dwellers as well as many others, this is first and foremost an issue pertaining to that magic word which fits all occasions—environment, We have to protect the environment, restore the habitat to its true inheritors, never mind that tigers roamed the jungles that are now Pali Hill in Bandra/Vandre till a century or so ago. There is one view that this line of thought, save the forest from the big bad mining usurpers, is fine as long as it is not in my back-yard.
That view is very correct if you are a green from the big city. But what about those who aren’t?
Very often, it takes going slightly off the beaten track, preferably by road, to get another perspective, no matter how personally distasteful or disagreeable with one’s own line of thinking. If it has to be true reportage, then it has to be done, and so be it. Things cannot be only about environment if development is one of the aims, too. But too much stress on any one of these two, and matters then reach a point where a sort of “no hope” position is reached.
Truth remains—there is so much amazing hope and confidence in a shining future in so many parts of India that at times one feels responsible in some ways for the mess that those of us who live in cities and claim to build perceptions on facts that may be at variance from the truth, churn out with such regular frequencies. Certainly, there are also parts of India, huge and vast stretches, where despair shares the horizon with tragedy. But in a way it is like those multi-coloured plastic ‘matkaas’ being carried on the roofs of jeeps heading into the next town for a refill—how terrible to see this happen but at the same time, what colours?
Different colours, then, is what one can see when trying to go right into looking at matters mining. Especially in “advanced/developed” states.
People who talk about Karnataka as an “advanced/developed” state, whatever that means, should drive on NH4A from Anmod to Khanapur. It matches and even beats some of the worst roads I have ever driven on globally. One reason is the heavy volume of single-axle over-loaded dumper trucks roaring up and down loaded to the top with bauxite or iron-ore. Oh yes, illegal mining has been banned in Karnataka. And the cow jumped over the moon with a bellyful of plastic waste.
But then, on a stretch of desolate road between the small signpost towns of ‘Watre’ and ‘Gunji Road’, I came across, once again, the Great Indian Hope. It is well past sunset, the shadows have been replaced by dim lights from trucks roaring past whipping up mountains of ore and dust, and when I stop to share time with nature—the jungle is full of those noises that animals seem to make before settling down for the night.
Here, literally out of the grey, a fleet of young girls returning from school. All ages, but mostly what appears to be secondary school level, in smart white skirts and shirts, white stockings and white or black shoes. Some on cycle riding in a single file; some walking; and further up some simply waiting for a bus.
And this is the interesting part—there is nobody else around for miles. From possible attack, human or animal, they appear confident of not being in risk of. Like young girls anywhere.
I stop to talk to a few of them at the bus stop, thinking that I shall brush up on my Marathi and Konkani and Kannada, and get replies in English—with that, who do you think you are, Mister, kind of look. In the few minutes that I am there I learn that
I could have gone on talking and getting responses, but it is getting darker, their bus can be seen coming, and the mosquitoes have suddenly arrived en masse. A few minutes later, I am driving through the grimy town of Khanapur, more famous for the biggest counterfeit stamp paper scam in India, and more.
The point I am making is this—on one side, “strange new people” (read city folk or people from elsewhere) are coming into the jungle and enlarging on what has always been done there. The MNC mining companies are perceived as being the real villains. The local mining barons are seen as being part of the fabric.
And hope as well as future comes from putting all this aside, not going on and on about the negatives, but moving ahead using education as the main weapon. Once that is in position, they shall come back and fix things, is what I also see in India on the roads. But if you don’t have mining, then how does the much-in-demand development come from, or is it not for the people who live in the jungle?
Single anecdotes do not make for conclusive proof. But viewed alongside all the other scenes flashing past when driving slowly through the back-roads, the truth is inescapable—development is not something just for those of us who want to live in the cities and expect that the people who live upcountry will not aspire to the same.
It just has to be done in an equitable way. And if that means that we have to make provisions for the dreams and aspirations of those who are living in and around the jungles, the true native Indians, then so be it.
In the bargain, if that means mining has to pay the bills, then that also.
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)
IRDA exposure draft on needs-based life insurance sales is a welcome step to reduce mis-selling, but will customers really share all the information especially if it is optional? How will prospect product matrix work for online life insurance?
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) recently announced guidelines on development and implementation of prospect product matrix by life insurance companies, which will help in needs-based sales. Will this help?
