Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The unbearable burden of ID papers

India suffers from extremes in several fields. Floods and droughts, ultimate prosperity and abject poverty,overstaffed private schools and single teacher municipal schools, space satellites and bullock carts...... The list is long. Let me mention just one more. People with no valid papers to prove their identity and those with multiple documents for every purpose,be it personal identity , proof of address or senior citizen status.Now let us restrict the discussion to the second category in this post since only God and time can help the first category. The document which most of the people seem to possess is the ration card. It is a little odd that the document which came into existence because of the shortage of essential food items and was designed for facilitating just distribution of such items among the large population became an identity document.Till some years ago, the only document,besides Passport, that was accepted as proof of address was the ration card.To apply for Passport, the basic document required and used was the ration card. In those days, there was no voters identity card. Rent receipt,electricity bill , water bill, telephone bill and bank passbook were not accepted as proof of address.Even as proof of identity, leave alone proof of address, there was only ration card.There was as yet in the horizon no PAN card which is widely used as personal identity these days.There has been a sea change in the last twenty years.More and more people opt to apply for Passport.Irrespective of whether many or only some passport holders choose to or get to travel abroad, the Passport comes handy as a document to endorse personal identity and residential address.Many, if not all, possess voters identity card.This too, like the Passport, is accepted as both personal identity and address proof. Then there is PAN card for personal identity. For address proof, rent receipt, sale deed for the apartment,electricity bill, water bill,telephone (both landline and mobile) bill, LPG gas bill and credit card statements are accepted. The latest document cleared for proof of address is the Aadhaar card.The Indian Government is planning another document called resident card and this will be issued by the National Population Register. So , theoretically one has several documents which one can use to identify oneself. But it is a different story in practice.If your landlord refuses to issue a rent receipt because of his fear of income tax, then this option of rent receipt as proof of address is denied to you.The electricity bill is in the name of the landlord;so this option too is non-existent. If your Passport was issued in Delhi and you live currently in Mumbai, you have no way of using the Passport as proof of address.If your voters identity card was issued in Mumbai and now you have been transferred to Chennai, you can not use this card as address proof for applying for cooking gas. If the residential phone is sanctioned and paid for by the company you work for, then the telephone bill is not in your name and so it is not proof of your address.You can use the bank passbook as proof of address;but to open a bank account you first need to submit a document for proof of address. You see, obtaining the first document for proof of address is tough;thereafter things get easy.The need is to simplify things in such a way that there is one basic document available to all citizens for use as both personal identity and for address proof. And getting the change of address reflected on this card should be possible without hassles and delay.This single card could be either Aadhaar or modified PAN card. But the issuing agency should be the postal department as its reach and spread is unmatched. Even the smallest villages have a post office. Besides, which other organisation can verify and certify the declared address of a person as accurately and speedily as a post office ? In fact the postal department already issues an address proof card; due to insufficient publicity, not many are aware of it. The master identity card should have a number,the holder's full name, date of birth,address,photo and finger prints.Exactly like the Aadhaar card, but the responsibility for the address declared on the card should be vested with the postal department. Whenever there is change of address, the holder should apply to the post office for verification and certifying and within 2 months of change in address, the card should reflect the change. Aadhaar card, PAN card , Post office address proof card and voters identity card can all be replaced by this basic master identity card. The burden of keeping a plethora of identity documents will be done away with.The ration card will be limited to the original purpose of giving subsidized food to BPL population.Passport use will be confined to its intended purpose of travel outside the country. Driving license will be what it was meant for , namely conferring on the holder the right to drive a vehicle on public roads. Electricity bill, phone bill and gas bill will be what they are in essense and nothing more, bills demanding payment for services enjoyed.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Meet the ' Villi ' of Tamil TV Mega Serials !

