Citizens' Issues
When Airtel doesn't even spare a District Collector!
The mobile operator collected excess charges from senior government officer Praveen Gedam, who at present is Municipal Commissioner at Nashik. Consumer Forum asked Airtel to pay Rs60,000 as compensation and refund Rs71,156 with interest to Dr Gedam    
 
The majority of mobile subscribers would tell you how the service provider takes them for a ride every time, like vanishing balance in prepaid account or unnecessary or unsubscribed for value added services (VAS) being added into their cost. And these mobile operators do not even spare top ranking government officials. Unfortunately, for Bharti Airtel, the officer turned out to be a vigilant one, who fought against the wrong billing and received justice in the District Consumer Forum.
 
The case relates with Dr Praveen Gedam, who at present is doing fantastic work as Municipal Commissioner at Nashik for the Kumbh Mela. While serving as Chief Executive of Latur Zilla Parishad at Latur, Dr Gedam, procured a new number and SIM card from Airtel. As suggested by the Airtel representative, he subscribed for Rs199 per month plan that included a talk time of 200 minutes and 199 free SMSes. The free calling service was provided under the closed user group (CUG) scheme. Dr Gedam also took an additional package of Rs99 per month that gave him free 200 SMSes per day. After this limit, the company told him any additional SMSes would be charged at 30 paisa per message. 
 
Dr Gedam continued this mobile connection even after his transfer as District Collector of Osmanabad and then as Director, GSDA, Pune (with additional charge of Deputy Director General, YASHADA, Pune). All these are posts kept him extremely busy in his official work having virtually no time for other things.
 
On 24 April 2014, to his utter shock, Dr Gedam received a bill of Rs5,980.96 from Airtel for his mobile number. When he checked previous bills, he found that the service provider has taken undue benefit and charged him much more than agreed upon. Several times, Dr Gedam spoke with the Customer Service Centre of Airtel. He also sent several emails to the company, but there was no satisfactory reply. 
 
When he sent a legal notice, the company said there was nothing wrong in its billing. In fact, even after several attempts, Airtel failed to provide any satisfactory explanation to Dr Gedam and suddenly on 4 July 2014, disconnected his connection. Due to this he had to face several issues in his official duty, especially during the famous Pandharpur Yatra. Under protest, on 5 July 2014, Mr Gedam paid his bill and his connection was restored by Airtel.
 
The Airtel representative at its Customer Service Centre told Dr Gedam that due to some new guideline issued by TRAI, his package was limited to 100 free SMS per day, after which he was charged 50 paisa per SMS. The company, however, failed to share with him a copy of the guideline issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
 
In his complaint before the District Consumer Forum, Solapur, Dr Gedam, said, "In any case, this change in plan or this guideline was never intimated/ communicated to complainant-consumer (Mr Gedam) by any means and/ or mode, nor did the complainant give his consent to change the mutually agreed upon plan in any way at any time. Indeed, the bills that are being sent to complainant till this date continues to mention 200 free SMS per day. In view of this, the reasoning given by the call centre for charging all SMS over 100th SMS on a given day is not acceptable and valid."
 
Later on 25 January 2012, TRAI revised its guidelines and increased the limit for sending number of SMS to 200 per day. "This also means, Airtel was legally bound not to allow delivery of 201st SMS from any mobile on a given day," Dr Gedam contended.
 
Further while checking previous bills, he found that since May 2012, Airtel unilaterally changed rate of SMS to Re1 (for local) and Rs1.50 for national SMS from 30 paisa for both types of messages, as agreed upon while procuring the connection. 
 
Dr Gedam said, he received an email on 24 May 2012 from Airtel, but no change was mentioned in the email or in any SMS. "Airtel introduced this only in second page of itemised bill.  "Usually no consumer goes into details of how many calls/ SMS he has sent during last month and knowing this very well, the change in rates were mentioned in the itemised billing file only, that too not on its first page but hidden somewhere else. There is another reason that this mischief by company did not come to the notice of the consumer at that time because the number of SMS over and above 200 per day were far and few and overall increase in the bills was not much for so many months after change of rates. Therefore, there was no reason to be alerted by any increase in the bills. Actually, for most of the months, even after changes in rates are done in this fashion, the bill has increased only marginally or not at all, thereby not making the consumer aware of any such unilateral and illegal increase in the rates by the company," Dr Gedam said in his complaint.
 
