Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kerala Budget 2013 - An Open Letter to FM

Dear Minister,

History reckons with you for the most number of Budgets presented in the world. You are an experienced craftsman presenting the budget in a mercurial way. Your experience in politics and administration are unparalleled and presents a unique opportunity for researchers and practitioners to delve on the language, intend and vision of your Budget Speeches. You have seen generation after generation  not only on the floor of the House but also the Political turbulences' since independence. As a Public Policy Student I have great admiration for your skill sets as a Minister and a Politician. 

I am sure this letter may not surprise you on its content side. I wish to share my specific thoughts in certain areas on the upcoming budget of Kerala. These thoughts are based on my readings, interactions, observations and experience working with different clients over the years.

I do not have to spend time on explaining Kerala Model of Development to you. Those who studied on the model have stated 'Second Generation Problems' that Kerala face today. I will go one step ahead and call it as 'After the Welfare State' Paradigm for the problems that we face today. Kerala has notorious balance sheet for the money spent on pensions, salaries and perks. Though I welcome your recent steps for reforming Pension sector, I must confess that many in Kerala hardly have the details of the proposed reforms. I wish you would explain the pension scheme in detail in your budget speech. 

We have a very upward looking middle class with a significant size in the population. Somehow, for all these years, the welfare and socialistic pattern of policies implemented in Kerala has led to an approach of 'One Size Fits All' kind of attitude. In my opinion, it has resulted serious damage to the growth and development of the State. Most often, it has been the Public policy driven rather than  growth driven. While there is hue and cry about the subsidies at the national level, we are very much silent about it. Service delivery at a cheaper rate and not indexed to the inflation has pushed Kerala economy to an impoverished state. At the same time, it has been taught that the Government is responsible for everything and especially ensuring the services irrespective of its size, volume and content. I believe the Budget is a golden opportunity to discuss the service delivery in depth and to create awareness that while the Government ensures the services, it cannot be the provider or guarantor for all sorts of service delivery. Unfortunately, in Kerala there is no target approach.
Water or electricity, they were given at the cheaper rate to everyone irrespective of their income background.

I wish the upcoming budget will propose a road map how separate strategies for poor and rich will be incorporated in the coming years. Kerala's fiscal imbalance is largely due to this 'One size fits for all' approach. Another important step would be the announcement of Disinvestment in Public Sector Undertakings of Kerala. Not getting into the debate of CAG reports, I am sure most of these companies are either irrelevant or lack expertise in the modern times. Rather than allowing them to suck tax payers, the Government shall set the process to dis-invest in those companies. The image of Kerala State Government being the largest entrepreneur in this part of the world do not auger well for the future of the State. 

There is lack of acceptance or cohesion from the part of the leadership on the urbanisation processes. Though there are attempts to improve the infrastructure, most of them are happening separately and independently failing to see through inter connectivity and dependence.

What Kerala requires is the vision for Kerala 2030 - God's own Kerala metro state. Same is the case with the opening up of the sectors like Education and Health creating opportunities for the investors from India and abroad. In both the cases, Kerala has achieved the minimum quality many years ago. But we failed to take them to the next level where the competency and skills are taught. In Higher Education, the present Government should invite reputed foreign universities to set up their campus in Kerala. The budget provisions can facilitate the role of micro health insurers in the market.

The Urban Local Bodies shall be strengthened not by pumping more money but by building the capacities required for an effective Local Self Government. Mayor can be the CEO of the urban Kerala.

Not many have forgotten that the present State opposed the opening up of retail shop (aka FDI in retail) in Kerala. The guidelines at the national level ensures that Kerala cannot have more than 2 or 3 shops. Then why does Government oppose the move? I am sure retail entry in Kerala will expose the general public to the realities of the modern times that would lead to the destruction of psychological barrier in everyone's life here. The question of who is superior among King and Pope will no longer be there. One will have the courage to say that King is Naked and that would be the historic moment for you as the finance minister.

I wish my recommendations get reflected in the upcoming budget.