Who or what is a Villi? The dictionary would say that villi is a small structure in the intestine. But in Tamilnadu, if you ask a common man who a villi is, he would belly-laugh for a full minute and say " Don't you see movies? Villi is a woman who is unadulterated evil." What linguistic purists would call villainess , we in Tamilnadu name as villi. That means female villain. When ladki can be a female counterpart of ladka , there exists a chachi for every chacha, why not call the female baddie as a villi by giving a tweak to the word villain ? Ethnic logic. It is some ten years ago that I started watching Tamil TV serials. Since Sun TV has a market share of around 75%, it is generally serials aired by Sun TV that are discussed whenever any one talks about Tamil serials on TV. The world shown in these mega serials is peopled mainly by women. Women of all ages. Men are disposable accessories. The protagonist, the antagonist and the side-kicks are all women. Only the courier boy, the policeman, the temple pujari, the supari killers and the Autoricksha driver are men in the serials. Obviously, they have minor roles to play in the story. Occasionally, the husbands, the father-in-laws and the sons make their humble appearances to help move the story forward and obligingly recede into the background quickly. Otherwise, it is throughout a women's show telecast for women though directed by mostly men. There are two principal time slots for these mega serials. One is between 10 am and 2.30 PM; the second is between 6PM and 10.30PM. Each serial is for a total of 30 minutes out of which about 12 minutes are for advertisements. In this limited time of 18 minutes, the director has to create twists and turns, tears and screams, love and hate. The forenoon, noon and afternoon serials are mainly watched by housewives while they cut the onions, check the pressure cooker, dump the clothes in the washing machine and eat their lunch or get ready for the post-lunch siesta. These serials are heavily women-oriented and the storyline is a throw-back to the 1960-s. Mother-in-law torturing the daughter-in-law, parents of the bridegroom troubling the parents of the bride for dowry, widows bringing up their young children against all odds etc. etc. It is a catharsis for the women viewers. Even if the social changes in the last few decades and the spread of the nuclear family system have rendered the ubiquitous mother-in-law toothless, the serials depict her as an ongoing unwelcome reality. The mother-in-law who watches it has a long sigh, thinking about how fate has cheated her of her divine rights namely torturing her daughter-in-law. She can at least watch the small screen mother-in-law doing things which she herself has always wanted to do, but which the changing times have tied her hands from doing. Euphemism for making the daughter-in-law's life miserable. The real life daughter-in-law watches the serial empathizing with the small screen daughter-in-law though in real life she could be living several hundred kilometers away from her real life mother-in-law and it is the latter who is probably scared of living with the former under the same roof. Though the serials are old fashioned with regard to mother-in-law and dowry nuisance, they do not hesitate to co-opt recent social developments. For example, no serial is free from divorces sought by women themselves on grounds of cruelty by husbands, widow remarriages, upwardly mobile professional women, college girls having boy friends etc. The evening serials are more generous in accommodating men. The reason is that men who return from their work spend a few minutes in front of the TV before they eat their dinner and doze off. So, one gets to see some male characters mouthing dialogues and playing more substantial roles than in the day-time serials. But even in the evening serials, the main characters are heroine and villi, not hero and villain. A serial producer can break this formula only at the risk of slipping in TRP rating. More than the heroine i.e. good woman , it is the villi, the bad woman who keeps the viewers in thrall. There are two types of villis. The first belongs to the old school of villainy. She wears Kanjeevaram silk saris, consults astrologers ( who in this new millennium still count the star movements on their ten fingers) on when disaster will strike the heroine and her family and abuses one and all in chaste Tamil. Vadivukkarasi belongs to this first school. The second type belongs to the new school of villainy. This new school villi is well-educated, uses plenty of English words, wears kurti and jeans, uses digital technology freely , such as videographing a murder using her smart phone so that she could later blackmail whomever , using a pen drive to copy sensitive information from a company's files, google-searching on her iPad or Android for the best supari talent in town etc. Rani of Athipookkal fame is from this new school. Though there are outward differences between the two types, the basic nature of all the small screen villis is the same. Their sacred mission in life is to destroy good people, rob their wealth, separate couples, kidnap for ransom and such other sadistic acts. Nothing new in this since big screen villis have been assisting the villains in doing this for ages. But what is new is that the villis of today do not need the villains' assistance to do these bad acts ; moreover, todays' female viewers have begun to lap it up and ceased to be shocked no matter to what crude and cruel level the villainy degenerates , as long as the episode remains spicy and absorbing. Every Friday episode ends with such a heart-pounding turn thanks to the villi's machinations that there is tremendous longing in the viewers' hearts for Monday to dawn without delay. The villis have finally edged out the heroines as the pivot of the story and enjoy better billing than any one else including heroines. The only exception to this is Radhika's serials in which importance given to villi is minimal and grudging. It is Radhika all the way, sometimes twice over !

