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Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
Senior citizens ask for better health insurance schemes from the government, immediate implementation of the National Policy on Older Persons along with the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act
Thousands of senior citizens sporting black bands around their arms and shouting slogans like "we want our respect" or "shame (on the government)" staged a protest at Azad Maidan, Mumbai and various other parts of the state and the country yesterday. They wanted better health insurance schemes from the government, immediate implementation of the National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (MWPSCA).
"We are a huge part of the government and we have been neglected by the very same government. No promises have been kept," said RS Desai, member of the All-India Bank Retirees Federation.
"After 64 years of tolerating the government that has closed its eyes to the problems faced by senior citizens and particularly after 11 years of waiting for the NPOP to be implemented, we are gathered here to convey our strong protest," said Dr Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder-president, Dignity Foundation.
This protest was part of an all India 'Senior Citizens National Protest Day', observed in various cities, towns and villages. The core of the protest was to demand health insurance for all senior citizens - with or without any pre-existing disease, immediate implementation of the NPOP, MWPSCA and the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), which would give senior citizens Rs500 as monthly pension. The protest wanted these facilities to be grated to all Below Poverty Line (BPL) senior citizens, and residents of old age homes. Protestors also called for the setting up of an exclusive ministry and a national commission for senior citizens.
"In our country, there are 60 million people who live below or barely above the BPL (mark). They are those who earn Rs56 a day or Rs1,700 per month. And out of these 60 million people, only 10 million receive Rs400 per month under the IGNOAPS plus 10kg of grains per month under the Annapurna Scheme. (But) all of these platitudes remain only on paper and have yet to be implemented," said Dr Sreenivasan.
Panellists at the protest meet said that the NPOP has been neglected by the state and the Central governments and the bureaucratic system has been tardy, leading to its non-implementation. About 28 states and seven Union Territories have yet to adopt the NPOP even after 11 years of its promulgation by the Union government.
"The core problem is that for years they have been passing the buck, from the Central government to the finance minister to the state government. We need some action, we need our respect," said KS Samant, general secretary of the General Insurance Pensioners Association (GIPA).
In the case of MWPSCA, even after its enactment three years ago, the scheme has not yet been implemented. According to Amruta Lovekar, senior project manager of Shree Ramanugrah Trust, there is still a need for policies which give senior citizens care and protection and better mental health treatment. Families that look after their parents must get tax exemption, she demanded.
Mr Desai added that even former bank and insurance company employees have been neglected by the government and were fighting to get privileges.
Subhash Desai, a Shiv Sena MLA, assured senior citizens that he would bring up the matter before Parliament. According to Sailesh Mishra, founder-president of Silver Innings, the protest had gathered huge amount of support among elected representatives. After the event, Mr Mishra told Moneylife that ministers in Madhya Pradesh have given some assurance to the committee that they would look into the various issues involving senior citizens.
A memorandum with various demands from senior citizens was submitted to the government of Maharashtra. State minister of social justice, Sachin Ahir, received the memorandum on behalf of the Maharashtra government.
Late yesterday Mr Mishra sent Moneylife an SMS saying "Victory. Met Sachin Ahir, state minister for social justice. He in principle agreed to most demands. Asked to meet again in a week." Mr Ahir was visited by Mr Mishra, Mr Samant, Dr SP Kinjawadekar (president of the All India Senior Citizens' Confederation) and Vijay Aundhe, (general secretary of the Federation of Senior Citizens Organisations, Maharashtra).
The protest was supported by 27 national, state and local level organisations, NGOs, associations of banks/insurance companies and retired employees.
Banning this service will not solve the problem. The government and security agencies need to be more proactive and use innovations to track threats
In a civilised society, gagging of any sort should be used as a last resort. However, while citizens mostly behave in a civilised manner, the rulers chosen by democratic methods seem to believe more in undemocratic ways like banning and gagging.
Take the recent example of the Indian government's fatwa, which asks mobile handset-maker Research In Motion (RIM) to share its user data or face a ban from 31st August.
Government officials are citing security reasons and may have been thinking that unless they intervene in the data sent and received from RIM's popular BlackBerry devices, everything is under threat. Nothing wrong in this thinking, except that those elements posing a security risk to the country do not seem to be using these devices.
There are two reasons for this argument. One, the communication on these devices leaves a trace and second, for using the BlackBerry device, one needs to go for a strict verification and registration process with both the mobile operator and RIM. Obviously you wouldn’t expect a terrorist to fill out a form and thus leave a trail for using a BlackBerry.
However, the question is not just about BlackBerry or RIM. According to media reports, the Union government is planning to put Skype and Gmail services also under the scanner. The Department of Telecom (DoT) will ask these companies to either ensure that data going through their networks be made available to security agencies in a readable format or face a ban on offering services in India.
It is interesting to note that not just RIM but even Gmail and other free mail service providers encrypt their data between their servers and users' computers. Often, servers of such service providers are located outside India and accessing or forcing the companies to share the data becomes a gigantic, if not impossible task.
Many IT and security experts, however, are finding the whole episode of the proposed ban on RIM's services a tad hilarious. Not all terrorists may be tech-savvy, but by using simple human ingenuity, they have beaten security agencies across the world time and again. Just look at how America's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, has been beating the most tech-savvy nation on earth year after year, despite the country having access to all the sophisticated and latest technology. Rumours have it that the terrorist king uses satellite phones to communicate and keep his flock together!