Thank you

D.Dhanuraj

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Future of KSRTC in Kerala

by D. Dhanuraj

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) in the news again! This time, many believe that KSRTC will be grounded like Kingfisher airlines. Media reports that it incurs a loss of 8 lakhs rupees every day. The reason they cite is that of the recent hike in the Diesel Price. It was told that KSRTC has to shell out more money compared to the domestic car users as they fall in another category. It looks like the policy of the Government is NOT to promote public transport but the private vehicles. In that case, I do not agree with the Government prescription for more Sales Tax on Diesel for KSRTC as it breaks the rules in the game and having a level playing field with the rest of the competitors in the sector. Rather, Government should have lessened the Sales Tax to facilitate and support the public transport. This incident shows that private transport and private vehicles are encouraged while the public transport is neglected.

At the same time, I wonder whether the issues with KSRTC will be solved with the slashing of Sales Tax on Diesel.They have a long history of apathy and inefficient usage of resources. In my opinion, KSRTC is a good example for how a public commodity can be channelised for the political upmanship and poor management practices. KSRTC had a mission when it was set up. In today's world, that mission need to be innovated if it has to continue in the sector. With the opening up of the sector a few decades ago, KSRTC thrived in the sector with continued patronage from the Government and enforcing market monopoly principles in the select routes. It had the advantage of being always on the Government's side to sustain itself in the market. KSRTC is neither good in Efficient distribution of resources nor in deciding frequency of bus operations in a particular route. It has accumulated losses over the years which is bigger in size compared to the recent losses incurred as a result of hike in Diesel price. 

There is a larger debate whether KSRTC should exist in the current model or be closed down. Personally, I believe that the sector has to be revamped before we start thinking of revamping KSRTC. The definition of public transport shall have a wider meaning and accommodate players like Auto Rickshaws and Share Autos to meet the mission of better and accessible connectivity for the commuting public. Another complaint in this sector is about the misbehavior and rash driving by the private bus operators. In this case, the policy should encourage the transport operators to form cooperatives and the profit shall be based on the miles they operate and not on the basis of no of commuters boarding.

Then comes the mission of KSRTC. It was set up to connect the interiors of the State where the transport options are limited. Now, the broader definition of pubic transport will help to bridge this gap by issuing permits to the share autos, the pressure and demand for KSRTC will come down. Even the nationalised routes shall be opened up in the Sector. In this scenario, if KSRTC has to exist, it shall be bifurcated into the regional corporations. KSRTC head quarters in Transport Bhavan in Trivandum shall not be the authority to judge the routes and the frequency for a particular route in Kasaragod. In that case, efficient services according the demands and requirements of the local/region can be the prioritised by KSRTC local head offices. Even then, there should be market ethics and principles for the sector so that everyone in the sector is respected and no one is bulldozed. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

WINNING OVER FAKE LOTTERY SMS AND CALLS


By Madhu.S and Nichu Willington*


“Your Mobile number has won 750,000 Pounds FOR ongoing ICC World Cup T20 Award. To claim your prize, (Send your name, Address and Mobile#) Via Email :crkdraw@hotmail.com”. This tempting SMS has been received by millions of mobile users in India. However, there are no estimates on the number of people who got induced by such sham messages and lost money. Unfortunately, those who get cheated by these tempting SMS do not have much relief and are forced to repent. Many of them even do not report such incidents because of the shame, which has allowed the perpetrators, become habitual about faking people.  The people are always at the receiving end as the offenders or perpetrators often operate from outside and escape the clutches of the law. The only thing Government can think of is to give a Statutory Warning as in Cigarette packets “Please don’t attend or reply to frisky calls and SMS” being issued for each call and message !!  The telecom service providers meanwhile can bring a zoo zoo and tell its customers “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware!!)



Taking action against these perpetrators have has been the most difficult task, owing to the modus operandi used in creating such messages or calls. The enforcement agencies end up in no man’s land inspite of tracking systems with the help of IT Cells located in most of the states and district capitals. Given the fact that they operate anywhere from London to Dubai to Nigeria, the extra-territoriality of jurisdiction is difficult to apply. The existing penal provision in the Indian Penal Code as to Cheating, deception or fraud maybe used to book and charge them. But the mere fact that the message was traced to Nigeria makes it difficult to enforce the law of the country, being India in this case.

