Sucheta Dalal :Foolish action
Sucheta Dalal

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Foolish action  

Dec 20, 2004


Consider this. A Delhi school kid films a sexual act on a mobile phone. The clip is put into circulation and some perverted soul cuts compact disks and turns it into a business opportunity. Television channels buy the clips and broadcast it in the form of weird squiggles and pixels — but nobody objects to this sad attempt at titillation. Then a misguided genius at IIT Kharagpur hopes to rake in some bucks by auctioning the tape on What does the Delhi police do? It arrests the chairman of India’s top auction site, as though producing and hawking pornography was Bazee’s main business activity. Contrast this with another situation. For decades now, hawkers squatting on pavements all around the Municipal Corporation have openly sold pornography. By the same standards as the Bazee action, the police ought to arrest the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner, because he is ultimately responsible for Mumbai’s pavements and what is sold on them. But that is inconceivable, isn’t it? Nobody is condoning the failure of checks at that allowed pornography to be auctioned. But arresting the chairman of an auction site surely makes us look very foolish to the world. Especially at a time when our IT skills are been making the world look at us with awe and respect. It will also kill the very concept of auction sites.

Complainants alert

People who are harassed due to over-billing, wrong charges and other mischief by finance companies and credit card issuers can hope for some action from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). In response to our query, Ashok Joshi, Deputy General Manager of the Reserve Bank says the matter has been ‘‘referred to a Working Group constituted by the Reserve Bank to look into various aspects relating to customer protection and to suggest measures for usage of credit cards in a safe, secure and customer-friendly manner’’. The reply provides no details about the constitution of the group and whether it is willing to examine specific complaints, in order to frame effective regulations, but that shouldn’t stop aggrieved persons from writing to the Central bank and hope to be heard. Meanwhile, the aggressive sale and recovery techniques of banks are bordering on harassment and invasion of privacy. In one instance, the bank mailed an unsolicited, pre-embossed credit card to a consumer, activated his card (wrongly, as the bank later acknowledged), and began to send out bills and harass the consumer for payment. Will the RBI working group ensure that such cases are expeditiously settled and the bank is forced to pay a hefty compensation for the harassment?

Price of speed

While on banks, an agitated small savings account holder says the Reserve Bank proposes to levy a Rs 25 per transaction charge on member banks for Real Time Gross Settlements (RTGS). So far, most banks are using the RTGS only for inter-bank transactions and have not extended it to customer transactions. When that happens, if banks choose to pass the costs to consumers, it could lead to some chaos as it will hurt ordinary customers transacting in small-value cheques and are in no hurry to have them cleared on the same day. Moreover, these charges would also attract service tax and education cess. Curiously enough, even bank unions are unaware about how and when the RTGS will be extended to all transactions. Hopefully, the RBI will ensure that customers are adequately consulted and warned before asking them to pay a hefty price for speedy transactions.  

Tailpiece: On Friday, some savvy operators tried to create an opportunity by spreading a story that Anil and Mukesh Ambani would dramatically announce a patch-up and a resolution of their dispute on December 28, which happens to be the birth anniversary of Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani. As everybody agrees that flagship Reliance Industries is undervalued, the rumour perked up prices for a few minutes after opening before they slumped again. Some checking, however, reveals that there is no sign of a patch-up. The Anil camp continues to spew out dirt on Mukesh Ambani and his friends. The information supply machinery is now so efficient that apart from couriering background notes, SMS messages and faxes, it is also supplying photographs that are not easily in the public domain. So much so that many publications are carrying identical pictures. Meanwhile there is a complete breakdown of negotiations between the two sides. ICICI Bank CEO K.V. Kamath who was asked by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to mediate, seems to have backed off. We also learn that even the original negotiators — Amitabh Jhunjhunwala (for Anil) and Anand Jain (for Mukesh) are no longer in touch. Yet, the pious public stand of both brothers is that they will abide by anything that their mother Kokilaben Ambani decides. The helpless mother has wisely stayed out of the picture.

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-- Sucheta Dalal