Sunday, November 10, 2013

You, Your maid servant and Mr.Ambani get the same LPG subsidy !

What a fair system it is ! You (though I do not know the individual you) earn ,let us say, Rs.50000.- per month. Alright, let us settle it at Rs.60000.- Your maid servant earns Rs.6000 per month through her work at different households. Mr.Ambani, either of the two brothers, is either the richest or the second richest person in India and is one of the richest men in the world. To put out a definite figure as his annual income is an insult to him. Let us simply say that it would be a few hundred crores. You ( also I) and the maid servant will feel small and insignificant before him. But do you know, the government does not distinguish between you three? All of you are equal in the eyes of the Government. In order to pass the ultimate litmus test for equal treatment of the citizens, the government gives the same number of subsidized LPG cylinders i.e. 9 per year to all the three. Not just Ambani is treated as equal to the Aam Aadmi of this country, but Tata, Birla, Mahindra, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Sibal, Mayavati, Amitabh Bachchan, Narayana Murthy and thousands of others who do not need LPG subsidy. Why talk only about them? If you drive a car to your office every day, if you are reading this blog on your iPad, if you visit a multiplex cinema twice a month, if you are taking a foreign holiday together with your family once in two years, then you do not deserve the LPG subsidy. There are people who genuinely need to be subsidized. Think of the situation a year ago. There was no cap on the number of subsidized cylinders. Depending on the consumption, a household could order 6 or even 60 per year. The richer the household is, the more is the LPG consumed. Better-off people get more guests, they have to entertain more; so they consume more LPG. So, before the cap was introduced, richer households were getting more subsidy in absolute rupee terms than poorer households. Can any sane person justify this? But why is that no economist takes note of this fact? The ivy-league eggheads rushing to the media condemning the LPG subsidy as the sole evil causing deficit in economy do not fail to enjoy the subsidy in their own domestic lives. Why do they not advise the Government to keep people of their ilk outside the protective net of subsidy? Why is the media silent on this? Why is there no demand for a more equitable system where only the genuine poor get the subsidy and not those driving a Mercedes ? Not just in LPG, this ' equal treatment of all citizens' can also be seen in diesel subsidy. It is not just the buses and trucks which get subsidized diesel. The huge luxury SUV-s owned by the rich get this diesel subsidy. The diesel cars driven by the upper strata of the middle class enjoy this subsidy. Is it so difficult to identify which section of the population or what kind of use should get subsidy? When income tax rules are framed so meticulously as to cut out the slightly higher earning sections from availing of certain deductions, when ration cards are issued in different colours just to ensure that subsidized rice or kerosene do not get enjoyed by the economically better-off sections, what is the problem in keeping out people who do not need or deserve subsidy in LPG or diesel? Is this vote bank politics? The rich will not shed tears if their LPG or diesel subsidy is taken away. But the vocal middle middle class or upper middle class which is known as chattering class and which is active in social networking sites on the net, picks up a microphone in the guise of a citizen journalist and shapes public opinion will strike back. In a sense, this class too is a vote bank. The political parties are afraid of this section though many from this class do not care to vote in the elections. Vested interests do not originate only from the rich and the super rich. The middle class, leaving out the lower one-third, has vested interests too and its power is ,of late, seen very much in the causes certain TV channels champion.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The good old Savings Bank Passbook makes a comeback ! In the 21st century upmarket Private Sector Banks !!