Sale of life insurance policies based on customer needs would surely help. There is a lower chance of buying a wrong policy and painful policy surrenders. IRDA’s step in this direction is welcome, but combining needs analysis and proposal in one form will be cumbersome to both customers and intermediaries. After all, the proposal form is needed only when the customer has agreed to buy a specific product while the needs analysis form will be used to determine the customer’s requirement which will be used to recommend one or more insurance products.
According to Vijay Sinha, senior vice president and head, marketing, Tata AIG Life Insurance, “IRDA’s initiative is most welcome as all mature insurance markets like the UK already have needs-based sales. The needs analysis and proposal form should be separate as its importance comes at different stages in the sales process. The fact-finding stage of the sales process should involve a needs analysis form. After understanding the customer’s requirements, the intermediary can come up with solutions and recommend product. When the customer approves the product, the proposal form will be used. It will confuse the customer if the needs analysis and proposal form are combined.”
IRDA exposure draft specifies that an insurer or a distributor must make “reasonable efforts” to obtain a consumer’s suitability information prior to making a recommendation. It means that customer suitability information is optional which will entail most of the customers bypassing the questions or intermediaries making half-hearted attempts to get answers. Suitability information means information that is reasonably appropriate to determine the suitability of a recommendation. E.g. age, annual Income, financial resources used for funding the purchase of the life insurance product, intended use of the life insurance product, financial objectives with time horizon, existing assets including investment and life insurance holdings, liquidity needs, liquid net worth, tax status, risk tolerance and so on.
Many insurance companies are not happy to adopt a standard proposal-cum-needs analysis form. While they agree on the need to have some mandatory questions to seek customer information, they feel that there should be flexibility in structuring the remaining questions. Insurance companies want to apply their own ingenuity in having questions framed in a sales-oriented manner; the fact finding will naturally lead to sales. They feel that IRDA approach should be flexible rather than prescriptive.
Online life insurance buying is popular with term life insurance as well as ULIPs. The exposure draft is silent about online life insurance. Will the ‘prospect product matrix’ be applicable to online life insurance sales, too? If not, what prevents an aged person from buying long-term online ULIP that is clearly not suitable for his/her needs?
An insurance intermediary is not a financial planner in most cases and hence a customer may be queasy about sharing financial information, especially giving income proof, expected inheritance, details of liabilities, expenditure and so on (as per the proposed form).
According to a senior official in one insurance company, “The customer should have the flexibility to refuse sharing of financial information in the needs analysis form. The prospective customer should state in writing that he wishes to buy the product without sharing his financial information. If it is made mandatory, it will turn-off some customers or the intermediary may end up filling something just to meet the requirement, both the things being undesirable.”
IRDA is seeking feedback from all stakeholders. Comments on the draft guidelines can be emailed to [email protected] on or before 29 February, 2012.
The government is moving ahead with plans of disinvestment in blue-chips through the auction route to raise about Rs14,500 crore within the current fiscal itself. While the ONGC stake sale is expected to yield Rs12,000 crore, the BHEL might fetch the government about Rs2,500 crore
New Delhi: The government is moving ahead with plans of disinvestment in blue-chips— ONGC and BHEL—through the auction route to raise about Rs14,500 crore within the current fiscal itself, reports PTI.
The decision on stake sale is likely to be taken at a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on 15th February, according to sources.
While the ONGC stake sale through the auction route is expected to yield Rs12,000 crore, the BHEL might fetch the government about Rs2,500 crore.
According sources, the exact amount of disinvestment and the price would be decided by the EGoM, which is headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
“The Department of Disinvestment (DoD) has sent the paper for ONGC stake sale to finance minister and a reply is expected within 2-3 days,” official sources said.
As regards ONGC, the government proposes to sell 5% equity through the auction route that allows promoters to dilute their stake in the company.
The government holds a 74.14% stake in ONGC and post the 5% stake sale, its holding would come down to 69.14%. At the current market price of Rs280 a piece, the stake sale would fetch the government Rs12,000 crore.
In case of BHEL, the government is likely to offload 10% stake.
Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has issued norms allowing promoters to sell stake by way of auction, through a separate window on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) that has to be completed within a day.
Earlier this month, the EGoM met to decide on the route for ONGC disinvestment, but the meeting remained inconclusive.
It also did not discuss BHEL disinvestment as heavy industries and public enterprises minister Praful Patel was not present.
The government had envisaged to raise Rs40,000 crore in the current fiscal through PSU disinvestment, but with over 10 months already over it could mop up only Rs1,145 crore.