Archive for September, 2007

What I Will Do for World Peace Today?

I have been tagged by Nishu to write about my aim of life and how I want to make world a better place.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend at school.

world peace

When asked about what we wanted to do in future, I had said I want to work for women’s welfare. My friend said she wanted to work for India’s emergence in global world.

Looking back, I was a die-hard feminist. I actually thought of a name (Mukti, height of melodrama, isn’t it?) and concept of a women’s magazine I aspired to start. I also wrote early articles for this magazine so that I could publish them when I grew up. I was in class 10 then.

Without knowing what was in those manuscripts, my proud mama handed them to an uncle who was visiting us. I was inwardly cringing as some of my articles were outright aggressive. For example, one article provided tips to harassed women how they could avoid getting their salaries snatched by their hostile family members. How did a 14 or 15-year-old get such (tacky??) ideas? Simple, I was a voracious reader. Library books were just not enough to keep my attention and my parents would not subscribe any magazine for me, I took to secretly gorging through wanton women magazines like Femina, Manorama, Grihashobha… My young mind didn’t escape both the subtle and melodramatic notes of female misery.

Now that I am grown up, I realize it is not enough to address women-related issues. It’s not all about better life.

Personally I believe if I can change the life of one person for better, I have paid my debt to life. I think of adoption all the time, but I can not commit yet as it is dependent on the wishes of my partner. I want to give a child a home with two willing partners. Not everyone can be a privileged super mama like Sushmita Sen and Anjelina Jolie.

I can not be a lone crusader in my dream to make a difference. Hence, more than lone volunteering, I try to reach out with words so that I can have reach out to hundreds of more volunteers for a cause. That is my immediate aim.

Watch this space to read more about what I do for world peace. 🙂

Web 2.0: What’s That?

In my zeal to educate myself, I found out about Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is neither complicated nor technical. Web 2.0 is about collaboration (read wikis, blog), syndication (read RSS, feeds) and mashups (read flickr and maps). It is inexpensive way of sharing information such as, say google spreadsheets. The advantage is that it enables the user, as they say the information flow is “bottom-up.”

You may read more about it here.

Check out this interesting video to explain the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

Web 2.0

P.S: I can’t believe I added a technology tab in my blog!

New Champions of Consumer Rights

With great pleasure I take this opportunity to announce the new champions of consumer rights. 🙂

Pepsi Bottling Plant Fined

Ankit Jain, a lawyer who takes on Pepsi. Ankit had ordered two crates of Pepsi, when he noticed that some of the bottles were only partly filled. That is when he filed a complaint with the consumer court, the Pepsi bottling amount at Noida has been fined. The point as made by Ankit’s petition is: “With the kind of shortage being there in one bottle, the bottling plants must be causing total shortage of lakh litres each day. Considering that the plant fills 10,000 bottles per minute and runs for almost 8-10 hour per day, they must be making lakhs of rupees per day as unlawful gains and causing a corresponding unlawful loss to the consumer.” You can read the interesting accounts of Ankit’s exploits here. It is notable that this lawyer has taken Nirulas (the restaurant chain at Delhi) and State Bank of India to consumer court. May we have more lawyers like him.

ICICI bank fined for Rs. 85,0000-

The second hero of the week is Lt. Col Rajesh Yadav who had a savings account with Delhi branch of ICICI bank. He was erroneously billed by the bank for an amount of Rs 45,623 on a “renewed card” that was never issued to him!! Sounds familiar? Well, consumer panel fined ICICI bank for an amount of Rs. 85, 000/- on grounds of mental agony. Did I hear you muttering, “Serves them right!” 😀

It is true Pepsi and ICICI may not become exemplary companies overnight due to these paltry fines levied on them by consumer court. But I am sure they would think twice and reconsider when faced with another Ankit Jain and Lt. Col. Rajesh Yadav.

P.S: I was really sad when no one responded to my questions in my post Consumer Awareness II. But these two pieces of news cheered me up. It means the voice of consumer is not dead. There is still some hope. Amen! 🙂

I am Technologically Challenged

I am tired of being technology-ignorant. I am not even talking about complicated programming. I do not even have knowledge of HTML, I just about know some basic tags for bold, italic, paragraph, list…that’s it.

