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The Moneylife campaign to streamline and speed up issuance of passports has resulted in TCS launching an online payment system, which will reduce tout menace as well as absenteeism of applicants who take appointments but do not turn up
In a major step that would reduce absenteeism of around 20% passport applicants per day, who take appointment but do not turn up and prevent alleged block booking of appointments by illegal agents, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the private operator in partnership with the Passport Division of ministry of external affairs (MEA), has launched the online payment system for passport applications.
The company has provided various options for online payment in a very inclusive way as those who are not Internet-savvy have been given the option of depositing money in any of the State Bank of India branches after issuance of the challan online. So, in this case, the appointment would be given upon confirmation of payment by the bank. Otherwise, you can use your credit/debit card for online payment or opt for Internet banking of State Bank of India. Thereafter, the applicant would be automatically given the earliest appointment available.
Once the online payment is introduced in any city, it will be compulsory for the passport applicant to make the payment online. Under this facility, an applicant will be able to cancel/reschedule the appointment only twice within one year of the first appointment date. The system will not allow booking of online appointment for that ARN once two reschedule options are exercised or the first appointment was scheduled more than one year ago.
The press release elaborates: “Under the new process, payments can be made while booking an appointment on the website—www.passportindia.gov.in—either by credit /debit card (both Master and Visa) or internet banking of State Bank of India. Applicants can also use the challan option provided on thewebsite and deposit the money in the State Bank of India (SBI) branch after generating the challan online. In such cases, upon the confirmation of payment receipt by SBI in the online system, applicants can take an appointment.” Further, instead of the applicant choosing the date and time slot of the appointment, the system will automatically give earliest available appointment.
As per the press release, “with the launch of the online payment-based appointments, applicants will be required to make payment at the time of booking the appointment on the MEA website. With this, only genuine applicants will book the appointment and number of no-shows will reduce.” Clearly, the role of illegal touts who indulge in block bookings, thus denying an appointment to the genuine applicant, would greatly diminish.
The facility, launched in Dehradun in the first week of June, has now been extended to 15 more cities, two days back. These include the Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) of Ahmedabad, Varsha, Rajkot, Vadodra, Surat, Jammu, Srinagar, Guwahati, Saligramam, Tambaram, Aminjikarai, Madurai, Thirunelveli City, Trichy, Thanjavur, Coimbatore, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. The Online Payment System is already applicable at Dehradun, Chandigarh, Ambala, Ludhiana and Vizag PSKs. Pune and Mumbai would soon be included in this scheme.
According to TCS officials, an average of 20% absenteeism is observed on a daily basis—which means, those applicants who take appointments do not turn up. The press release issued by the MEA states, “Reviewing the operations over the last one year, it was observed that a large number of applicants were not turning up at the PSKs despite taking a valid appointment. This not only resulted in lesser utilization of processing capacity of the PSK, but also caused denial of appointments for other genuine applicants. To resolve the issue of non-availability of appointments and to reduce no-shows of applicants, the ministry has launched the online payment system for booking appointments.”
The new system will be gradually rolled out to all PSKs across the country in coming weeks.
Other improvements in the Passport Seva Project after a successful campaign carried out by Moneylife since March 2013 include:
*Longer working hours to benefit the citizens
* 24X7 Call Center Support in 17 languages
For further information, please refer to MEA website – www.passportindia.gov.in or contact the corresponding Regional Passport Office. You may also call up National Passport Call Centre at 1800 258 1800.
Steps for Online Registration & Appointment:
Following steps may be followed to obtain and manage appointment:
Step 1: Visit the website www.passportindia.gov.in
Step 4: Fill the online application form as the case may be and submit online
For more details, log in to: http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/pdf/New_Online_Appointment_
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
There are some differences between the Central Bill and laws proposed or already present in various states with regard to housing. Maharashtra uses built up area in its Ready Reckoner, while the central Bill uses carpet area. In addition, states will have to foot the bill for setting up and running the regulatory authority and appellate tribunal under the proposed Act
The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill (Realty Bill) recently passed by the Union cabinet fails to provide clarity on several issues that the state governments are expected to implement. The conflict is not limited to Central and state laws, but also reaches to the basic definition of area under sale.
For instance, the Ready Reckoner of the Maharashtra government uses built-up area for referring area under sale, while the Realty Bill talks about carpet area. Carpet area is the area enclosed within the walls, while built up area covers carpet area plus walls and the balcony. (As per the Bill, ‘carpet area’ means the net usable floor area of an immovable property, excluding the area covered by the walls.)