What was more shocking in this episode was, the company claimed (and billed) that on 17 April 2014, Dr Gedam sent as many as 1,451 SMSes taking his monthly messages to a whopping 9,360 SMSes in that billing month. Since, Dr Gedam was using an old Nokia handset; it was not possible for him to send multiple SMSes in single stroke. In addition, his 201st SMS should have been blocked by Airtel, as per the TRAI guidelines.
 
Dr Gedam said he was denied the facility of free 200 SMS per day and for days like the one mentioned above, he was charged Re1 or Rs1.50 per SMS.
 
During the hearing before the District Consumer Forum, Airtel contended that as per the Telecom Consumer and Redressal of Grievances Regulation, 2012 and Section 7-B of the Telegraph Act, 1885, the consumer should have approached the Tribunal instead of the Forum. However, this contention was rejected by the Forum. 
 
After going through the documents, the Forum said from May 2012, Airtel changed the subscription plan of Dr Gedam, and failed to provide any supporting document to show that the consumer was intimated. 
 
While holding Airtel responsible for making one-sided changes in subscription plan and disconnecting Dr Gedam's mobile connection without prior intimation at a time when he was serving as a responsible senior government official, the Consumer Forum asked the mobile company to pay Rs50,000 as compensation, refund Rs71,156 excess charges with 9% interest from 30 July 2014 and Rs10,000 as cost.
 

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COMMENTS

arun adalja

2 years ago

do not keep balance money with airtel otherwise they will eat away your money by any means.i have balance money in my dth account and I went abroad now they are asking me even if you do not use they will take that balance money.

manoharlalsharma

2 years ago

Atal Pension Yojana made more attractive but It can be ABOLISH as in the case of millenior bonds issued by IFCI in PUBLIC at Rs/-10,000/-

manoharlalsharma

2 years ago

Atal Pension Yojana made more attractive but It can be ABOLISH as in the case of millenior bonds issued by IFCI in PUBLIC at Rs/-10,000/-

REPLY

Shirish Sadanand Shanbhag

In Reply to manoharlalsharma 2 years ago

Mr Manoharlal Sharma, what you wanted to say here?

Atal Pension Yojana (APY) is one of the worst pension scheme of the Central Government.

There are two stages in this APY.
First stage is corpus building stage. In this stage, person joins between the age 18 and 40 years.
Second stage is Pension getting stage, which starts when investor attains 60 years of age.

In Corpus building stage, which is for a period of 42 years to 20 years, depending upon when you join, at age 18 years or 40 years.
Whatever the age at which you join, your corpus is built at 8% per annum interest.

Second stage which starts at 60 years for all, continues in your life time, gives you pension at rate 7% per annum intertest, on the corpus built over the years. It is very poor interest rate.

Following are the worst qualities of this scheme.
You can build up your pension, maximum of Rs.5000 per month. Even a person of age 40 joins this scheme today, after 20 years (the minimum waiting period for this pension scehme) will get pension of Rs.5000 per month, which is good enough, even for a poor family of two, to lead hand to mouth living only for one week in a month, in the year 2035.

There is no possibility of mortgaging the corpus fund of this pension scheme or partial encashment of pension (or corpus), once pension starts. No doubt, partial encashment of this petty amount of pension will lead to more difficulties to the pensioner.

I have devised income tax free pension scheme by using your Public Provident Fund Account (PPF), to get you the pension from seventh year of opening the PPF account, with erosion of the PPF a/c balance, and from the sixthteenth year of opening of your PPF A/c, without erosion of your PPF Account's balance.

To know about this scheme, please Email me on:
[email protected]

Shirish Sadanand Shanbhag

2 years ago

Very few customers do such fight for private telecom service providers' illegal squeezing in billing their customers.

Dr.Gedam, an IAS Officer, is eligible to get his full telephone bill (whatever be its cost) reimbursed from the Government. Instead of doing this easy method, he proved himself a role model to all other subscribers of private telecom service providers by fighting and willing in Consumer Forum.