Now I have never aspired to learn such technical things before, but it is causing me few problems in blogging and web-surfing.

My tag cloud from wordpress does not show all the tags I have in my post. Other day Ramesh pointed out that he was not able to click the Pakistan tag in the tag cloud on this page. I had no clue how to correct it. I got rid of it.

I have no idea how I can make StumbleUpon work for me. I have seen people using it. Ashish has a column called “My stumbles” in his blog. I use del.icio.us, why do I need stumble?

Other day Ish posted an entry titled “Social Bookmarks for WordPress.com Users.” I downloaded the files he provided at the end of this post. Though I thought understood how it works after reading his post, later I didn’t know how to use the files he provided. Those files are still lying unused in my laptop.

Not only this, I like to list the categories/tags on the right hand panel of my blog. I could not seem to find an option for this in the last theme. Or is it just me, other day I realized it took me entire month to remove the restriction that allowed only wordpress members to comment in my blog.

I do not how RSS feed works. I have tried to read about it, somehow I don’t know how to subscribe to it. Recently, it has been easier to subscribe since I started using Google reader.

This video from Common Craft helped me understand the underlying concepts of RSS.


RSS in Plain English

But I still do not know if anyone can subscribe RSS feed for my blog or how to manage RSS feed for my blog? Do I need to do something about it?

We can now include scripts in wordpress, how? I do not know practically how to use it for my benefit. Most people include “Digg it” logo on their post, thought I want to, I can not due to my ignorance. Some bloggers include colorful text boxes to present quoted text. Me? I have no idea how to do it.

Now, there is so much hoopla about Web 2.0. What is it? I do not even want to google and read technical nitty-gritties. There is something in me that simply refuses to dwell into technical nitty gritty unless explained with creatively as done by Common Craft. May I find a way to deal with this.

Republising My First Post

Well, I have been fancifully 🙂 tagged by articulate Ish, to republish my first post. This tagging is part of Kirk’s blogging project. While I recalled my first post during the day, I laughed at its innocuousness. And I thanked Frank.

Well, who is Frank? To explain this, I need to perhaps explain my profession. I am an instruction designer who designs training programs for corporate and universities. Most of the clients that I have worked so far have been US. India still has to catch up with the concept of instruction design.

Well, as an instruction designer, I develop create training programs on varied subjects like game designing, business administration, corporate analysis, motivating teams, criminal law and procedures, and so on. Of course, I have no knowledge of these subjects and yet we develop training programs. Who makes it possible? A subject matter expert (SME) who is practicing in the field. He is the one who writes all the content, me only design and present it.

So I started interacting with my course writer Frank Zafiro, who is a Sergeant in US. One fine day, I just clicked his blog URL that was part of his signature. I was transported into a completely different world. I discovered Frank was also a successful crime fiction writer whose stories and anthologies have been published in various magazine. His blog is listed under my blogroll.

I wrote to Frank about his blog and promised to start mine soon. I think the kind of person that I am as the Colorgenics test tells me that I can be supremely laid back. It is quite possible that I would not have started my blog for another few months (or years?), had I not made that promise to start my blog. I thank Frank that his blog motivated me enough to make that voluntary promise. 🙂

My first post was, surprisingly, very brief and goes like this:

I don’t think that I need to change the title for my first post. It was already provided in the existing template of my blog. This title is so apt for my first post. This is to inform the world of Web that I have finally arrived. It was long awaited by friends. I too had been thinking to start my blog since a long long while ago. I had promised Frank, my friend, that I will soon start a blog. Here it is!

Hmmm, whom should I tag? I tag the wannabe journalist Dinsan and Nishu, whose blog was recently suspended by wordpress without any warning.

P.S: I would love it if Frank wrote about his first post.

 

Consumer Rights-5 Random Facts

Without a preamble, I will launch into 5 random facts about consumer issues: 🙂

1. Ever thought campaigning against banks that overcharge you in name of penalty charges, watch this interesting video called The Whistle Blowers:

2. Okay, so you have read about several children falling off in main holes, some being killed due to heavy iron gates of colonies falling on them. It is chargeable under consumer courts as negligence of civic authorities and resident welfares since it is their responsibility to maintain main holes and gates. True, you can not bring a child back by filing a case but you can save other children by making these civic bodies sit up.