Pranay Vakil, founder chairman of Praron Consultancy and former chairman of Knight Frank India, while speaking at a Moneylife Foundation seminar said there would be some issues (for the Realty Bill) like jurisdiction, registration and control of developers with multi-state operations besides conflict between central and state laws. In his words, the Realty Bill, which is a huge step forward in terms of consumer protection, would need some ‘debugging’.
There are areas of conflict between the central and state laws that also need to be debugged. Last year, both houses of the state legislature passed the Maharashtra Housing (Regulation and Development) Bill (MHRDB), which at present is awaiting the presidential nod.
According to media reports, Sachin Ahir, (minister of state for housing), Maharashtra, and few other states too have objected to the Realty Bill due to difference in conditions and development control regulations for different cities.
“We do not know in what form the Realty Bill will be imposed on states, whether it will be a nodal law or a law that will supersede what the state government has proposed. We will decide what next once we get information from the Centre, once we get the minutes of the Cabinet meeting,” Ahir had said.
While the MHRDB seeks to safeguard interests of home buyers and bring transparency in real estate deals by setting up a housing regulatory authority and a housing appellate tribunal, the central Bill also proposes the same.
A press note issued by the Union government states that “Establishment of one or more ‘Real Estate Regulatory Authority’ (RERA) in each state/UT, or one authority for two or more states/ UT, by the appropriate government, with specified functions, powers, and responsibilities to exercise oversight of real estate transactions, to appoint adjudicating officers to settle disputes between parties, and to impose penalty and interest”.
While speaking at the Moneylife Foundation seminar, Parimal Shroff, who has over 37 years’ experience in constitutional, corporate, civil and property law, pointed out that the Central Act is “too ambitious”. He said, the functions of RERA includes administrative, advisory, executive, judicial and regulatory and it needs to be rationalised as it can be overburden by solving smallest to largest issues across the country.
In addition, the state governments are expected to establish Real Estate Appellate Tribunal (REAT) to hear appeals from the orders or decisions or directions of the authority and the adjudicating officer. The REAT should be headed by a sitting or retired Judge of the high court with one judicial and one administrative or technical member. This is also not practical, especially looking at the dearth of high court judges today.
According to Ahir the central Realty Bill was largely based on the housing bill proposed by Maharashtra. He said, the only major difference was the MHRDB sought to equate the appellate tribunal with a civil court, while the central one did not. Instead, the Realty Bill provides same powers to RERA as vested in a civil court while trying a suit.
One of the issues that could put brakes on setting up RERA and the REAT is the cost factor. As per the Bill, the state government should set up RERA and tribunals. However, the states would be too reluctant to bear the financial burden on setting up these authorities, unless the Centre provides sufficient funding.
The Realty Bill says, “The state government may, after due appropriation made by the state legislature by law in this behalf make to the authority, grants and loans of such sums of money as the state government may think fit for being utilized for the purposes of this Act.”
In addition, the appropriate governments are expected to constitute “Real Estate Fund” and shall credit all government grants received by the authority, the fees received under this Act and the interest accrued on these amounts.
Salaries and allowances payable to the chairperson, other members as well as officers and other employees of the RERA and REAT and administrative expenses would be paid from the Fund.
While there is no mention on any budgetary support for establishing the RERAs and REATs, the question is will there be sufficient funds for all the expenses, like employee cost, infrastructure like computer systems, offices, transportation and communication. Especially, in states like Maharashtra setting up RERA and REAT with meagre funding would not only prove a hurdle, but also sabotage entire purpose of the Realty Bill.
The Realty Bill demands greater disclosure from the developers and a higher level of project accountability to remove the information asymmetries from the property market. There is also mandatory registration of all real estate projects and real estate agents who intended to sell properties, with the RERA.
For each project, the developer must disclose details of the promoters, project, layout plan, plan of development works, land status, carpet area and number of the apartments booked, status of the statutory approvals and disclosure of pro-forma agreements, names and addresses of the real estate agents, contractors, architect and structural engineer.
This is another area that could pose challenges. Monitoring whether all the projects that fall under purview are actually submitting themselves for registration would be a huge task. Even creating and maintaining data would require trained employees. And this would not be possible without adequate funding.
Read more about the Real Estate Regulation Bill:
It is quite common for politically exposed persons to camouflage their financial interests using legal entities. There exists a real possibility that you may already be doing business with these people through a legal entity. The RBI needs to act swiftly on domestic PEP front to ensure better compliance on money laundering
Politically exposed persons (PEPs) have been identified as high risk customers for banks and financial institutions for money laundering activities. Because of the risk profile of these customers, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and other international bodies acting in the areas of prevention of money laundering and terrorism financing activities have asked banks and financial institutions to carry out enhanced due diligence (EDD) for these customers. Enhanced due diligence involves digging deep into a person’s history and relationships to verify the identity of persons carrying higher risks. The objective of EDD measures in the context of PEPs are that they are identified at the time of account opening and banks and financial institutions carry out an ongoing check for transactions performed by these clients so that they are able to launder money across world.