To redress the Grievances of Government's MTNL or BSNL subscribers, respective Department is arranging Telephone Adalat once in three months. However, these private telecom service providers do not hold this adalats, and one have to take up their grievances to Consumer Forum, which is the right place for all the telephone service providers, including MTNL & BSNL.

Meenal Mamdani

2 years ago

Three cheers for Dr. Gedam.

If an independent body like Better Business Bureau in USA can be formed in India, it would help the consumers a lot.

S.S.A.Zaidi

2 years ago

All service providers should realize now that they cant get away with impunity for their dishonesty .
zaidi

S.S.A.Zaidi

2 years ago

All service providers should realize now that they cant get away with impunity for their dishonesty .
zaidi

Vaibhav Dhoka

2 years ago

Kudos to Dr Gedam for taking his case to logical end even though he is too busy with his official responsibility,this is case with most operators I share my case here in January I took Rs 96 recharge for sms pack for 90 days and 996 sms.On 6th day I was charged Rs 22 when I complained to IDEA next day PRO said charges are correctly levied and you can make only 100 sms per day when I asked to show the above condition he could not elaborate.Next day again another PRO called and she accepted their fault and credited Rs 22 back to mu account after she was told that matter will be taken with TRAI. This way they cheat many petty callers who cannot afford time to take up this issue with companies.And thus cheating goes on unalterably.

REPLY

Shirish Sadanand Shanbhag

In Reply to Vaibhav Dhoka 2 years ago

Congratulations, Mr. Dhoka. Very few private telephone service users like you, complain to get their right.
Even TRAI accepts complaint by Email against any telecom service provider.

India Needs To Decouple
India should evolve its own strategy which protects our interest, says Prof R Vaidyanathan, at a seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation
 
“The India story is just starting and we need to look at every pothole as an opportunity,” says Dr R Vaidyanathan, professor of finance, IIM-Bangalore and dean, Centre of Economic Studies at Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). He was speaking on “Coming Global Economic Crisis: Will India Go Down?” at a seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai.
 
Addressing a packed hall, Prof Vaidyanathan—rated one of the most popular teachers among all IIMs—brought alive a host of current economic issues by punctuating his talk with innumerable asides that had the audience in splits. He said: “With global economic power increasingly shifting to the East, India is well poised to emerge as the most favoured destination of foreign investment.” For this he said, “We need reforms, not just in share market, retrospective taxes but also at the state level… We need to do away with numerous restrictions and taxes and provide more credit to the unorganised sector. We also need to close down many useless Central ministries, like education, agriculture and information & broadcasting; and have only 8-10 ministries at the Centre.”
 
Busting several myths about global and Indian economy, the ‘teacher who is interested in learning’ said that the growth of our economy is domestic demand-driven and powered by domestic household savings and not due to FIIs’ (foreign institutional investors) or foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. “Non-corporate sectors, which are community-oriented and family-driven, are the engines of growth in India. But a blind adoption of foreign methodology and definitions has led to the government ignoring the real engine of growth—the unincorporated sector. This sector survives, despite lack of access to formal funding, extortion and harassment from multiple government agencies as well as the police and without access to any form of social security. Yet, they, and individuals, toil and put away money in various assets, giving India’s economy the security of a high savings rate,” Prof Vaidyanathan added.
 
Talking about the Greek crisis, Prof Vaidyanathan said, “The European countries are calling their economic problems as a global crisis, for past several decades. At the most, we can call Greek crisis an Anglo-Saxon crisis. No way is it a global crisis.” The debt-driven model of growth in the West leaves those countries vulnerable to such crises from time to time. The West will take more than 80 quarters to recover,” said he. “In this scenario, it is better for India to be more de-coupled.”
 
According to Prof Vaidyanathan, India must evolve its own strategy which protects its interests. He added that we also need to focus on tax havens in search of the lost and last dollar. It is estimated that nearly $18 trillion is in tax havens and the G-20 countries are trying to regulate or get back this money. Indian money in tax havens is estimated to be between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion.
 
Prof Vaidyanathan’s talk on the economy covered a wide spectrum of issues—the nature of the domestic economy, the role of foreign funds, structure of domestic savings, role of gold, the need to fund non-corporate sector, market and access and political linkages. 