Just a few days ago, I received an envelope from a leading private bank in which I have a savings bank account. To my surprise, the envelope contained a new Passbook. There was a covering letter which stated that the bank would be doing away with quarterly or periodical (paper) account statements and from now on, transaction entries will have to be got made in the passbook at the branches of the bank. I could not believe my eyes ! Passbook is supposed to be the old world practice, right? Right, at least in the eyes of those private banks who made a dramatic entry into the Indian banking sector 10 or 15 years ago. Only the slow-moving, lethargic PSU banks with pan-eating and perennially gossiping staff managing the counters are supposed to use the outdated passbook system. The new-age swanky private banks with their clean and posh environment and fresh-out-of-university employees are supposed to be different from the PSU banks. In every thing including the way a record of transactions is made available in the hands of the customers! Be it the exorbitant minimum monthly balance requirement for Savings Bank accounts, the charges for asking extra accounting statements, charges for this service, that service and for every service which is really not much of service, penalty for this unintentional mistake on the part of the customer, that insignificant error by the account holder and a dozen other reasons which are no genuine reasons for penalty etc., these private banks boasted that they were different; in fact, several cuts above the PSU banks ! And now, these private banks are coming to the conclusion that a time-tested passbook is a better system to record transactions than loose sheets called quarterly account statements. It is an indirect compliment to the PSU banks who have stuck to the ubiquitous passbook either due to inertia or out of better understanding of ground realities. I for one have always found the quarterly account statements as any thing but practical. One has to file them carefully and keep them safely for future reference. Chances of losing a couple of them are high. A passbook with a thick cover is much better for preservation. To get the entries done in the passbook once in a quarter by going to the bank is no big trouble. A passbook with the photograph of the account holder affixed and complete residential address mentioned , in addition, serves as identity proof or address proof in many instances when such proof is required to be submitted. So, one private bank has already reverted to the old system of Passbook. The others may follow suit. This makes one thing clear. Do not throw away the baby with the bath water, in the name of modernity or innovation or the urge to be different ! Some practices which are old may still be worth conserving, when seen through the prism of practicality and simplicity. Lastly, the PSU banks, with warts and all, may still be having their ears closer to the mouths of the customers than the private banks.

Friday, November 8, 2013

E-filed your IT return? But whose e-mail id is in it?

As more and more income tax assesses have to or choose to file their income tax returns electronically, certain things have to be kept in mind. One of the important things to watch out is the e-mail id you give in the ITR. Many e-file their returns through chartered accountants or income tax consultants. It is more often than not that the CA-s / IT consultants give their own e-mail id in the ITR rather than that of the assesse. This is done with the good intention that the consultant can keep track of the receipt of ITR-V at CPC, Bangalore since CPC sends a mail confirming the receipt of ITR-V at their end. So far so good. But problems arise when you change the consultant or decide to e-file on your own next year. After the assessment, CPC sends an intimation under section 143-1 either indicating a refund or raising a demand ; this intimation is sent through e-mail to the mail id declared in your relevant ITR. When your former IT consultant receives it, he might not forward it to you if he has no records of your e-mail id because of the fact that you are no more his client. So, whenever you e-file your ITR through a consultant, insist that your e-mail id is declared in it rather than that of the consultant. This is for future. But those of you who have just changed their consultant or begun filing returns on their own and so have missed out on the intimation sent by CPC on their last year's returns should log on to the e-filing website of Income Tax Department and change their particulars regarding e-mail id to which information should be sent by the IT department. In addition, they can ask for a fresh electronic copy of CPC intimation under section 143-1.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Red Bus is neither red nor a Bus !

Red Bus is no Bus, leave alone the colour of the bus being red. It is just a ticket for Omni Bus in India. www.redbus.in is an online bus ticket booking site. I have very pleasant experience with the above site in booking bus tickets.The ticket selling company has tie-ups with 350 bus operators for a total of 4500 routes. The company was started by some software engineers of Bangalore 7 or 8 years back. I hear that the company has just been bought over by ibibo for hundreds of crores. What I liked most with their system is that they have been able to persuade at least a few bus operators to accept mTicket. mTicket is simply an sms message sent to the passenger's mobile phone after the ticket is booked.No print-outs to be taken. No worry about losing the print-out. The mTicket gives all the relevant information such as the name of the vBus service operator, the boarding point, the destination, the ticket price , the departure time, the seat number etc. You can simply show the sms to the conductor of the bus and get in. It is a boon for those passengers who have a computer and a net connection, but no printer to take a print-out. Of course, a copy of the ticket is sent to the e-mail address of the passenger. Those uncomfortable or unfamiliar with online booking, virtual ticket etc. can opt for phone booking and delivery of a conventional paper ticket. Even Sunday home delivery is available in a few cities. Like with any other online ordering, you can use credit card, debit card or internet banking. In addition, cash on delivery mode is available. You are charged Rs.40.- for delivery of the ticket at your door step. If both onward and return journey tickets are booked simultaneously, the payment is Rs.40 for both together, not Rs.40 each. Quite fair. I find the facility to choose the seat on the basis of the pictorial information given on empty seats extremely useful.