Karthik Srinivasan, a Digital Marketer from Bangalore was going through his email when he discovered that HDFC Bank had been charging him Rs 100 per quarter for a program he never signed up for.
On delving deeper, he discovered that the service was an opt-out program that had been activate for his account without his express consent. Worse still, the opting out requires a member to actually read their spam-like banking emails, from top to bottom, discover the fine print that states that the offer is an opt-out one and then click on a link to opt-out of the service.
But what’s Rs 400, right? That still doesn’t equate to hundreds of crores of rupees.
Rashmi R. Padhy took to Medium to break down why the money is real and why this is indeed a scam.
Pointing to VAS (Value-Added-Service) fraud that was prevalent some years ago, Padhy notes that telcos used to offer VAS as “free” trials. After the trial was over, these telcos would charge you for the service and keep doing so until you opted out.
The value of the transactions was small, but scaled up, the telcos likely earned in hundreds, if not thousands of crores. The rising number of complaints caught the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) attention and the practice was halted.
HDFC Bank appears to be doing the same thing. The bank essentially upgrades you to a free Classic / Preferred Banking trial program without your consent and then charges you Rs 100 — plus service tax — per quarter till you opt out.
Since most people would not read the mailer that explains all this and since the price isn’t placed up front, most people will not opt-out because they simply don’t know.
Padhy breaks down the calculations as follows. Charging 1.2 Cr customers a fee of Rs 400 a year, HDFC is set to earn upwards of Rs 400 Cr a year. For free, without the explicit consent of its members.
The calculation may not be as cut and dried as Padhy puts it and the numbers might be much lower. This doesn’t, however, change the fact that the program is inherently fraudulent. And other banks might soon follow suit, if they haven’t already.
As heinous as the practice might seem, it is currently perfectly legal for it to do what it’s doing.
Most people may not even be aware of the service or the charge. A charge of Rs 400 a year can easily get lost in the tens of thousands of transactions that we perform every year. And how many of us actually peruse through our monthly bank statements in that much detail anyway? Many more of us probably delete bank mails the moment they arrive in the first place.
Srinivasan did not take this charge laying down. On discovering the charge, an average person might simply have opted out, vented a bit on social media and left it at that. Srinivasan is, however made of more Gandhian stuff. As Office Chai puts it, Srinivasan is now on an online ‘satyagraha’ to get HDFC Bank to apologise for trying to scam its customers in such a way.
“Tuberculosis is Ebola with wings. It does not differentiate between the driver in the front of the Mercedes to the CEO in the back or between the maid in the kitchen and the memsahib in the living room. It kills an Indian every minute.”
As a lead up to World Tuberculosis Day, TED has released India’s first Ted Talk on TB by Zarir F Udwadia, a leading chest physician from Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai.
He highlights India’s TB problem, which persists in epidemic proportions, terming it the country’s biggest public health issue.
One indian dies of this disease every minute. Dr. Zarir Udwadia shares the story of the suffering of one patient diagnosed with Totally Drug Resistant -Tuberculosis (TDR-TB). And unfortunately,succumbing to it.
Overturning an order of the Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) last week termed the refusal of HDFC Bank to hand over cash to a bearer of a cheque, after verifying his credentials through the account holder, as “a clear case of deficiency in service”.
The order from NCDRC, issued on 15 March 2017, states, “No doubt the complainant had not furnished his ID, but the fact remains that admittedly not only the cashier but also the Bank Manager separately rang up the account holder on his mobile number, who verified having issued the subject cheque and gave clearance for encashment. The bank officials, however, declined to encash the cheque. This, in our view, is a clear deficiency in service.”
The order relates to a consumer complaint filed by Mumbai resident Prakash Sheth against HDFC Bank. Sheth required Rs3 lakh to be deposited in the hospital for treatment of his ailing mother, in 2010. He requested his nephew, Chirag, for the money. Chirag gave a bearer cheque to Sheth, who then presented the bearer cheque on 7 May 2010 at HDFC Bank. The cashier in the bank asked him to come back at 4pm because of insufficiency of funds. When he returned at 4pm, the cashier asked for his photo ID, which Sheth was not carrying. The cashier then called up Chirag to seek verification of issuance of the bearer cheque. Chirag confirmed it, but the cashier refused to honour the cheque and Sheth was asked to meet the branch manager. The branch manager too checked with Chirag to confirm that he indeed had issued the cheque. Despite that, the manger insisted that Chirag should personally come to the bank, which the latter was unable to. The branch manager then refused to honour the cheque.
