Greetings. Allow me to update you on the three major activities of the foundation this year – advocacy for regulation of retirement homes, advocacy for Right to Information (RTI) and our campaign against usurious bank charges and mis-selling of financial products. I have a lot to report on all three fronts.
We are most gratified at the response of the Union Government as well as the Maharashtra Government with regard to our study of Retirement Homes in India and the need for basic regulations to protect elders, who expect to spend the rest of their lives in the comfort of these homes. Mr Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development was generous in granting me a quick opportunity to present our Study and its highlights to him on 29th September. The Minister was quick to understand the need to protect rights and security of elders who opt for this relatively new market segment. I was also able to explain experiences of those who opted for the early experiments at Coimbatore and how they highlighted the need for setting minimum standards of infrastructure, service, contracts and protection (in the form of supervision, swift grievance redress and empowerment of residents) in line with what has been done by developed nations such as Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and others. Mr Puri also agreed that such rules would only enhance confidence in the Retirement Home business and increase its growth and acceptance, while addressing a growing need. I also pointed out that since Retirement Homes cater to the middle-class and the relatively affluent population, we are not seeking any concessions from the government but only regulation. The Hon. Minister, Mr Puri assured us that our report would receive due consideration by his Ministry and we are very hopeful of a very positive outcome.
The Maharashtra government has been equally receptive. Mr Dinesh Waghmare, Secretary, Department of Social Justice & Special Assistance, convened the first meeting to set up a working group on Retirement Homes in India on 18th September. The meeting was attended by Mr BN Makhija (retd Secretary, GoI), Ms Priya Khan (OSD, CM's Office) and representatives from Ministry of Urban Development and Department of Social Justice & Special Assistance. Yogesh Sapkale and I attended on behalf of Moneylife Foundation. Mr Waghmare suggested expansion of the working group to include stakeholders from developers of retirement homes, housing finance and real research and rating agencies. Here again, we are very positive over the response of the government and leadership of Mr Praveen Singh Pardeshi (Addnl Chief Secretary to Maharashtra Chief Minister) and Mr Waghmare. We are most obliged to Mr Makhija for his invaluable guidance.
The RTI Centre:
In addition to our ongoing activities at the RTI Centre, with weekly counselling, we are now gearing up for the big leap forward. The first is to develop a top of the line website that will be a repository of searchable information on relevant filings as well as expert advice that is accessible all over the country. We discussed the contours of this exercise on 25th September and are obliged to experts such as Dr Anupam Saraph (IT expert and trustee of Moneylife Foundation), Deepak Sanchety (former CGM of SEBI), RTI activists Shailesh Gandhi, Vijay Kumbhar, and Umesh Jain (Founder of AasPaas) who provided valuable insights and support to us. We invite RTI experts around the country to join our effort. We would also like to provide links to those who are already engaged in promoting RTI, in order to create a larger support group for people.
The next issue that is agitating many RTI veterans is the effectiveness of RTI and its future. On 25 September 2017, Mr Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, led a discussion with leading activists from Mumbai and Pune to figure out "Where is RTI headed and what can we expect by 2027". This was attended by Vijay Kumbhar and Dr Anupam Saraph from Pune, Anil Galgali, Rajesh Gada, Mahendra Dharod and Rajen Dharod of the Tarun Mitra Mandal, Shirish Shanbhag as well as me and Yogesh Sapkale from Moneylife Foundation. Most activists feel that over the years, the effectiveness of RTI Act is diminishing and we along with the government need to undertake efforts to strengthen it.
Responding to increasing pressure from consumers and our online petition at Change.org (Do sign it here), the State Bank of India (SBI) reviewed certain categories for non-maintenance of average monthly balance (AMB) for students and senior citizens. SBI website reveals a basic savings bank deposit account (BSBD), which is a no-frills account of sorts with no charges but will permit only four transactions a month, including standing instructions. The Bank reduced its AMB requirements for all customers in Metro cities to Rs3,000 per month. In addition, SBI has waived off the Rs500, it was collecting as account closure charges from all customers).