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3 missing links of Indradhanush, the banking reform blueprint
Where is customer service, rewards for social initiatives and giving PSBs special powers to tackle large borrowers in the seven steps of banking reforms labelled ‘Indradhanush’?
 
The Central Government has announced last week a rainbow of reforms to revitalise the public sector banks, which are struggling to remain above water due to a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond their control. These reforms come as a breath of fresh air and hopefully meet the expectations of banks as well as the banking public since the public sector banks control more than 70% of the banking business in our country.  
 
These initiatives, named by the Finance Ministry as ‘Indradhanush’(rainbow) of reforms are intended to improve the functioning of banks and help them to perform better through several measures including injection of capital and improved corporate governance. 
 
The seven point reform agenda comprises of the following:
 

1. Appointment of heads of public sector banks:

Some time back, the government had decided to bifurcate the post of Chairman and Managing Director of all banks into two posts, a Non-Executive Chairman and a separate Managing Director and CEO for each bank on the lines of private sector banks. But appointments to these posts were held up for a long time pending completion of formalities.  The Ministry has now announced appointments for the following banks:
 
a. Bank of Baroda: While Mr PS Jayakumar, MD & CEO of VBHC Value Homes, has been appointed Managing Director and CEO, Mr Ravi Venkatesan, an independent director at Infosys, has been appointed Non-executive Chairman of Bank of Baroda.  
 
b. Canara Bank: Mr Rakesh Sharma, MD of Laxmi Vilas Bank has been appointed as the new MD & CEO, and Mr TN Manoharan, Director at Tech Mahindra’s public health foundation, has been appointed Non-executive Chairman of Canara Bank. 
 
c. Bank of India: Mr MO Rego, currently Deputy MD at IDBI Bank, has been appointed MD & CEO and Mr G Padmanabhan, retired Executive Director of the RBI has been appointed Non-executive Chairman of Bank of India. 
 
d. Punjab National Bank: Ms Usha Ananthasubramanian, who is currently Chairperson of Bhartiya Mahila Bank has been appointed MD & CEO of Punjab National Bank. 
 
e. IDBI Bank: Mr Kishore Kharat Piraji, Executive Director at Union Bank of India, has been appointed as MD & CEO of IDBI Bank. 
 
f. Vijaya Bank:  Mr G Narayanan, retired Executive Director of Indian Overseas Bank, has been appointed as the new Non-executive Chairman of Vijaya Bank. 
 
g. Indian Bank: Mr TCV Subramanian, retired CMD of Exim Bank, has been appointed the Non-executive Chairman of Indian Bank. 
 
You will observe from the above that the government has appointed MD & CEOs for two banks from the private sector, which is a departure from the earlier practice of promoting existing Executive Directors from other PSBs. The government has, therefore, said that these appointments are subject to the outcome of a writ petition pending in the Supreme Court filed by a former official of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation challenging the government advertisement inviting applications for posts of MD & CEO in top five public sector banks, for which the appointments have been made now as above. 
 
In addition to the above appointments, the selection of MD & CEOs for two other banks and non-executive chairman for the remaining six PSBs is yet to be completed and this is expected to be announced in the next three months. 
 

2. Setting up of Bank Board Bureau:

The Indian government proposes to set up a Bank Board Bureau to serve as a watchdog to monitor key performance of state-run banks. This is supposed to be launched on 1 April 2016, and would take over the appointments role from the government and evaluate strategies for PSBs.
 
This is also the "first step towards a banking investment company which will hold all the assets of the banks, the share-holding assets of the government with the banks," Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, had said.
 
Whether this will be an extra cog in the wheel of the banking system or an institution of value to support the ailing banks will be known in due course, but hopefully it will not be one more tier to delay decisions. 
 

3. Capitalisation of Public Sector Banks:

The government has proposed to capitalise state banks by Rs70,000 crore over the next four years. The first tranche of Rs25,000 crore will be disbursed this year, of which Rs10,000 will go to weak banks.
 
This is against the total capital of Rs2.40 lakh crore, required for all the PSBs as per the earlier estimate of RBI to meet the Basel III requirements before the deadline of 2019. There is, therefore, still a gap of Rs1.70 lakh crore to be raised either by ploughing back from profits or by raising from the market. With the falling profitability of banks and consequent lower valuation of these banks in the stock market, this appears to be a tall order unless the government decides to pump in further capital in the coming years. 
 