Claiming this to be deficiency in customer service, Sheth filed a complaint in the Consumer Forum at South Mumbai District, seeking compensation to the tune of Rs1 lakh towards mental agony and physical harassment. Sheth also appealed for a directive to the bank to stop this practice. The bank was served a notice, but it claimed that it had rightly not honoured the cheque as per guidelines from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The District Forum therefore dismissed the complaint. Subsequently, the Maharashtra State Commission too dismissed Sheth’s petition, stating that the bank had rightfully adhered to RBI guidelines.
As per RBI guidelines, banks have been advised that “in case of transactions carried out by a non-account based customer, that is a walk-in customer, where the amount of transaction is equal to or exceeds Rs50,000, whether conducted as a single transaction or several transactions that appear to be connected, the customer’s identity and address should be verified”.
However, Sheth’s contention was that two officials of HDFC Bank had personally cross-checked with the account holder, which proved that it was a clear case of harassment.
In this case, while the State Commission dismissed Sheth’s petition, it upheld that although Sheth was not an account holder of HDFC Bank, he still was a consumer. The Commission observed “…the consumer is not only the person who hires or avails the services of the service provider but the beneficiary also. It is argued that once the account holder had issued a cheque in favour of someone, he automatically becomes the beneficiary and therefore he is a consumer”.
Sheth then approached the National Commission. In its order on 15 March 2017, the Commission stated “…from the affidavits of Chirag Natvarlal Sheth and Prakash Sheth (the complainant), it is amply proved that the bank telephonically contacted Chirag Sheth twice to verify whether or not he has given bearer cheque to the complainant and the account holder Chirag Sheth confirmed the said fact. From the above, it is clear that the bank officials were categorically informed by the account holder that he had issued the cheque and given it to Prakash Sheth. Therefore, he, in our view, was the beneficiary of the cheque and as such he is covered under the definition of consumer, which includes the beneficiary of the service hired or availed. Thus, the complaint is maintained.”
The NCDRC also pointed out that in response to an application under Right to Information (RTI) filed by the bank, a part of the response clearly states that, “the bank should not ordinarily insist on the presence of account holder for making cash withdrawals in case of ‘self’ or ‘bearer’ cheques unless the circumstances so warrant. The banks should pay self or bearer cheques taking usual precautions.”
“From this it is evident that Reserve Bank has cautioned banks in the country to be careful while encashing the bearer cheques if the amount exceeds Rs50,000 and insist on the verification of ID, as also the address. No doubt, the complainant had not furnished his ID, but the fact remains that admittedly not only the cashier but also the bank manager separately rang up the account holder on his mobile number, who verified having issued the subject cheque and gave clearance for encashment. The bank officials, however, declined to encash the cheque. This, in our view, is a clear deficiency in service.”
Another rule from RBI states, “In the event the individual tendering the instrument is not carrying the identity, and there is urgency to pay, the transaction to be referred to the branch manager. The branch manager shall make appropriate enquiries as deemed fit and shall use his discretion to allow the transaction. Such discretion to be used judiciously as strict one- off cases, only upon satisfactory confirmation of the bonafides of the transactions.”
The National Commission declared HDFC Bank’s stance in not honouring Sheth’s cheque as ‘deficiency of service’ and asked it to pay compensation of Rs10,000 to him for harassment and humiliation.
Prakash Sheth says, “Most banks harass such non-account holders who come with bearer cheques. Mine was perhaps the first challenge before a legal forum. This case will spread literacy amongst consumers or bearer cheque holders, and will hopefully be a lesson to similar banks who adopt this malpractice.”
If a property-owner is getting a rent of more than Rs50,000 per month (pm), then the rent-payer is required to deduct tax at source (TDS) @5%. It will create a trail for the income-tax (I-T) department to ensure that the property-owner has shown the rent in her/ his tax returns and has paid the taxes. Anyone earning more than Rs6 lakh a year as rental income must declare it in the tax returns; but people find ways to circumvent it. Hence, a new Section,194-I B, has been introduced in Budget 2017. The proposed change is effective 1 June 2017.
To make for easier compliance, it is proposed that the rent-payer need not obtain a TAN (tax deduction and collection account number) and is required to deduct the tax only once in a financial year. The TDS has to be deposited through a challan-cum-statement, for which the PAN of the property-owner is needed. The tenant is not required to file a separate TDS return for this purpose.
It has also been proposed that “tax shall be deducted on such income at the time of credit of rent, for the last month of the previous year, or the last month of tenancy if the property is vacated during the year, to the account of the payee, or at the time of payment thereof in cash or by issue of a cheque or draft or by any other mode, whichever is earlier.”
