Thursday, September 15, 2011

What is India's biggest problem, Mr. Chidambaram?

"The most violent movement in India is not terrorism or insurgency but Left-wing extremism. While 26 people were killed in terrorist violence and 46 in insurgency (27 in Jammu & Kashmir), 297 people were killed in Naxal violence. That is ten times of those killed in terror incidents," Chidambaram said.Asking states to understand the nature of this violent movement, the home minister said: "The burden of governance cannot be shifted from the state governments to the central government.... In the ultimate analysis, the responsibility of governance in the Left-wing extremism affected districts must rest with the states." - A Times of India report said.

Well, Mr. Home Minister, you are no longer the Finance Minister - so focus on solving the problems instead of throwing statistics at us.

The latest world-wide statistics released by International Road Federation (IRF) reveal that 1,19,860 people are killed in road accidents every year in India.

Going by your logic Mr. HM, road accidents are the biggest problem and the Government should - oh sorry, the Government will do nothing - the people should only worry about road accidents and should stop complaining about terrorism. The number of deaths due to terrorism is just about a rounding off error as compared to those due to road accidents.

The good news is: Mr. Chidambaram can comfortably pass on the blame to the RTO.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Omission - commission - what is this?

Immediately after the election results were out, the central government announced Rs. 5 increase in the price of 1 liter petrol. The code of conduct by the election commission prevents the government from making material announcements before the election so that the voters do not get influenced by the same.
Where do you put holding a negative decision till the election results are out? Had the price rise been announced, would it not have negatively impacted the ruling party’s fortunes?
Does the election commission only look at acts of commission and not the acts of omission? Is it because it is election commission and not election omission?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This time it's different - Is it Gold this time?

“Our research makes clear that to achieve true diversification an allocation to an outright position in gold provides benefits that cannot be replicated simply by investing in a wider commodities basket,” says Juan Carlos Artigas, investment research manager at the World Gold Council (WGC). “Gold should be viewed as a separate, distinct asset class, and a foundation to a well diversified investment portfolio,” Artigas says.
Well, I do not know much about future price of anything. It is impossible for me to predict the future, except that I know what date it will be tomorrow or even the day after or the next week or the next year.
However, what I know is a little bit of history and what some sages have said in the past.
The statements mentioned in the first paragraph remind me of the words of the investment sage, Sir John Templeton. He said, "The four most dangerous words in investing are: 'this time it's different.'"
The exact words are not used above, but they sound quite like, "This time it’s different.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cricket World Cup semi-final at Mohali

For many, it was surprising to see Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi going into the crowd during the Cricket World Cup Semi-Final at Mohali. Well, it definitely was for me. We are not used to seeing our precious national assets – our politicians – exposed to such a massive risk of going out in the open. 

Were they not afraid of a terrorist attack? Or like the theme of DLF IPL ads, “sara India bandh hoga”, did the terrorists also took an off day to watch the India – Pakistan cricket match? Well, that also raises another trivial question. If he terrorists had taken an off day, did the politicians know about it? Did our intelligence know about it?

Let us come back to the main point.

Were Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi not afraid of terrorist attacks or by anyone else? If one goes by the newspaper reports or what the friends present at Mohali shared, Chandigarh and Mohali had turned into forts. There were massive security arrangements – almost warlike. It is this arrangement that brought out the bravery in the Gandhis and they could easily roam around among public. 

As a citizen of this country, I wonder if such security can be replicated for the country. Is it possible that all the citizens of this country roam around within their own country without worrying about their lives? Someone may argue that it is the humongous BCCI with its vast financial resources that such a security arrangement was possible. I think the Indian Government Budget could be larger than BCCI budget. If not, the Government would be better off collecting taxes from cricket games. 

Someone said, it was not BCCI or the ICC that paid for the security, but it was the Home Department of the Government that took the tab. Wow, I would love to be ICC. Here is one of the richest sports’ bodies organising an event, where the Government mobilises massive security arrangement to ensure success of the event and tax on the ICC’s income is waived by the same Government. 