4. De-stressing assets of banks:

The government will concentrate on de-stressing the stressed assets of banks for which a special cell has been set up to manage projects and the government was in consultation with various stakeholders in order to facilitate approvals, Financial Services Secretary said.  
 
The deteriorating asset quality and their toll on the profitability of PSBs have been the burning topic for the banks, regulators and the government. To meet the situation, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently announced a number of steps including takeover of units, which have failed to honour the terms and conditions of restructuring agreed to with the banks. 
 
Though these steps have created a sense of responsibility on the part of the defaulting promoters, it is necessary to further strengthen the process by legally empowering the banks and quicken the whole process of takeover, while at the same time protecting the banks from the adverse effects of long drawn litigation arising from their actions.  
 

5. Empowerment of bank managements:

The government will empower and make it easier for PSBs to hire laterally at middle level thereby giving them a leg up in hiring people for specialised jobs as well. The government was even looking into the legal position to allow banks to make campus recruitment, the Finance Minister said. 
 
There is a proposal to introduce Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOPs) for the PSU bank managements which may help in improving productivity at management level.
 
There is a need to incentivise performance for all employees to get the best out of every employee of the bank. At present incentives are provided only at the level of MDs and EDs which do not help in improving the performance of the officers and the workman staff, who need to be incentivised to give them a sense of accomplishment. 
 

6. Framework of accountability:

The government is revising the accountability and performance evaluation methods for PSBs for better results.  It is proposed to move away from the previous method focused on top-line growth or balance sheet expansion to one based on return on asset and return on equity. 
 
What is equally important is to make them accountable for their actions and inactions, including statutory compliance, customer service and more importantly customer satisfaction, which alone can help them to improve their business and profitability. 
 

7. Governance reforms:

“Comprehensive transformation framework is to ensure banks can prepare for the future, have world class governance and autonomy,” Mr Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Finance has said. He also reiterated Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pledge of zero political intervention into PSBs' commercial operations. 
                                                           
It is to be seen as to how far they will be successful in achieving this lauded objective.
 

Will these steps re-ignite the struggling PSBs?

 
There are three missing links in the whole process of reforms announced by the government. 
 
Firstly, the mission to revitalise banks is conspicuous by the absence of important stakeholder in the business of banking i.e. the banks’ customers. The customer service initiatives should have formed a part and parcel of the rainbow of reforms to enable the PSBs to face competition from the private banks that have certainly an edge over the PSBs as reflected in their performance. In fact, RBI is yet to come out with a comprehensive charter of customers’ rights, which alone can restore the trust and confidence of the public in the state run banks. 
 
Secondly, public sector banks are called upon to perform several social initiatives including opening of branches in remote areas, without being properly compensated for their role in helping the poor and the downtrodden.  While it is perfectly in order for the government to seek the help of PSBs for improving standard of life of people in the villages, it is necessary to reward them suitably depending on their performance in these areas by giving them appropriate concessions in statutory pre-emption like lower statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) and cash reserve ratio (CRR), or such other forms of dispensation to help them recover the additional burden of serving the lower strata of our society, who depend solely on the PSBs for their banking needs. 
 
Thirdly, the high value non-performing assets (NPAs) have been the bane of PSBs, and very little has been done by the government to strengthen the hands of the PSBs even though SARFAESI Act has helped them to a limited extent.  A glaring instance where a powerful industrialist and large borrower with multiple banks could successfully scuttle the efforts of the consortium of banks to declare him as a wilful defaulter, leave alone recovery, is a grim reminder of how PSBs have been taken for a ride by the politically powerful heavyweights right under the very nose of both the RBI and the Central Government. Unless and until the government takes steps to strengthen the hands of banks through special legal powers to tackle large borrowers, there is little hope for any improvement in the performance of banks in our country. 
 
All said and done, only time will tell whether ‘Indradhanush’ reforms will prove to be the mythological ‘sanjeevani’ (miracle cure) for the ailing PSBs and bring them back to robust health. What is crucial for the government is to walk the talk and implement these reforms in right earnest without allowing them to remain only in paper.    
 