For example, if you are paying a rent of Rs55,000 per month, payment of the rent for March 2018 will need deduction of 5% TDS on the total rent paid for FY17-18. TDS will be 5% of Rs55,000 for 12 months, i.e., Rs33,000. It is to be deposited with the I-T department. So, for the March 2018 rent, you pay the property-owner Rs55,000 minus Rs33,000, that is Rs22,000. If you vacate the place before March 2018, you will deduct the 5% TDS during the last month of your rent payment.
If you are a property-owner who shows the rental income in your tax returns, you don’t have to worry. Property-owners can take credit of TDS against their total tax due while filing tax returns. However, anyone getting a rent of over Rs6 lakh a year but unwilling to show it in tax returns, is asking for trouble. According to the existing laws, any renter who claims tax exemption under HRA will have to furnish the PAN of the property-owner if the annual rent exceeds Rs1 lakh. Moreover, the data will be available at the time of stamp duty/lease registration. Those who receive rental income need to properly report the income as the I-T department can easily find this information.
Notwithstanding the myriad opinions and interpretations of several court judgments on whether cooperative societies come under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a recent landmark judgment of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court reiterates that urban cooperative banks, cooperative financial institutions and other cooperative societies are bound by the Act.
The Association of Jalgaon Zilla Urban Cooperative Banks, Credit Societies and other financial institutions registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960, appealed in a petition to the High Court that cooperative institutions cannot be treated as public authority under the RTI Act.
They contended, “In view of the provisions of Section 2(h) and Section 8 of the Right to Information Act 2005, cooperative institutions registered under the Cooperative Societies Act cannot be treated as public authority.”
They also argued that under banking rules too certain information cannot be disclosed. Their contention was that in view of the provision of section 34A of the Banking 3 WP 1304 of 2008 Regulation Act, 1949, these institutions are not bound to disclose certain information which, according to them, is confidential in nature.
The petitioners also argued that “these institutions are not receiving financial aid from the Government, directly or indirectly, and so the provisions of the Act cannot be made applicable to them”.
The petitioners, in their prayer, urged the court to declare cooperative societies and others as “not public authorities” under the RTI Act. Following was their submission:
The urban cooperative banks, cooperative financial institutions, Patpedhis (credit cooperative societies) and other cooperative societies, which are registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960, are not public authorities within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act.
These institutions stand exempted from disclosure of information u/s 8)1 (d), (e) and (j) of the Right to Information Act
That the court issue a writ, order or direction restraining the officers of the cooperative department from supplying any information to the members or general public which is, according to the said societies, confidential in nature.
The court, pending the hearing and final decision of the writ petition, restrain the respondent from disclosing any information other than the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts of the cooperative societies, urban banks and Patpedhis to the general public under Right to Information Act.
In its order issued on 13 February 2017, the court observed that cooperative institutions, are registered under the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, 1960 and that cooperative societies and other such institutions are created by a statute; that they have a public authority over them which is the final decision-making body.
Certain Articles of the Constitution also show that such institutions are discharging the duty of the State and there is an ‘authority’ over them, which is the final decision-making body and the co-operatives are bound to supply information (all of which comes under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act), to this authority. Hence, cooperative societies and other such institutions are bound to supply information under the RTI Act, the HC said.
The High Court observed:
Cooperative institutions are bodies created by the statute. But right from the registration till the liquidation there is control over these institutions by the authority created under the same Act. The authority steps in to take decisions on the rights of the members. The authority has control over the manner in which funds are invested or over the distribution of the funds. Such institutions cannot act independently and the apex bodies are created for such institutions.
Even Articles 38,39,43 and 48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution show that to some extent such institutions are discharging the duty of the State
The provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act show that the authority under the Act can do the audit and inquire into irregularities. If loss is caused to the institution, by the directors, promoters etc., the authority can assess the damage, and the loss caused to the institution can be recovered from those persons. Under the Act, the authority can suspend the managing committee and remove its members. For all these and other purposes mentioned in the Cooperative Societies Act, the cooperative institution is bound to supply the record to the authority.
The provisions of the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, if read with the definition of information given in Section 2(f) of the Act, makes it clear that everything which is mentioned in the definition of information needs to be supplied by the cooperative institution to the authority created under the Cooperative Societies Act. The definition of ‘Public Authority’ given in Section 2(h) shows that such public authority can be created by any law made by the State Legislature. It is already observed that the officers like Registrar and his subordinate officers are appointed under the Cooperative Societies Act.
The High Court therefore concluded that, “…the reliefs claimed in the present petition cannot be granted as the reliefs can be used 14 WP 1304 of 2008 directly or indirectly by the cooperative institutions to deny the supply of the information… This Court holds that no relief which is claimed in the present petition can be given to the petitioner.”
