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Acting on a complaint filed by an NGO, the AP police have also frozen bank accounts of two franchisees of Speak Asia operating in the state and seized laptops, desktop computers, bank pass books and other material related to their MLM activities
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Andhra Pradesh police has arrested two persons running a franchisee of Speak Asia online Pte Ltd and frozen their bank accounts. Vijaywada-based Corporate Fraud Watch Society, a non-government organisation (NGO) had filed a complaint against the company, its promoters, directors, secretaries, representatives, employees and distributors.
In a statement, Dr Mahender Kumar Rathod, superintendent of police, economic offences wing, CID, Andhra Pradesh, said, "The CID once again appeals to the general public not to believe the deceitful promises given by this type of companies. It is pertinent to say that the amount of Rs3 lakh deposited by the franchise in AP have been frozen by the Reserve Bank of India since the company has no authorisation/registration under the Companies Act."
Syama Sundar, secretary of the Corporate Frauds Watch Society had filed the complaint, following which the police, arrested Devireddy (D) Srinivas Reddy and Lanka Venkata Ayyappa (LVA) Swamy on Sunday. Both were operating franchises of Speak Asia in the state. The police also froze their bank accounts and seized their laptops, desktop computers, bank pass books and other material pertaining to MLM activities. The additional chief metropolitan magistrate, Vijaywada, has sent both, Mr Reddy and Mr Swamy to judicial custody.
D Srinivas Reddy was working as a chartered accountant in a private company before joining and becoming a franchise of Speak Asia, about five months back. He had confessed to enrolled three panellists and the police are further analysing his laptop. LVA Swamy is a computer technician. He joined and become franchisee of Speak Asia along with Mr Reddy. However, he was using Mr Reddy's office and facilities for all his transactions with the company, the police said.
On 25th June, the Vijaywada unit of the CID conducted a surprise check under the supervision of deputy superintendent, YV Ramana Kumar, on the residence of Mr Reddy and Mr Swamy.
The Andhra Pradesh police had registered a case under Section 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 4, 5 and 6, read with Section 2(c), 3 of the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978.
In Andhra Pradesh alone, around 30,000 persons were enrolled with Speak Asia. The company has no registration in India under the Companies Act 1956. Likewise, Speak Asia has been running the money circulation business illegally without any authorisation from the competent authority in India. "This is a bogus company having 150-170 franchises in India, among them the two above mentioned persons are from AP," the police statement said.
Moneylife has reported on how the Kerala state government is coming down heavily on "get-rich-quick" schemes, mushrooming across the state. The crime branch of the Kerala police had arrested promoters of two such schemes, Tycoon Empire International and Bizarre group of companies. (Read: "Kerala gets tough with money swindlers and MLM companies".)
One of our readers has informed that as part of its ongoing operation to curb dubious MLM schemes, the Kerala police banned the meeting of Amway, a popular MLM company. According to the reports, about 300 distributors of Amway had gathered at a hotel in Thrissur. However, the police declined to give them any permission for a meeting. The Kerala director general of police has also cautioned people against the illegal network marketing.
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In the absence of official guidelines on the quality and price of stents, different hospitals are charging different amounts for these critical implants
Some prominent hospitals in Mumbai are over-charging patients for stents, which they procure privately, as most patients are uninformed about the cost and quality of these tiny mesh tubes that are used to prop up open heart arteries.
Medical professionals are disturbed that there are no official standards to check the manufacture, sale and use of this critical device, which could endanger the patients undergoing the medical procedure.
"The stents do not have an MRP (maximum retail price) so hospitals charge according to their own discretion," said a senior doctor at one of these hospitals, requesting anonymity. "The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) does not have guidelines regarding the cost of stents. And it does not have any guidelines on the import of these implants,"
When Moneylife inquired at some hospitals in Mumbai, we found they charged anything from Rs1 lakh to Rs2.5 lakh for drug-coated stents. But hospital staff refused to give any other details about the device-whether it is about the companies making the implant or on the advice given to patients.
Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, in suburban Andheri, charged the most. Patients had to pay Rs2 lakh for a medicated stent. Lilavati Hospital, in suburban Bandra, said it charged Rs1.30 lakh-Rs1.50 lakh, whereas Hiranandani Hospital in Thane mentioned about Rs1 lakh-Rs1.20 lakh for a stent.
The difference in rates between hospitals is attributed to each hospital purchasing stents at different rates on negotiations with the supplier. Also, hospitals say they add on charges for handling and storage of the items. Clearly, they are taking advantage of the absence of guidelines to charge patients at their own rates.