What is happening? Is this a case of siphoning of funds? In order to understand the meaning of siphoning of funds, I looked up various resources. The meaning of this phrase was explained very well in one of RBI’s circulars regarding “wilful defaulters and action thereagainst”. The same is reproduced below:
Siphoning of funds, referred to at para 3(c) above, should be construed to occur if any funds borrowed from banks / FIs are utilised for purposes un-related to the operations of the borrower, to the detriment of the financial health of the entity or of the lender. The decision as to whether a particular instance amounts to siphoning of funds would have to be a judgement of the lenders based on objective facts and circumstances of the case.

As can be seen from this definition, the Government money is meant to provide certain basic facilities to the citizens, including security. If the money is spent on security cover for a cricket match, what should it be called? 

Can a Chandigarh be repeated for the whole country? I hope the answer is yes – not just in context of the article, but also in another matter – Chandigarh is an organised city.

N.B.: Chandigarh and Mohali turned into forts with tight security arrangements and avoided any attack from anyone. In Mumbai, there is an area called “Fort”, which could be easily attacked by a handful of terrorists. Is this what they call irony?

Spitting on Mumbai roads

News in Times of India, Mumbai edition today: “Road-naming tops our corporators’ wish-list”. Are people expressing their anger when they spit on the roads?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The bluff called “Coalition dharma

Our elected leaders were unable to negotiate on behalf of the People of India with the coalitions on issues of national interest. However, the same leaders, representing the Congress party, could easily negotiate on seat-sharing issue with DMK and get the desired number of seats? Order of priority: party interest followed by coalition dharma followed by national interest.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The story of MS – the Indian leader

Funny, isn’t it? The moment one reads this article header, one would immediately think of M S Dhoni, the Indian cricket team skipper. In fact, this story is not a story about Mahinder Singh – it’s a short story of Mahinder Singh Dhoni as well as about another Singh – Dr. Manmohan Singh as well as some 1 billion characters.
Today, after the loss against South Africa, M S Dhoni might envy Dr. Manmohan Singh. Just one decision of Dhoni – of giving the final over to Nehra – was criticised so much by the fans. First loss in the tournament and it is brickbats for the cricket team.
Dear Dhoni, it would probably help to consult the numerologists and astrologists to check if changing your name from Mahinder Singh to Manmohan Singh is a good idea. At least you might face less criticism.
What are we, as a nation doing? Why are we so intolerant about cricket and so very tolerant about our politicians? Why are we so sensitive about cricketers, film stars, Sensex and so insensitive about what should matter the most to us?
One over by Ashish Nehra would be remembered more than 2G. One last ball six off Chetan Sharma was remembered longer than the Telecom scam of 1993.
Is it escapism? Loss of a cricket tournament and we demand change in the team, captain, coach, selection committee. We love to hold the selection committee responsible. In politics, WE, the people of India, are the election committee. Are we taking enough responsibility?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Purpose of education

Recently, there was an advertisement from an education institute boasting about state-of-the-art facilities and giving laptops to each of the students. There was another advertisement from a college talking about their placement ratio.
Isn’t this interesting: an educational institution talking about offering laptops and not education; talking about state-of-the-art facilities and not about the teachers?
Decades back, when I was a student, teachers were role models and schools used to talk about the quality of education. Now, often the discussion is about air-conditioned classes, designer uniforms and in the end, admission to better colleges or college students getting high paying jobs.
Where has the education disappeared? Can the end (good paying job) justify the means (not providing education but offering the goodies)?
Can the laptops and smart classrooms replace the teachers? What values can we learn from the laptops? Is the role of a teacher only restricted to teaching the subject matter?
I do not understand what is going on!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The insurance tele-caller is back again

The other day, I got a call from an insurance company tele-caller. The caller introduced him as a “fund manager” calling from a life insurance company. WOW, I was delighted to get a “fund manager” call me personally!
What a shame? Look at the cheap tactics these guys use to get attention.
If a fund manager has the time to make cold calls to people, when will he manage the funds? In such a case, should one give him the money to manage? He would be busy cold calling people and will have no time to take care of our money.
God save people from such liars. Is it pressure of getting sales numbers that they stoop so low?
Are these guys more worried about their quarterly target even at the cost of their character? Or they leave the character home when they go to the office?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thanks MNP, you’ve made me an important customer