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has been pursuing this issue for long, says, “After the Supreme Court’s order in Thalappalam Services Cooperfative Bank Ltd. against State of Kerala, public authorities and public information officers (PIOs) said the RTI act was not applicable to cooperative societies. Actually even in the Thalappalam case, the apex court, in paragraph 52 of its judgment, had categorically stated that the PIO of Registrar of Cooperative Societies is duty bound to supply the information. But even then PIOs and cooperative societies were denying the information sought under RTI.”
Below is a copy of the order passed by Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court…
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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”.)
Residents of Bangalore are up in arms about the proposed felling of 112 trees in the Jayamahal area to make way for a steel flyover to help reduce traffic congestion in the city. Is there no way in which these large, old trees can be saved from sure death?
Urbanization and development are an inevitable part of living today. Road widening and building of flyovers has to happen in every city, but, this comes at the cost of losing green cover. Though transplantation and translocation of trees is an age-old activity the world across, it is rarely looked to as a solution before a tree is brought down.
In 2009, when the Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway was being built, the existing road needed to be widened. A large number of trees were cut down for this and no one from the general public raised an objection.
Moved by this unfortunate incident, Ramchandra Appari, a resident of Hyderabad, decided to do something to stop the indiscriminate felling of trees.
Ramchandra, supervising the translocation work
“During a random conversation with a friend of mine in Australia I mentioned my feelings about this to him. He introduced me to the idea of tree translocation and after doing a lot of reading about it, I set up the Green Morning Horticulture Services Private Limited, which offers professional help in landscaping and tree translocation,” says Ramchandra, the managing director of the company.
While reading up and learning more about the process of tree translocation, Ramchandra found that knowledge about this practice has been around since 2000 BC. Ancient Egyptian pictographs depict men transporting trees, with their roots, in large containers. The Egyptians, supposedly transported large trees by ships from different parts of the world and transplanted them in Egypt.
“It is indeed amazing that a solution to the felling of large trees exists with humans for many centuries now. It is heartening to know that in most countries, the world over, trees are not cut down but are instead translocated. However, for some reason, in India, this is not popular as yet,” continues Ramachandra.
We all know that trees play a very important role in protecting the lives of all other living beings found around them.
Uprooted tree, with roots packed, being moved by a crane.
Most of our activities generate plenty of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that pollute the atmosphere, and it is only trees that can convert these gases into oxygen and help counter the ill-effects.
Trees take many years to grow and once fully grown, many species can live for more than a hundred years. The loss of even one tree in a vicinity can cause an imbalance in the natural wealth and health of the surrounding area.
“In India, apart from Hyderabad, tree translocation is being done in certain parts of Gujarat and in Bangalore too. Trees like gulmohar, neem, jamun, mango, pepul and other ficus species can be easily translocated. To date, our company has translocated some 5,000 trees and we can easily say that we have achieved a success rate of 80%. The process is slow and takes time and what makes it expensive is basically the need to hire earth movers, cranes and trailers,” adds Ramachandra.
Tree translocation is a tedious process, which has to be done very carefully. Once the tree is identified, the earth around the roots (at least 4 feet in diameter and depth) is dug and the roots are treated with chemicals to help in the transportation.
After a week the tree is lifted with a crane and the roots are packed up in a large jute bag, making a root ball out of them.
A tree being lowered into the trench in the new location.
The tree with most of its branches pruned, is then transported in a trolley to the new place, where a root ball trench has already been made and the soil has been treated with anti-pest and anti-disease chemicals. The tree is planted in the new trench, and for the next couple of months requires close monitoring.
Recently, in the stretch planned for the Hyderabad Metro Rail, around 800 trees had to be translocated. This major project was taken up by the company and almost all the trees are thriving in the new locations. To try and maintain some sort of balance in the vicinity from where a tree has been uprooted, the company generally tries to plant the uprooted tree as close to the place where it has been uprooted from.
However, if this is not possible, a 5-year-old tree is planted in the vicinity and the full grown uprooted tree is planted elsewhere.
A ficus tree translocated to a large garden.
“The expenses for translocation of the trees mainly depends on three factors: the size of the tree, the number of trees that the client wants to translocate and the distance from where the tree is being uprooted to the place where it has to be replanted. We have once charged Rs. 6,000 for a 15-year-old tree and even charged Rs. 1.5 lakh for a 100-year-old one,” says Ramachandra.
With cities across the world rapidly losing green cover, there is an urgent need for more research on the viability of tree translocation, and it is becoming increasingly important that we take steps to save each and every full-grown tree.
About the author: Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.