3. Did you know that you are entitled to refund or change even if the bill for the defective product you purchased has “No guarantee” written over it. The consumer court rules that writing “no guarantee” on bill does not mean anything because bill is provided after a purchase is made. Rather, the seller should make the defect implicitly clear to the purchaser before the latter decides to buy it.

4. How well do you read the fine print when buying a credit card or do you know what to look for in a label while buying a cloth? Even the sales guys at fabric stores are not well aware about the products they are selling. You could start with this awareness.

5. Recent Nokia recall of BL-5C battery is perhaps the first recall that Indian has recognized on such a large scale. In other countries, such recalls are common place. People refer to them when buying a product, first-hand or second-hand. In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) works with the industry to ensure the safety of consumer products. It has toll free numbers where consumers call to report product-related accidents and injuries. CPSC makes it mandatory for the manufactures to report any complaint or information in its knowledge that could jeopardise consumer safety. Failure to do so invites legal action. On the basis of these reports and investigations, CPSC asks the manufacturers to recall the product. In India, we do not have any such body. There is no such product liability law. Can’t we do with them?

Consumer Rights Awareness II

My last post about consumer rights invited a lot of debate and criticism. Some of it justified, it is these justified thoughts I will handle in this post.

The last post was only a build up on consumer rights awareness, I had given an example of an experience that we all face with credit cards. I gave a possible solution that, possibly, we are not aware of. Think of it, we are privileged in the sense we have access to useful information something that is not as easy to someone who lives in rural areas. Most of them are not aware of their consumer rights. (Yes, Right to Information Act has not penetrated yet.)

Let’s take a rural example I read in The Telegraph. India is supposedly agriculture-based countries, yet we witnessed a sad phase of farmer suicides in the recent past. Farmers rarely file cases in consumer courts for their defective seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides, but when they do, it is on priority as it is about their livelihood. Justice was delivered to them by consumer courts in 14 long years! No prizes for guessing that they must have withered away long before justice arrived at their doorstep.

Imagine if Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was well known and well exercised, it would have been implemented as a fast and inexpensive method just as it was envisioned, and then it would have made a hell lot of difference to these farmers. The consumer courts have huge backlogs. Recently Supreme Court ordered the consumer court to award 10, 000/- to each complainant to whom justice was not delivered in the stipulated time of 90 days. (To be honest, I don’t think it worked.) I think it is also not working because people who choose to exercise this right are very few. Very few voices are raised and heard on the issue.

Granted farmers are not going to read this blog, but we can perhaps campaign online about speedy priority-based trials on free web sites such as petition online. There have been some individuals who have raised a voice and set a precedent. Someone won a court case that gave way to the judgment that mental agony faced by the consumer needs to be compensated as well. Thank that individual who laid that precedent for others to reap the benefits. We need more such individuals who set such precedents. Complaining/suing may not stop a company to swindle its consumers but they will think twice to do it next time.

For me, awareness about consumer rights is the first step. There will always be need for new laws, but if we don not exercise the existing ones, we would not be sure what we want in new laws to make them succeed. If we complain we are too busy to campaign, I do not think any new law can help and protect our rights as a consumer.

Jaago Grahak Jaago

Jaago Grahak Jaago

Last but not least, my friend Ramesh, who being a management graduate has a business perspective in mind, shared his candid perspective on the issue. He argues that awareness about consumer rights could be first step in cure of the consumer maladies but where is the protection to these maladies? Why do companies swindle their consumers in the first place—is it money or resource crunch, or our government policies toward these companies? Click Consumer Issues-Other Perspective to read more about what he wrote.

Though the vocal consumer in me did not agree with his viewpoint, but I was forced to think about it. Perhaps he has a point. Few government rebates to companies that meet consumer satisfaction may result in better consumer service.

But then I read about this documentary called The Whistle Blowers at Hindu. It raised a point as said by the documenatry makers: “Our stand is when they can provide zero-pesticide drinks in Europe, why can’t they do it in India when they have the resources.” I refuse to believe that if these companies would provide pesticide-free water in our country, they would cease to make profits.

Accountability to Consumers

Accountability to Consumers?

What do you think? Is it possible to expect accounbtability of the corporates to the consumers?