Stents are tiny devices made of metal or fibre which are inserted through blood vessels to keep arteries open in the heart. They are also placed in the neck, the legs and other parts of the body to prevent conditions such as stroke. But research in recent years has suggested that stents are overused by doctors and that drugs may be a cheaper, safer and more effective way for many patients to avoid heart attacks or strokes.
"The stent is delivered by the distributor to the hospital and he gives them a price range, which means that the price is negotiable," a source at one of the hospitals said. Further, the hospitals usually get a lower rate as they purchase the items in bulk, but they do not pass this discount to patients.
The doctor usually has no say on what the hospital charges, the source explained. Sometimes, however, concerned about the financial position of the patient, a doctor may direct him to a particular hospital where the charges for the stent and the procedure are more reasonable.
Interestingly, medical insurance companies that are particular about verification of medical expenditure to be reimbursed, have been found to be lenient about the cost of stents and are known to have cleared the cost of the device even without corresponding evidence of its purchase. In fact, while mediclaim lays the parameters for bed charges, there are no guidelines on the cost of the stent.
Insurance rules commonly stipulate that the bed charges should not be more than 1% of the sum assured. So patients are known to register for a lower-cost room category to be able to claim a higher amount on cost of the implant. The cost of the stent does not change with the class in which the patient is admitted.
According to Shreeraj Deshpande, head-health, Future Generali India Insurance Co, "Hospitals do a bulk purchase of consumables, but do not transfer the differential benefit to the insurance company or the patient. Prices vary across the importer/marketing agencies and the batch/year of import, which further adds to the difference in costing. We do not ask for the stent invoice if it is mentioned in the consolidated bill and the amount is not unexpectedly high."
Rajagopal Gopalan, operations & claims head, Bharti AXA General Insurance, has a different approach. "We have found price discrepancy between stents of the same company for bills coming from different hospitals. We check the invoice price. Only the invoice price is paid and handling charges, if any, are not paid," Mr Gopalan says. "We do case management with the help of TPA (third party administrator) to find out the exact price of the stent of that particular make. Most often, hospitals buy them in bulk, hence they would not have individual invoices. We request for invoices or the box. Most of the time price is not printed on the stent box. With the help of the TPA, we determine the exact price of the stent."
"Most of the time the hospitals buy stents from one or two companies in bulk, so that patient doesn't have much of a choice. They are forced to use what the hospital provides," said the senior doctor.
Abbot Laboratories, Boston Scientific Corp and Johnson & Johnson are among the prominent stent manufacturers globally. In the past fortnight, New Jersey-based J&J announced that it would stop selling drug-coated heart stents by the end of the year, apparently over safety concerns and competition from rival products.
In the United States, the practise is that the price is marked on such implant items by the FDA. "They put an MRP at which price it can be sold. In the US there are guidelines, but here the FDA doesn't have any guidelines on implants that are imported and used in India," the senior doctor said. "There is a discrepancy in the amount and the government needs to put an MRP on the stent."
Once the government lays down guidelines it will be a race among hospitals to charge less for stents to attract patients.
The sooner the ruling UPA and opposition parties seek a vote from the people the better. But both sides may not be prepared to face the wrath of the aam aadmi yet
Over six and a half decades after attaining independence and later declaring ourselves a Sovereign, Democratic, Republic, we are living in a state of uncontrolled, dysfunctional anarchy today.
In our own amchi Mumbai, a veteran journalist is shot on a busy road in broad daylight, a woman is raped and the body dumped in a suburban train, kids are kidnapped with demands for ransom, newly-constructed flyovers are cracking up, the list of scamsters whether in the Adarsh or the 2G scandal is unending, now corporate bosses, even some Members of Parliament and a union minister are cooling their heels in jail for the first time, as some others still roam free.
The stark reality is that we citizens are mute witnesses to a circus, with clowns like the Digvijayas and Ramdevs raving and ranting, without an effective ringmaster. So who is calling the shots?
The last parliamentary election in 2009 which put UPA-II in the driver's seat was a fractured mandate, in the first-past-the-winning-post electoral system. The Congress and its allies netted less than a third of the popular vote. The combined opposition agrees to disagree, as is evident with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties.
In Mumbai, less than 42%-well below even half the city's eligible population-cared to exercise their franchise. Among those who did cast their vote, many were transported to the poll booth and even paid in cash or kind (liquor continues to be an effective bait). Many voted in place of the absentee middle and upper class people who chose to go out of town with the family for an outing on voting day.