Terrorists have been using free email accounts like Gmail but instead of sending and receiving any mail, they just save their messages as 'drafts'. This makes the job of snooping difficult, because unless the data is sent or received from a server, it cannot be intercepted.
Here, the security agencies could ask Gmail to provide IP addresses of such email IDs, which do not send/receive mails but access the draft folder from different locations. But again, there are numerous free email service providers. How can one keep track of all of them?
It is more important not to get carried away by sophisticated technology; it is smart thinking which is more important, as a security expert pointed out.
Remember, during the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the terrorists used satellite phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based phones for communication with their handlers from our friendly neighbour. While it was possible to intercept these signals, our security agencies were not ready or not expecting terrorists to use such high-tech devices.
We have a government which has been allegedly taping phone devices of rivals; on the other hand, miscreants using simple, innovative methods constantly beat them. Therefore the need of the hour is not a blanket ban, but to keep our eyes open and have an ear to the ground rather than threatening legitimate services or businesses.
Telecom companies will go to any extent to convince you to go in for their product or services. But the moment you become a customer, they’ll place you at the mercy of their after sales and customer service.
There are a lot of Indians out here. Over a billion of us populate this planet. Naturally, the country is a huge market for anybody to sell anything under the sun. Be it mobiles, PCs, automobiles, bank accounts or fizzy drinks, every marketer is raking it in.
However, when it comes to after-sales service, it is a very different story.
Earlier, shops used to sell and also service products. But now, different entities take care of sales and service. That's why service standards have plummeted. Even in the case of banks, where both sales and customer service (should) be under the same roof, the treatment you get after you become a customer is more or less the same.
All telecom service centres operate between 10.30am to 6pm during weekdays. Are we back to the heady days of the mixed economy? One must admit, these centres manage to squeeze in half a day's work on Saturday. Sundays, of course, are when they rest.
So if you maintain regular working hours, and your mobile decides to develop a mind of its own and go on the blink, you face the prospect of having to leg it to the nearest service station and let your files (or emails) pile up. But better be warned. A visit to the service station is no guarantee that your device will be repaired.
I'll let you in on what happened to yours truly. Two-three months ago, I bought a Samsung mobile. Unfortunately, my son took a fancy to the device, and dropped the mobile while playing a game at home. The screen went kaput.
Now I had to read the fine print on the guarantee card. Screen damage, said the card, is not covered in the guarantee. The service centre wanted me to fork out Rs950 for a handset which cost me Rs2,500.
I had no other option, so I paid the amount. Unfortunately, the service centre did not have the required new screen. They asked me to keep my handset with them and promised that they will call me as soon as they get the screen. I waited for a week. No call from the centre. I had to phone them. Then they told me that they did have the new screen and it was promptly attached to my mobile.
But my woes were in no way over. My mobile was not getting charged any more. When I asked the service centre about how they plan to resolve this new problem (before accepting the handset), I was told that there might be a problem with my phone's battery.
You guessed it. They did not have a new battery in stock. After yet another week, I went to the service centre again, but the they still did not have a battery. Another week passed by. When I went to the service centre for the fourth time, to my horror, they told me that the problem was not with the battery, but with the motherboard of my handset. And pray, what was the cost of this motherboard? Around Rs1,200-Rs1,500. Great... I bought the handset for Rs2,500 and within two-three months, the 'authorised' service centre wanted me to spend the same amount to get it repaired.
The handset is a living proof of how easily I was fooled by Samsung and its authorised service centre. Every time I look at my handset, this thought still mocks me.
But the point is, this is not an isolated case of an errant service centre. I'm sure that you will have - or must have had - the same experience with all kinds of service centres. As soon as you enter any kind of service centre, the chaos you face will put a crowded fish market to shame. There are no indications, signboards, instructions or smoke signals on how your problem will be resolved.
If you stars are in the right position and the gods are smiling on you from the blue yonder, you might actually be able to speak to someone from the inside.
Let's assume that it is a mobile service centre that you are visiting. That elusive representative will ask you if your handset falls under the stipulated warrantee or not. If you answer in the affirmative, then you will be asked for a photocopy of your purchase bill - which, of course, you would not have thought of carrying with you.
Therefore, you have to come out of the service centre, search for a photocopy shop (it will always be nearby, since they get huge business from customers like you), get a copy and again enter the service centre.
From my experience - as well as feedback from fellow sufferers - one thing is pretty sure that unless you visit the service centre at least a couple of times, your complaint will never, ever, be resolved.
I have seen something happening all the time at these service centres. First, people plead with the service centre personnel, then they beg for their handset to be serviced and later they threaten them with some dire consequences.
But nothing works with these centres. You just have to grin and bear it. You are left with no other option but to get your mobile device serviced from your friendly neighbourhood mobile mechanic, tearing up your guarantee card into a zillion pieces in the process.
Why then, does the customer have to suffer at the hands of these 'authorised' service centres?
Am I being a conspiracy theorist, or does this have something to do with the business model of these companies?
Many moons ago, in my hometown, there were shops which sold all kinds of electronics goods. From different companies. But they serviced them as well. There, the shop-owner never treated any sale as a one-off deal. The customer was a lifetime patron. This may be the secret behind the success of these shops, despite competition from 'authorised' dealers located all over the place. Are the mobile handset companies listening? Are they even bothered?
(This is the first part of a two part-series)