Thanks MNP (Mobile Number Portability). You’ve made me an important customer for Airtel, the mobile service provider. The mobile phone service that I used had been giving me problems of call drops and loss of signal very regularly. The complaints were never resolved – there were only promises to resolve the complaints. Few months back, I had also promised them that they had time till MNP becomes reality. If they do not improve by then, I would switch over to some other operator. Probably the operator thought my promises are also like theirs, or those of the politicians of removing poverty, making Mumbai clean, clearing slums, removing corruption, etc.
Well, I stood by my promise and have already got portability code. The moment my mobile operator got the information of that, I have started getting calls asking for the reasons and if they can do something. The caller also offered me waiver of one month rental since I have been through the pain. (This is offered only for prospective rentals – bait for extending my stay for at least 90 days. I have to request change of operator within 15 days of getting the portability code, else it expires and then I have to stay with the same operator for at least 90 days.) What a pity!
Well, I have got another promise from the operator that my problem of call drops will be resolved and that technical team will get in touch with me. Surprisingly, they did get in touch! And that too, on the same day! But, the technical staff asked me if my complaint was resolved. 
Well, all service providers of India, the consumer wants service at reasonable price and not just discounts with unreasonable service.
There is a twist to this story. I also called up the toll free number of another service provider to get an idea (pun intended). There have been 3 to 4 interactions and each time the amount asked for has changed. Each interaction springs up a new (and negative) surprise. I am not sure if there would be many other surprises after one signs up. What an idea, Sir jee!
All said and done, what I get in the end is a different story, but I had the 15 seconds of pleasure where I was told that I am an important customer! Wow, how much I loved it! At least the mobile phone service provider provided excellent lip service.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It’s a bird, it’s a plane – it’s superman! It’s investment, it’s tax-saving, it’s a disguised insurance pitch!

Yesterday, there was another call from yet another persevering insurance company tele-caller.
The caller started the pitch for a very attractive investment product. Of course, the person was transparent enough to mention the name of the company, which had the word “Life” in it. However, the word “Insurance” following “Life” was conveniently missed out. So what, even Yudhisthir once said, “Ashwatthama is dead. Naro vaa kunjaro vaa!”
I entertained the caller and asked her to proceed with the features of the investment option. She started asking about my profession and date of birth. I asked her why she wants to know these details. Conveniently she proceeded to the next question. She asked my name, which I have no problem in giving. After some standard script, she mentioned about continuation of “free” insurance cover even after the investment term gets over. I insisted that I was only interested in an investment product without insurance cover.
By now, many of you know the modus operandi. The caller starts with the call. If the person on the other side asks too many questions, the call is transferred to a senior. The senior comes on phone and talks to me in a very authoritative manner asking what my requirement was – as if I called.
He had a very good answer for my point of an investment product without insurance cover. He said, “We are offering this small insurance cover so that your returns become tax-free.” Hello, is the regulator listening? Here is a standard pitch from insurance companies that they are selling an investment product (which is NOT a mutual fund according to IRDA). The insurance cover is given only to make the returns tax-free. These insurance companies do not want to change!
For how long will we allow such wrong approaches?
I haven’t taken the company’s name. Doesn’t matter! Those who practice such things, anyway know. Request to the poor investor, please do not fall into the trap of such calls.
Buyer beware!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is India fast becoming a seller’s nation?

We all have heard the great India story – one billion customers, growing wealth, increasing income, even faster increasing spending. Wow! How the hungry Indians have transformed into hungry for more! This is probably the biggest developments of the 21st Century. But this development seems to have come with something else. We are fast becoming a seller’s country.

I will share some specific experiences and for that I will need to take names. I can’t help it as real experiences have real companies with real names.

