Service providers or profiteers?
Health insurance is a service and we, the consumers, pay for it. The article (‘Run from cover’, December 16-31, 2009) raised the subject, though it fell short of detecting the problem. It is important to discuss it because the service sector in India lacks in one major aspect—service.
For instance, I installed a bsnl broadband connection in March 2009. It went out of order in three months. The authority didn’t budge even after several complaints, correspondences and requests. My experiences with the companies selling refrigerator, water purifier, washing machine and other household goods have taught me a simple lesson: never expect service from any service provider. In India, they can cheat consumers and get away with it. Does a free market mean a market free from regulations and government monitoring? The devastation an ill-regulated market can cause has amply been demonstrated in the US.
Besides, the legal procedure in India is cumbersome; a consumer feels prohibited from approaching the court for redressal. So, the consumers are left at the market’s mercy. We have two options—either be cheated or don’t avail of any service.
The health insurance market is no exception. The solution should not be, and is not, micro insurance; it serves a specific purpose and serves well. Even the Central Government Health Scheme or Employees State Insurance Scheme cannot solve the problem. The government needs to step in. A proper regulatory body should be established or the existing insurance regulatory and development authority must be made effective enough to keep insurance providers on a leash. Consumer complaints must be dealt with seriously and without delay. An insurance provider found guilty of cheating the consumer should be given severe and exemplary punishment.
Bhopal’s toxic trail
I visited the Union Carbide’s factory site during a personal visit to Bhopal a few years ago (‘Subterranean leak’, December 1-15, 2009). There was barbed fencing all around the site, and bulldozers and dumpers were at work. I was told the area was being developed for “something”. I don’t know if that “something” has happened, but that kind of large-scale soil disturbance in the area could certainly change the soil profile and affect the groundwater properties. I could not find an answer to who authorized such a large-scale soil disturbance in the area without proper investigations and assessment of the future risk and why.
The highly toxic chemicals the plant released that fateful night in 1984 can persist for a long period in water and soil; a period of two decades is too short a time for the contaminants to disappear.
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Will the government ever act on the need for greater caution in selecting the location of hazardous industries and and monitoring them?
Let me start with the fire mishap at the Ankleshwar waste treatment facility of Bharuch Enviro Infrastructure Limited in April 2008. Thanks to a providential change of wind direction away from the neighbouring population, the disaster did not do much damage. Gross violations of safety norms at the facility were glaringly obvious and the accident should have resulted in immediate action against the company. But it didn’t happen.
Hundreds of such mishaps, right from the fire at the Indian Oil Corporation depot on the outskirts of Jaipur to episodes of children falling into borewells, happen almost every day across the country because of carelessness of companies or executing authorities. But what action one can expect from a government that downplays the Bhopal tragedy.
I have a simple solution. First of all let us stop using the term “accident” to describe such happenings and the word “relief” to describe the little monetary help given to the sufferers or their kin. We should, in fact, constitute a tribunal with power to levy a fine on the government besides recommending other punishment to the perpetrators. The quantum of such a fine should be determined in three parts: one, an ad hoc amount that takes care of the immediate needs of the victims; two, the balance amount decided after careful calculation of the loss due to the disaster and its long-term consequences; and three, punishment to the officials responsible for the tragedy. It is important that the common man deals only with the government. Dealing with negligent private investors or companies is the responsibility of the government.
I was disheartened to learn the government had asked the Indian Council of Medical Research to discontinue its study on the short-term and long-term medical implication of the chemicals released from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. This shows the government does not mind ignoring thousands of people still facing health risks. Instead, it is more worried about the resistance by tribal people who oppose the plan to take away their forestland for international mining companies. What a quagmire of corruption.
Is this life?
Internet sceptics like me do have a life and are pretty content with it (‘Internet sceptic? Go get a life’, October 1-15, 2009). Today when the world is mesmerized by the success of cyber revolution, some extremely disturbing trends have come to the fore.
To begin with, 53 per cent of all the Internet sites on the World Wide Web are porn sites and the industry, that constitutes approximately 61 per cent of the total business conducted on Internet, seems to be making the most out of this revolution. According to Symantec Corporation, world leader in Internet security, six out of every 10 Internet users visit one porn site or the other. To make matters worse, there is no safeguard to stop children from visiting these sites.
The net revolution has also made real life relationships obsolete. People are hooked up to the Internet to find their significant partners, which, more often than not end up in deceit and disillusionment. Lately, online shopping has become firmly entrenched. Money transactions on the Internet have invited the attention of fraudsters to this arena. People are being duped either through false websites or owing to misuse of credit cards.
The Internet can deliver a world of information at the click of a button. But the question worth pondering is whether this information explosion has made us any wiser?
Ferozepore city, Punjab
Bt brinjal confuses
With claims and counter claims, Bt brinjal is confusing the common man (‘Green signal for Bt brinjal’, November 1-15, 2009). Once it is approved, other genetically modified (GM) food crops would also easily get the approval. Hence to clear confusion, the government must make available the information about the tests conducted, countries that have banned or accepted GM food, and its impact on the human health and crop diversity, before taking a decision on the matter.
A JACOB SAHAYAM
Miners provoke naxalism
Affluent business houses in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are systematically exploiting the mineral resources of central India. They don’t share the benefits with the local population, not even in terms of employment.
I doubt if all the mines in this region have permits. This needs investigations. If the government continues to overlook the problem, this would lead to frustration among tribals and aggravate the naxalite problem. It is also strange to notice workers brought in hordes from other regions, particularly the northeast. I am sure there is no dearth of skilled labour in Orissa.
Telling a story through photographs always transports a reader to the heart of the action (‘On a limb and a prayer’, December 16-31, 2009). While traditional medicine is fast disappearing in today's world, the younger generations are clueless about choices alternative to allopathic medicine.
Traditional medicine has cures for many illnesses that allopathy terms as life-long diseases and prescribes pills that can only control the illness. It would be good to expand this idea to explore how traditional medicine offers a permanent cure for ailments such as migraine, thyroid, tuberculosis, hormonal imbalances, cancer and poor eyesight. Skills of these backstage miracle workers need to be highlighted so that their skill to heal remains alive through generations.
I look forward to more such photo features in the magazine.
I have often been intrigued by the hoardings displaying pehlwans and their curative skills. My busy schedule never allowed me to find out more about them. It was amazing to learn these non- mbbs doctors are so popular. These services are a boon for those who can’t afford the hefty fees of allopathic doctors. I have always wondered who treated our forefathers of fractures and sprains in ancient times.
The photographs showing the healing procedure were eloquent. I was fascinated by the strange tools, like saws and planks, they use.
Clue to sustainable growth
Our cities are expanding at an alarming rate, both horizontally and vertically, building pressure on the water supply and maintenance systems. This adds to the cost (‘Making water-excreta accounts’, November 15-30, 2009).
The problem is that cities first expand and then development follows. To ensure an effective water supply and maintenance system, we need to plan the expansion of our cities.
The western Himalayan states sought adequate compensation for their crucial role in protecting the fragile ecology at a conference in November. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh promised these states (Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand) a green bonus, Rs 500 crore initially. This is nothing but cosmetic assistance. The states should be compensated adequately for the massive afforestation and soil conservation work.
R M Ramaul
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