We Need A Big Change-Consumer Rights

I am back with “We Need a Big Change” series. This time it is, as title suggest, about consumer rights. I will start with a personal grievance.

I was applying for admission in a university for Masters in mass communication and journalism. The envelope that was provided by university, to send my demand draft, was little strange. Instead of having “To” address in the centre of envelope as it usually is, it was on the right while the center place was reserved for writing “From” address that was to be mine. There were only two days to go, I paid for a speed post hoping my application will reach on time. What happened next was something I will never forget. Two days later, to my horror, I discovered that my application had been delivered back by Indian Post to my home address! Welcome to India!

I agree that “From” and “To” column were unusually placed on that envelope, but I expect people employed at postal department to be literate. You can imagine how I would have felt about my application not reaching on time. I added a demand draft for 500/- as late fees (thank god, for that option) and resent.

I was enraged, I went about to ask where I could complain about the negligence of the postal department. After a lot of asking around, I got to know there actually was a division in the postal department to registered complaints. I smugly filed that complaint hoping to get this issue noticed. I thought perhaps I can claim my late fees. That was about four years ago, I have never heard from postal department about it. How naïve I was to expect championing of consumer rights in my motherland! 😦

That was first time I thought there should be a forum for consumers. Good news is, guys, we have such forums—National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and also a respective State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Bad news? Only 43% Indians know about it, only 24% of them know how to use it. 😦

Let’s take an example to prove my point. You get a new credit card, you use it to the fullest. You realize you haven’t yet got the bill. You call the customer care, wait in queue for 30 minutes, remember you are paying for the call. Believe me, I am not exaggerating, I waited for 45 minutes in SBI credit card customer helpline number Some service they have!

After you get in the call with customer care executive, you are told you will be sent your duplicate bill. Yet you don’t get it and finally you have reached your due date. You are asked to pay your late fees, for no fault of your own. What do you do?

  1. You pay up.
  2. You hem and haw and then pay up.
  3. You try to file a complaint with consumer court with insufficient evidence, nothing happens and you pay up . Very rare people file complaint though…
  4. You bargain and den some nice executive waives it off only to find same thing has repeated again next month. This time executive would not waive off your late fees no what how you explain. You pay up to get rid of the hassle.

Did you know that you could have gone to the banking ombudsman appointed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under Banking Ombudsman Scheme 2006 for grievance redressal? I know, like me, you didn’t know about it. You could have done it simply by writing on a plain paper or filing online complaint or by sending an email to the ombudsman.

The credit card companies till date have collected more than Rs 6,000 crore in a decade from customers in India by way of fines and late fee. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has ordered a probe into the fees levied by them. (Information Courtsey, Times of India).

Think of number of people who could benefit by this information about ombudsman. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs did their best to promote awareness by “Jaago Grahak Jaago” campaigns but there is more we citizens collectively can do about it.

Do you have a strategy in mind how to handle at individual level? Do you have some experiences where you could do with advice on consumer rights? Feel free to add them here. It’s time we made sure that consumer is not king only till they buy the product rather their rights should be preserved after they have got the product.

It’s late in the night now but I have a strategy forming in my mind. I would like to share it with you. I will come back with more on this.

Media Campaigning for Development

Media campaigning is one of the reasons that made me want to join media. (I didn’t though, because I had learnt hard way that my body wasn’t able to cope with irregular work hours.)

Few months back, I read this news item in Hindustan Ttimes that said a local NGO had undertaken an initiative to educate villagers. The women who carried cow dung cakes were provided laptops so that they could teach their fellow villagers. I was impressed, I thought it was a beginning. I wanted to be a part of it, I wrote to the reporter whose email address was given at the end of the new copy to learn more about the NGO. But reply never came. 😦

That was the birth of my grouse with media that when they report something good-going, like a ray of light in development, there is not enough information for the reader to pursue and support it. Adding required information such as contact details of the NGO adds authenticity to the news report, this is more so important in the wake of era where case like Uma Khurana are booming aplenty.