No government can claim to speak for the entire people, even though the writ of a government applies also to those who have voted against it and to those that did not vote at all. It is only systemic convenience that allows a government, with a wafer-thin majority, to speak, act and arrogate unto itself the right to steamroll over the people.
The government's apathy, gross misgovernance, maladministration, non-responsiveness to serious matters, coupled with all-pervading corruption perpetrated by the babu-neta-goonda raj has resulted in a massive confidence and trust deficit in the elected representatives, who have been found to be busy lining their pockets, by dipping their fingers into the MPLAD (Member of Parliament Local Area Development) funds, coming together to hike their own remuneration and allowances, and enjoying heavily subsidised sumptuous biryani without observing the Q in parliament or assembly canteens. All this raises a big question mark about the sincerity of the elected representatives to represent the people and requires civil society to step in to stop the rot being perpetrated by them.
At no time, since independence, have we witnessed an attempt to listen in to conversations in the offices of the union finance minister, the de facto number two in the government, by planting bugs, while the union home minister terms it as a "non-event".
It has been revealed in response to RTI queries that former ministers for railways and fertilizers attended only 15% of the cabinet meetings.
Article 370 of the Constitution on Kashmir has not been abrogated yet, although the then prime minister had promised that it was to be only a temporary provision.
The prime minister publicly pats the disgraced communications minister even after the CBI finds a prima facie case. The minister for human resources development (HRD) is saddled with the responsibility of the communications ministry, and immediately on taking over challenges the numbers in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
This minister, along with three senior cabinet colleagues goes to Delhi airport and then to a five-star hotel to negotiate with Ramdev Baba, nicknamed by some as sarkari sadhu, and then bad mouth the yoga guru.
In the middle of the night, Delhi police lathicharge and teargas men, women and children on a silent protest at Ramlila grounds, a la Jallianwalla Bagh.
The fine on the union rural development minister, enhanced by the Supreme Court, is paid by the state of Maharashtra and a judge of the Supreme Court wonders how the minister continues in office.
While the HRD minister also holds charge of the communications ministry; the finance minister presides over not less than 35 committees of groups of ministers. When do they get the time to discharge their duties?
A tainted secretary is appointed chief vigilance commissioner; a former chief justice of India under the scanner is appointed as the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission; a corrupt Karnataka chief justice is transferred to Sikkim where the legal community launches a protest. There are scams and scams-the shame of the Commonwealth Games, the 2G licence scandal, Adarsh, and perhaps more that will pop up.
The government has yet to get the Direct Taxes Code and an amendment to the Companies Act passed in parliament, and it is not making much effort to fast-track the Satyam multi-crore fraud prosecution, even though the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States has heavily penalised the auditors.
Right to Information (RTI) activists along with the media, have played a key role in exposing the wrong-doings, with the CAG providing the numbers like in the 2G and Reliance K-G Basin matters, and the judiciary is monitoring the action being taken.
The so-called civil society will have to broaden its base, by getting many more non-political professionals and individuals on board, to propel action. The war of words (as the joke goes in Delhi) between 'Sibal Society' and Civil Society must stop. People have taken it on themselves by coming out, because the neta-babu-goonda nexus has virtually hijacked the legislative process; rushing through with some measures, but holding back on others, even getting some matters passed through the backdoor and planting cronies at sensitive positions. Their argument that only they, as the elected representatives, can decide on matters, does not pass the muster. And for the simple reason that they have not been elected by a sizeable majority.
We have seen our so-called netas on the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels misbehaving and throwing agenda papers and currency notes on the floor of the House, also abusing and assaulting their opponents in full public view. The Representation of People's Act needs to be amended to incorporate the "Right to Recall" those representatives who have failed in the performance of their elected duties.
The Lokpal Bill, drafted jointly, is the need of the hour. It should cover all, right from the top-be it the president, the prime minister, ministers at the Centre or in the states, the superior judiciary, the armed forces, all constitutional authorities including the CAG, CBI, CVC, CIC, CEC, civil society, heads of corporate India, the regulators and professionals, need to be brought under the purview of not a bulky 11-member group, but a manageable three-member Lokpal team, set up along the lines of the Election Commission.
The appointment and termination of these members must be decided by parliament, and not the executive or Cabinet. The other persons to be covered down the hierarchy must be left to local functionaries.
The earlier the Congress Party and the opposition parties seek a vote of confidence, the better. As a result of what is happening all around, both sides are unprepared to face the wrath of the aam Bharatiya aadmi yet!
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant turned activist.)