However, what needs to be prodded is the absence of clear regulatory norms to prevent such fake SMS/Calls. The Telecom system in India from Messaging to Download of Apps in India is governed under the age old Indian Telegraph Act enacted by the Britisher’s in 1885, the year in which Indian National Congress was formed, giving it a tinge of history. The fact that the entire IT and ITE’s systems is governed by the archaic law have posed a major challenge for tackling major Cyber crimes. Though the Information Technology Act was formed to give clarity and can be credited to define cyber crimes and offences. The increasing dimension and constantly evolving nature of offences has made it difficult for the law to catch up eventually affecting the victims. It is therefore pertinent to delve upon the need for a better mechanism to tackle the menace.

Role of TRAI

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is considered as the major body dealing with Telecom related issues with the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) acting as the dispute resolution wing.  The Department of Telecom (DoT) under the  Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has been at loggerheads with TRAI while defining the scope of intervention in telecom matters. This ambiguity is reflected in the manner in which issues such as fake SMS or Calls are handled. TRAI came out with Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations in 2007 after much hue and cry against telemarketers which have been bothering the increasing Telecom customer base. TRAI forced Service Providers to regulate the Telemarketing business by identifying and restricting it. This led to the formulation of a Do Not Call Registry (Dial or SMS 1909) which contains the data base of all customers who does not want Telemarketers to bother them. While it was a good step in the right direction, the sheer manner in which telemarketer’s operated posed an issue for the government in preventing or regulating it. Telemarketers who are not registered under the Registry escaped the clutches of the regulation which actually defeats the purpose behind the same.


This also stands true for fake messages or  ‘Lottery Messages’ , which does not come under the definition of unsolicited telemarketing though it comes under Commercial Communication as defined under the Regulation. As a result one still receives such SMS or Calls even if he takes the pain to register in the DND registry. The Consumers is left with the only option of lodging complaint against their service providers for unsolicited transactional messages or calls as governed under Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulation. In case the grievance is not redressed even after exhausting the procedure, an individual complainant without prejudice to his right to approach an appropriate Court of Law may approach Public Grievance Cell of Department of Telecommunications (DoT). This applied only in case the offender can be traced or identified. There has been an instance in Kerala wherein the victim with the help of local police was able to coerce the offender to come to India under the disguise of advancing money for the purported ‘lottery’ he had won. He was arrested and later put to jail. Such instances are rare and need the active support of the victim who needs to work in tandem with the enforcement agencies. However, habitual offenders have been defining crude plans which helps him to escape before been caught.

How to tackle? 

The larger issue of tackling fake SMS/Calls lies in building a technical infrastructure to prevent such SMS/Calls in reaching the customer base in India. Tracking signals and latlogs has been employed in an efficient manner by different technical agencies. Since many of them operate through the internet and keep on changing their IP Address, it is not easy to identify the exact location or locate the perpetrator. While a complete foolproof system may not be possible, it can definitely decrease the extent of damage.

Mobile literacy and etiquettes go to a large extent of preventing and even acting against the real perpetrators. Since the mobile and internet gives scope of privacy, so does the secrecy involved in such faking.  It is import for mobile users 1) Not to get induced by such SMS/Calls, especially those which involve sending money 2) Not to reply to such SMS/Calls 3) To know about the grievance redressal mechanisms such as Police, TRAI, and Grievance Centres of the Service Providers he/she is using and lastly BEWARE.

 This further needs to be supported by legal machinery which can take action against the perpetrators. Since the general law is not adequate in preventing such offenders, it would be worthwhile to have a specific regulation to tackle the menace. Much needs to be done for assisting those who fall prey to such SMS, given the state of mobile literacy of customers in India. As long as the tendency exists, we can hear many instances of people getting excited at winning lotteries or winning a Trip to USA!! 

* Madhu.S is the Team Lead of CPPR and Nichu Willington has worked as Intern at CPPR