UTI is celebrating its 50 years of existence, unashamed of two bail-outs with taxpayers' money
In February 2014, UTI Mutual Fund (UTIMF) launched its celebration of 50 years of operations without a trace of embarrassment or irony. Former finance minister P Chidambaram and SEBI chairman UK Sinha, who earlier headed UTIMF, flagged off the celebration.
A coffee table book of UTI’s history was released that day in the presence of almost all but two of its most controversial ex-chairmen in nearly four decades. One was the late MJ Pherwani (who grew UTI into a mammoth fixed-returns giving trust and development finance institution rolled in one, but set it up for a future fall) and the other was the late PS Subramanyam, who presided over its collapse, after it had already been seriously weakened. Did the coffee table book document its ignominious fall and split? How did UTIMF justify its claim of 50 years of glorious existence?
A pliant media is silent about this hoax. Now UTIMF, which had remained headless for a long interregnum under the UPA, wants to continue the celebrations with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in power. Media reports say the Fund has persuaded the government to issue a postage stamp to commemorate its 50 years of existence.
For those with short memories, here is a quick update. In July 2001, under ferocious public pressure, a BJP-led government, with Yashwant Sinha as finance minister, reacted with alarm to UTI’s decision to freeze the sale and purchase of its famous Unit-64 Scheme. The Scheme had been started in the year of UTI’s birth and finds no mention in its fake 50-year celebration.
Earlier, in 1999, UTI had survived another collapse with a Rs3,300-crore government bailout. It had a terrific opportunity to revive in the dotcom bubble, but chairman PS Subramanyam only ran it to the ground. In 2001, sharp criticism over continued dubious investments, collusion with brokers, betrayal of public trust and the setting up of yet another joint parliamentary committee to investigate the Ketan Parekh scam forced the government to split the investment behemoth into two.
One was UTI Special Undertaking (SUUTI) which acted as a holding company for certain unlisted investments and blocks of major listed investments and realty owned by UTI. The other was UTI Mutual Fund which is ‘celebrating’ 50 years of existence. Millions of Indians who invested in US-64 for higher returns and tax benefits will attest to the fact that there is no connection between the two entities. So how do the 50 years tot up?
The FTC alleges that T-Mobile used third-party billing to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from customers by hiding unauthorized charges in their phone bills about premium texting subscriptions that cost $9.99
T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere was quick to skirt responsibility this week after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint that said the mobile carrier bilked hundreds of millions of dollars from customers by hiding unauthorized charges in their phone bills.
“…We put in place procedures to protect our customers from unauthorized charges,” Legere said in an online statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, not all these third party providers acted responsibly—an issue the entire industry faced.”
The complaint, which seeks to recoup millions of dollars for consumers, centers around third-party providers and the clandestine practice of “cramming.”
According to the FTC:
In a process known as ‘third-party billing,’ a phone company places charges on a consumer’s bill for services offered by another company, often receiving a substantial percentage of the amount charged. When the charges are placed on the bill without the consumer’s authorization, it is known as “cramming.
The FTC alleges that T-Mobile used third-party billing to collect up to 40 percent of the total amount charged to customers. The fees were for purported premium texting subscriptions for content such as “flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip that typically cost $9.99,” according to the complaint.
Often the third-party charges were “bogus,” the complaint further alleges, and never authorized by the customer. And once they came through, the charges appeared buried and ambiguous on a customer’s bill, according to the complaint (See FTC graphic below).
Furthermore, the FTC alleges that in some cases T-Mobile continued to bill its customers “years after becoming aware of signs that the charges were fraudulent.”
“It’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays all its customers for these crammed charges.”
Look to the fine print
In his statement, Legere said that it is T-Mobile’s position that “customers should only pay for what they want and what they sign up for.” Well, it appears what customers sign up for with T-Mobile is the possibility of being scammed or “crammed” by a third-party provider.
From the company’s terms and conditions (Effective March 27, 2014):
Your Device can be used to purchase services and products from third-party providers and Charges for these purchases may be included on your T-Mobile bill. …We use filters to block spam messages, but we do not guarantee that you will not receive spam or other unsolicited messages, and we are not liable for such messages.
And once it appears on the bill (Again, under terms and conditions):
Billing. You agree to pay all charges we bill you or that were accepted or processed through your Device.
Got that? Accepted OR processed. So let’s review: It appears there’s no guarantee you won’t have to pay for unsolicited third-party charges if the charges are “processed” through your phone. Hmm.
One thing you can do to protect yourself is opt out of third-party purchases. T-Mobile offers the exemption but you have to do it yourself by visiting www.T-Mobile.com or calling Customer Care.
For more tips on protecting yourself from cramming and other types of cell phone fraud click here.
Speedy trains from main city stations to sights in various historical places would be a boon to tourists and would become very popular
Railway Minister, DV Sadananda Gowda will present his first budget on Tuesday and is widely expected to offer proposals that will ensure users get value for their money!
It may be recalled that he had stated earlier that passengers would be happy to pay more provided there was improvement in services and facilities to make travel a pleasure and not a pain.
There have been broad hints that, after all FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) in Railways would be allowed as this will enable all round improvement; introduce proposals for speed trains; extend tracks to enable great coverage; provide better handling facilities for both domestic and export freight by ensuring priority in movements. A tall order, but doable!
For example, the latest addition to the speedy movement covers the Delhi-Agra trip that was actually achieved in about 90 minutes. This, no doubt, will enable tourists, both domestic and foreign, to enjoy the ride, do the sight seeing in Agra/Delhi and return to base quickly.
Such speedy trains from main city stations to sights in various historical places would be a boon to tourists and would become very popular.
In fact, in the years ahead, Railways ought to be able to provide rail services directly from city centres to the airports. Decades ago, for instance, one could get off at the London Heathrow and take the tube to the city! Similar service linking the metro, mono rail, circular railways etc are available in many cities in the world. Why should India lag behind?
There is one other area that can be thought of and implemented. At the moment, there are no facilities available for Railway Travel Insurance. No doubt, in the case of accidents leading to unfortunate death and/or injury, ad hoc compensation not only the Railway administration but by State governments also.
So, why not work out a scheme that would enable every passenger to take a rail travel insurance at an additional (nominal) charge on the ticket, which may be made optional, and quantum of compensation is pre-determined and publicised?
Finally, while welcoming the FDI to bring in overall improvement in the Railway operations, government ought to seriously consider making it a Corporate body. Additionally, this opportunity to own and operate the railways, even if necessary sector wise, should be offered to Indian corporate giants. In such an event, they would become responsible for laying additional tracks, and/or lay double lines, work out the prospects for greater utilization of tracks, run dedicated freight corridors and offer super-service like a full-service airline on tracks?
Privatisation of Railways would also bring in much needed funds to the government for their enormous infrastructure projects on hand. All these will create tremendous opportunity for expanding the employment potential too.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)