I decided to find more such news that is reported in the news and add it on my blog. Here is a brief list:

1. Bal Vikas Bank: A bank that is managed, operated, and utilized by only street children. If you saw the movie Traffic Signal, you would realize how street children are made to part with their hard-earned money by bullies. This bank provides them an safe-keeping option for their money, which of course is not a huge amount yet all they own in the world. And the children who manahe it and keep the accounts should the responsibility with great aplomb. Working children all over the country want to be part of this programme, if you are interested you could contact this NGO here.

2. Salaam Balak Trust (SBT): Organizing walks for various reasons is a rage in the city. You can walk with Pradip Kishen to watch trees of Delhi, you could walk to watch monuments of Delhi in a group, and you can walk with Javed and Salim to watch how street children on New Delhi railwy station survive. Yes it’s true, there is such a walk. Javed and Salim who conduct this walk were street children before they were rescued years ago. The proceeds from it goes to educate the street child, an initiative by SBT. Ashwin Kumar’s internationally aclaimed short movie Little Terrorist’s hero was kid who was rehabilitated by this NGO. You can visit this site here and read more about case studies. Spending 250/- bucks for this walk is also considered good enough by this organization.

3. Sponser an Elderly: There are NGOs where you can pay for the monthly or yearly expenses of an elderly. The amount, as given in the news report, ranged from 7000/- to 24000/- a year. But for the elderly individual, his/her yearly expenses have been taken care of. The newspaper account said that most young were doing this, and the elderly who were sponsered bless them. There were some youngsters who took out time to spend with these elderly citizens to provide them emotional support. I searched and came up with two such organizations, click here and here. Contributing to these organizations also gets you tax rebate. 🙂

4. The Hunger Site/Breast Cancer/Child Health/Lieracy Site/Rain Forest/Animal Rescue: I have known this web site since I was in college. How it works is simple, you just need to click for each of these causes daily, and the sponser of the site will provide a cup of food/book/mammogram per click. So click this link daily. I had learnt of this site from a US news paper when several food packages were distributed in Somalia.

I read about success and case studies of each of these NGOs/organizations in newspapers and magazine. There are more, yet to be tapped. But it is late, I have got to sleep. I will be back with more, I promise.

Hope together we can make a difference!

Faded Lights at Indian Idol

Yesterday I tried to watch Indian Idol 3 without my favorite contestant, Ankita. I failed. I did not find a glimpse of that spark I was looking for. 😦

I was working and writing, while Indian Idol 3 show ran in background. A good decision in hindsight, all these remaining contestants had only audio performances, which my disappointed self tried best to soak in while working. I missed better part of the show, later when I did tune, I noted that judges, for a change, liked all the performance of each contestants. 😮 Looks like that judges, in their hearts, didn’t care any more about who won. Alisha easily switched sides to call Emon (or was it Amit?) her Indian Idol. I thought Chang was her Indian Idol! 😛

I heard today on news that Emon was out. It was inevitable. Amit is good, as I said he was my second best favorite. But unlike Ankita, he required the anchor Hussain and his two other co-contestants to dance a “twist” on his tunes to make it visually appealing. And as for Prashant, he is good as well but looks like it is going to be difficult to vote him out.

AmitPrashant

Who will win Indian Idol? Amit or Prashant?

Uh huh, do not think that I advocate Prashant to be out. But I figure, from past experiences when good contenders like Amit Sana and Karunya have lost dues to lack of popularity, that this maybe a problem for Amit. I have one more reason to fear that Prashant may win despite Amit’s melodious performances.

This other reason for my fear is a disgusting blog that I stumbled upon while surfing the Web. This blog is intended to garner votes and support for Prashant Tamang. But the reason I call it disgusting and objectionable because it breeds hatred on grounds of regionalism (and skin color!). Check out these two posts to see what I mean: Click here and here. The writer of the blog has no compunctions in calling jury biased against Prashant Tamang. This blog also maligns other contestants. 😦 I agree that Indian Idol judges are not above human error always, but to accuse them of being biased because Prashant is Nepali is grossly unfair.

Indian Idol fans, if you vote, vote judiciously. May the best win, not because they belong to a particular region.

P.S: On second thoughts, I think I did disservice by promoting this objectionable blog in my post. But I strongly wanted to raise my voice against regionalism that breeds hate. There is nothing wrong with garnering votes for your favorite contestant, but it is unfair to paint other people in the same colors of bias.


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