The other day, I had gone to pay my Reliance phone bills and I complained about frequent call drops. The response was very “matter-of-fact” – the person at the counter coolly told me, “Yes sir, GSM phones have that problem.” I also mentioned about the speed of internet connection (I have a wireless broadband connection), that in spite of having a broadband connection, I get the speed of a dial-up network. The guy was quick to seize the moment. He suggested I go for an upgrade to the newly launched 3G connection by paying only Rs. 2,600. He assured me that this connection can get faster speed.

This response prompted me to write this article.

These guys are trained to sell. Their performance is also measured in terms of sales numbers and not in terms of customer happiness or satisfaction. If you have a complaint, it will be logged into the system and then at a later date and time someone will get in touch.

The other leading mobile phone service provider – Airtel – is even better than Reliance. First of all, I have been a slave to the number that my erstwhile employer had allotted to me. So many people know this number; I cannot afford to change it. This is what the cell phone companies are banking on, probably. To their respite, the regulator also accommodated their lobbying (sorry to use this much-maligned word) long enough to introduce MNP (mobile number portability). My experiences with Airtel services are known to many of my friends and if I start writing all those experiences, it may turn out to be a small book. I would only like to narrate what is relevant to this article.

1. Go to and what you’ll find is: if you are a customer with a problem and you want to find where and whom to contact, you will surf through the site and as the Ariel detergent ad says, “dhoondte reh jaaoge.” However, if you are an investor, you can simply click on a link right at the top of the home page. A single click on that link and you will be greeted by Mr. Mittal himself. The company is candid in telling us where the priorities are.

2. I lodged a request for starting voice mail services. Nothing happened for some time. On repeated follow ups, I was told that there is some technical glitch and company’s engineers are working to resolve that. After around 3 months, finally I was told that they do not offer voice mail services in Mumbai. With that I understood that the chapter was closed. One fine day, I receive a message that I had a message in my voice mailbox. Now, this is how I got to know that the service had started and that I was a privileged one to get it.

Tata AIG General insurance takes the cake. I had an insurance policy, which was renewed. I found that the renewal premium was higher by Rs. 3 from the previous year. Now, that surprised me. What the company had done was a stroke of ingenuity (however unethical it may be). They adjusted the base premium upwards such that the gross amount after Service Tax was almost the same as the last year, when the service tax was reduced from 12.36% to 10.30%. This 2.06% of service tax benefit was comfortably absorbed by the firm, without any notice to policy holders. When I followed up with the firm, the officers replied that they are free to revise the renewal premium without any notice to the policy holders. They agreed that they might have sent renewal notices with the old premia rates, but they were sorry about it (such a lovely word, this sorry is). I also got a written reply to my written complaint, where the officer started with "Let us explain ..." followed with no explanation whatsoever. A wonderful practical joke. Nevertheless, I had no time to follow up then and I gave up. When a year passed and the next renewal date came up, the call centre (sales) executives were quick to call up for renewal reminders. When I kept asking them about the status of my complaint, the calls stopped but were replaced with SMS messages that said, "we are unable to reach you ...". Someone had a very nice process of sending SMS when the customer is not available through phone, but the system was abused in case where the customer was insisting about resolving a pending issue.

I can go on and on, but let me not bore you with the details. I have such experiences with Nokia, HP, Dell, RCI, and HDFC; to name a few. When I share the experiences with my friends, I get to know they also have such issues.

What is surprising in almost all these cases is that the number of sales outlets is extremely high but the services centres are very few. The sales outlets are right on main roads, the service centres – you guessed it right, or maybe you already knew – very far off and generally off the main roads.

Is it suggesting something? Even at the cost of sounding too negative, I think, there is a message: dear customer, these companies seduce you as long as you are a prospective customer. The moment you purchase the product or service, you are not exciting.

In the process of getting more of everything and getting everything now, dear customer, you have lost a very powerful weapon of self-defense you had – choice. And the companies know that.

Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year will always be in short supply.

Whoever said “customer is king” was dead right. Look at the kings in the democracy – by the way, I am referring to the erstwhile kings and not the Hindi of the word King (Raja).