(The author is a financial analyst, writing for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’.)
 

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COMMENTS

MG Warrier

2 years ago

I agree with Gopalakrishnan. As I had mentioned in my article on the same subject, outsourcing and transfering work to other agencies or private individuals will do more harm in financial sector where skill needs are different from, say, construction industry or coal mines! Employee morale, continuous learning at all levels (this is where we feel the loss of institutions like Bankers Training College where middle level management personnel were groomed) and in general HR management from recruitment to retirement are areas which are presently neglected as decisions are taken by generalists with no banking background.

MG Warrier

2 years ago

I agree with Gopalakrishnan. As I had mentioned in my article on the same subject, outsourcing and transfering work to other agencies or private individuals will do more harm in financial sector where skill needs are different from, say, construction industry or coal mines! Employee morale, continuous learning at all levels (this is where we feel the loss of institutions like Bankers Training College where middle level management personnel were groomed) and in general HR management from recruitment to retirement are areas which are presently neglected as decisions are taken by generalists with no banking background.

Gopalakrishnan T V

2 years ago

High sounding jargons and words are no doubt soothing to the ears and can be a boost to capital market sentiments but the PSBs performance based on the Indra Dhanush ie seven prongs – appointments, bank board bureau, capitalization, de-stressing PSBs, empowerment, framework of accountability and governance reforms is not guaranteed as long as the Human Resources issue which is a major risk right from top to bottom faced by the banks now is not adequately and quickly addressed.
Appointment.
This is a major risk the PSBs face as the Boards of PSBs as of today are neither professional nor committed nor accountable and knowledgeable. The selection of Directors to the Board leaves much to be desired. Directors require thorough knowledge of banking business along with the skills to develop business with an understanding of the Economy, the risks that can emanate from the Government Policies, Regulatory Prescriptions, the linkages with the international economy and the changes that can have a bearing on the operations of banks , technological advancements and the need to ensure close compatability of the human resources skill and the technology on an ongoing basis etc etc. Any Tom Dick and Harry cannot find a place on Banks boards. Who will ensure this in our scheme of things where the Government, the bureaucrats and politicians have a say always and everywhere directly or indirectly in the functioning of banks. Appointment of Auditors is equally crucial as they decide how the balance sheets of banks should appear and decide as to how to project the assets and liabilities camouflaging many items in consultation with the Board or the key person identified by the Board.
The top managemnt, middle management and Human resources at all levels need lot of exposure, knowldge, expertis in specialised areas like Forex, derivatives treasury management, Credit portfolio, Asset Liability Management and Risk management etc. The tendency to save costs on training to HR is a major casualty in Banking and even the regiulator seems to have ignored this aspect with the Closure of the Bankers Training College. This has badly affected the transmission of Monetary Policy and the over all working of banks. It is a surprise to observe that many employees even do not know the existence of the RBI leave alone the regulatory role of RBI, ist role as monetary authority etc. This has already impacted the working of banks to a great extent.
Bank Board Bureau:
The Constitution of the Board and the mode of Selection of the Board Members and its distinct Role to enhance the improvements in PSBs functioning is not very clear and convincing.
Capitalisation:
The present approach to capitalise the banks using Budgetary resources is highly questionable. The banks should generate reasonable profits to enhance capital and minimise the capital requirements by minimising the risks through risky and sticky advances and investments. Here the professionalism natters a lot. Banks should know how to conduct its advances portfolio and should bring the envisaged discipline on the part of the borrowers and the banks themselves. Rating of borrowers and levying of penalty for misconduct in the utilisation of banks funds need to be seriously viwed and made a punishable offence. Capital infusion if at all found essential it should be linked to the performance of Banks Boards, Top management and the contribution that the banks make towards credit expansion, finacial Inclusion, agricultural expansion, industrial growth, support to exports etc. Norms need to be fixed before induction of tax payers money.RBI's rating and opinion should be sought before providing additional capital .
Destressing PSBs and empowerment.
The interference by the Government Banks Bureau and the regulators hould be kept to the bearest minimum. This is easier said than done.
Frame work of accountability and Governance Reforms.
Need proper definition, implementation and periodical examination by an agency taking RBI into Confidence. Can this happen in our set up?

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