27th October: Dr Subramaniam Swamy to release Prof R Vaidyanathan's book "Black Money and Tax Havens". Block the date now: Venue: International Convention Hall, BSE, Dalal Street, Mumbai Time: 6pm to 8pm
Daily Clinics Conducted
2 September 2017: How to use RTI for Income Tax Refunds Rajesh Gada, Chartered Accountant (CA) and a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), who is also actively involved as a volunteer in spreading awareness and guiding people about RTI Act through Tarun Mitra Mandal, explained how to use RTI for income tax refund and other matters. "After filing your grievance letter, follow it up with a reminder, which also states your intention to file an application under RTI Act or to approach the tax ombudsman, in a polite way; if you still do not get the information you need or a refund, then file a formal application", he said. Read: How to use RTI for Income Tax refunds Or Watch the Video
6 September 2017: "How to use disaster management services in case of emergency by RTI activist Anil Galgali" Mr Galgali shared information on disaster management services available in Mumbai and how a citizen can access these services during an emergency. Check photos of the session Or Watch the Video
7 September 2017: "How to resolve Issues with Your Electricity Bills? By consumer activist AV Shenoy." Senior consumer activist AV Shenoy explained how electricity bills are calculated, and how one can make efficient usage of electricity to reduce consumption and thus the bill. Check photos of the session Or Watch the Video
13 September 2017: RTI for mediclaim and insurance matters Rajesh Gada, CA and CFP, explained how to use RTI for mediclaim and health insurance related issues. "One of the main issues that we come across regularly, is that people do not read or understand details of their insurance policy, especially mediclaim policy. Several people do not share information of any pre-existing disease with the insurer. This is one of the major reason of claim rejection. Also, people need to know simple conditions such as the fact that you cannot claim insurance in first 30 days of your policy date, he said. Read: How to use RTI for mediclaim and insurance matters Or Watch the Video
25 September 2017: "How to use RTI for Property Matters and Land Plotting Schemes by Vijay Kumbhar, RTI Activist from Pune" The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA) in Maharashtra (MahaRERA) was brought to ensure transparency and efficiency in realty deals, especially in the sale of plots, apartments, buildings or real estate project and also protect interest of consumers. However, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar says, the way MahaRERA is being used by the vested interests, he sees no hope for common buyers who are not alert to its issues. The Pune-based RTI activist guided people on how they could verify land and property details themselves on government websites that already upload key information that is easily accessible to all. Read: RERA is not for the common man and hence property buyers need to be cautious, says Vijay Kumbhar, well-known RTI activist from Pune Or Watch the Video
Another update is about the Moneylife channel on YouTube, which crossed 1.7 million views with over nearly 14,000 active subscribers. This means, you do not need to be a Mumbaikar to benefit from our activities. You can either subscribe to the Moneylife channel on YouTube, or better still become a Member of Moneylife Foundation, so that you get updates on all our events, their coverage as well as access to our extremely valuable Tax Helpline, Credit Helpline and Legal Resource Centre. Here is the link for MoneylifeTV on YouTube
Legal Resource Centre: We have handled 1,455 queries since inception. We are really proud of what we are able to do at the LRC with the help of senior activists and that people from Mumbra to Malabar Hill walk in for guidance and get it.
Our FREE Credit Helpline has answered over 2,452 cases. We are delighted at the support from Experian Credit Information Company to keep this effort going. Spread the word, so that those with a low score can get help from us.
Our Tax Helpline is going great guns. It has already answered 2,494 queries. Our grateful thanks to CAs Mr Ameet Patel, Nikhil Vadia, Subodh V Shah, Ameya Kunte and others for their invaluable help to members. This comes to you FREE because of the support from Capital First.
Remember, you can benefit from our work from all over the globe through our videos and helplines (Tax Helpline, Credit Helpline and Legal Resource Centre). These are all free of charge, but please do reciprocate by introducing our work to at least 10 people and getting them to become members. You may also like to donate to the foundation, which takes up issues that affect people like you and me.
Thank you for your support and look forward to your good wishes always. Do write to me with your ideas and feedback.
Thank you and best regards,
Founder-Trustee, Moneylife Foundation
Trustees: TS Krishnamurthy, Dr KC Chakrabarty, Walter Vieira, Sucheta Dalal, Debashis Basu and Dr Anupam Saraph. Special Invitee: Adv Jamshed Mistry
Moneylife Foundation is registered with the Charity Commissioner of Mumbai, is an Affiliate member of OECD's International Network on Financial Education, is a Supporter Member of Consumers International, Development Partner of Advocates for International Development, and is a winner of the 10th MR Pai Memorial Award.
Donations are eligible for tax benefits under Sec 80G of the Income Tax 1961 (50% tax exemption) and MLF is registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.