Till recently, definition of PEP only covered international PEPs. As per initial definition of PEPs by FATF, “‘Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs) are individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public functions in a foreign country, for example heads of state or of the government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state-owned corporations, important political party officials. Business relationships with family members or close associates of PEPs involve reputational risks similar to those with PEPs themselves. The definition is not intended to cover middle ranking or more junior individuals in the foregoing categories”.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issues master circular every year on AML/KYC detailing the steps that banks and financial institutions regulated by RBI are supposed to carry out in order to effectively implement AML/KYC measures. The last master circular of the RBI on AML.KYC issued on 2 July 2012 expects banks to monitor only foreign PEPs and there is no mention of domestic PEP in the circular. The circular also excludes foreign PEPs in India. It is important to note that India is a member of the FATF and as a member country; it is supposed to implement the FATF guidelines. More than a year has passed since the FATF came out its revised guidelines, but the RBI is yet to come out with a circular on domestic PEPs.
What is it that is preventing the RBI to issue guidelines to banks and financial institutions regulated by it from monitoring domestic PEPs? Are there regulatory hurdles? Or is it that the otherwise self-proclaimed independent body on repo and reverse repo rate determination i.e. RBI is scared to take an independent view on determination of domestic PEPs because of the fact that a big list of who is who is involved in the list. It is important to note here that the PEP list does not alone cover politicians and includes other prominent officials as mentioned in the definition above.
In order to ensure that we are able to effectively monitor PEPs across the country, we as a country will need to create an extensive framework for monitoring PEPs and ensure that money laundering by them gets substantially controlled. Let us look at some of the steps we need to follow to ensure that PEPs are indentified in India:
Define and widen the scope of PEPs: As of now, India only follows the definition of the FATF in identification of PEPs and that too partially as domestic PEPs are not covered. A major misconception regarding PEPs is that one should only be concerned about individuals when identifying PEP risk. A FATF consultation paper issued in 2002, however, indicates that “the proceeds of corruption are typically transferred to a number of foreign jurisdictions and concealed through private companies, trusts or foundations.” The World- Check on PEP identification says, “It is quite common for PEPs to camouflage their financial interests using legal entities and there exists a very real possibility that you are already most likely doing business with PEPs via a legal entity”. So what should be covered under PEP? Ideally PEP should not only cover the PEP definition that has been given by the FATF but it should also include, “private companies, trusts or foundations owned or co-owned by PEPs, whether directly or indirectly” as covered by World-Check. If we broaden the scope of PEP by including entities related to PEPs, an organization like the BCCI (Board for the Control of Cricket in India) will automatically get covered under enhanced due diligence for monitoring of PEP. The RBI may consider including senior private sector employees, certain category of journalists, etc under PEP as well.
Building a database of politically exposed persons (PEPs): The most challenging aspect of identifying politically exposed persons is a common database at the national level. The challenge gets further compounded by the fact that the database needs to be dynamic. Let us understand this with an example. In India so many elections are held at different levels. With new people getting elected, the database of PEP needs to be modified continuously and there is a need of an entity which will carry out this activity. While the Election Commission can provide data for newly-elected representatives and the government can provide details of other categories of PEPs, it is difficult to identify the details of political party officials which keep on changing. Some people may not be affiliated to a political party but still can classify as a PEP. The RBI needs to work on modalities related to these exceptions, as well.
Empowering of banks, freezing of assets and punitive action: The RBI along with the government needs to empower banks and financial institutions to empower banks to carry out a detailed check of financial transactions of PEPs and also bring necessary provisions for at least temporary freezing of assets till the time investigation is initiated by the government agencies. Also there is a need for strict punitive action if PEPs are found to be involved in money laundering.
While it is true that many of the PEPs carry out money transfers without using the route of banks and financial institutions, however, profiling of PEP accounts, wherever available can provide better control on money laundering activities originating and linked to these accounts. World over a need is being felt to have tighter control and enhanced due diligence on PEPs and that is the reason the FATF has included domestic PEP within the scope of PEPs. The RBI needs to act swiftly on domestic PEP front to ensure better compliance on money laundering front.
(Vivek Sharma has worked for 17 years in the stock market, debt market and banking. He is a post graduate in Economics and MBA in Finance. He writes on personal finance and economics and is invited as an expert on personal finance shows.)