Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Right to Information = Wrong Information

India now has a Credit Information Bureau. These things existed for years in US and look how they saved THEIR economy from bad credit! CIBIL, apparently, knows all about any loans, credit cards and outstanding debts that you have ever taken. This information helps banks to weed out habitual offenders while disbursing new loans. The CIBIL system can detect 'smart people' that try changing their address or birth year while re-applying, to create a report with patterns and histories. This is an important and much needed part of an organized financial sector.

While I completely support this move, my problem is with their lack of transparency. The information is only available to banks (members) and not to the concerned individuals. Their FAQ proudly states they are also beyond the RTI Act.

I believe there is no reason for agencies like CIBIL to hide their data. Knowing that I have a positive or negative credit score will not allow me to 'game' the system. If it does, the system needs to become stronger. Hiding the information does little to deter the rogues but could play havoc with the innocent.

Any system that pretends to be holier-than-thou and shies away from transparency in the name of 'security' is merely a ticking time bomb. Whether it was the great Indian bureaucracy or the WMD-hunting Bush regime, a 'closed' system was always rotting from within while failing to be effective in the stated, noble goals of larger good.

Unlike the West, India has no laws to regulate such agencies. While they are free to collect data on us, they are not required to send free credit reports. We must have a right to know what information they possess and also, the right to contest that information before it is too late. Our financial existence in this connected world depends on it.

A couple of personal "helpdesk" experiences with stock-reply happy banks have made me wary of such noble initiatives, if not supported by an equally noble redress mechanism.

When I started my career, HDFC sent me a free card and promptly levied some faltu charge on it. I got the card cancelled and never had or needed a credit card after that. Five years later, I started traveling international for work and needed a card with some decent limits. Applied to HDFC (which remains a trusted bank, otherwise) and was told that I am ineligible for a card since the system shows me with an open, defaulted card. They wanted me to find the old card and submit it for cancelation with a written letter. Five years after I cancelled the card. I was stunned. Luckily, this happened before CIBIL existed. I quickly got a card from another bank.

A second instance, more recently, was when Kingfisher Airlines decided to debit me twice for a flight ticket. The first debit shows up on my card, the second debit is merely "blocked". The result is my credit limit is exceeded until they "release" the funds. The card company and the airline are passing the buck, the former threatening to levy "over credit" charges and the latter saying they never blocked any funds. In the absence of a credible consumer court, what stops these agencies from giving us the run around?

Most people may not even notice such errors on the complicated statements. Not many in India (including me) possess the knowledge to detect, understand or follow-up on such financial jiggery-pokery. Faced with the daunting follow-up required, some may even elect to ignore this given the small amount.

In the CIBIL era, this goof might come back to haunt five or ten years later. Refusal to pay for the airline's mistake could cause us dear. The only way to prevent future shocks is to periodically know your credit score in an open, consumer-friendly manner.

By now, I am sure the powers-that-be have enough proof about the failure of self-regulation among financial insitutions. An overhaul of these hallowed institutions is overdue, before it hurts India worse than our friends in US.


An excerpt from their FAQ, more here.

Access To CIBIL Information

Q.15 Who can access CIRs?

Reports can be accessed by Members on the principle of reciprocity ie only those Members who have provided all their data to CIBIL are permitted to access CIRs. Members can do so only to take valid credit decisions. Disclosure to any other person or entity is prohibited.

Q.16 Can the borrower obtain his own CIR from CIBIL?

No. However, if a Member has drawn a report on that borrower, a copy of the same can be obtained from the Member.

Q.18 Whether Right to Information Act, 2005 is applicable to CIBIL?

No. The reason being that the CIBIL is not a “Public Authority” as defined under Sec 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Basic Car Audio

I have a less than fancy car at the moment and did not want to spend too much on the in-car audio. While good music on the road is a necessity, I somehow did not feel comfortable spending upwards of 15-20K on this accessory. Recently, I managed to outfit the car with a basic car audio under Rs.10,000 that seems good enough for city driving and easy listening.

In case anyone is interested, the dents in the pocket were as follows:

Kenwood KDC-MP342U headunit (USB input, iPod, MP3 and WMA compatible) = Rs.7500

JBL GT5-S204 4" coaxial speakers (including installation) = Rs.1500

Total = Rs.9000

Headunits without the USB connector were available for a thousand bucks less. Now that I think about it, maybe I could have saved that money and burned cheap CDs instead.

I got it installed from Dinesh at Junction for Car Accessories at 4th Block Jayangar (close to the Jain Temple, opposite RV College of Nursing). He is a pleasant chap and completed the job in less than an hour.

Anyone here knows more about car audio and how to get a good one without blowing the pockets? Lots of info on high end systems but nothing for the rest of us on the audiophile websites :-)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Open Source Mehbooba

Probably one of the worst kep secrets of Hindi cinema is the blatant and rampant music plagiarism even by the most talented composers. This one was a slight shocker because "Mehbooba" remains one of India's catchiest dance tunes, even 25 years after its release. I was over awed at the efforts Burman da took in the days before Internet and iPod, to actually find obscure music and turn it into a national anthem. 

Now I am kind of sure a little digging will reveal even the other tunes in Sholay were "inspired" (apart from the obvious Sergio Leone theme music)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More Flames from the Bush Fire

AIG 'forced' to give $450 million bonus to those responsible for the financial crisis.

Apparently, the commitment to pay was made before AIG collapsed, so they are legally bound to honor it. A different matter that without the bailout, there would be no AIG, no job and no contracts left to honor. Ed Libby seems to be a firm believer in Marie's policy of "letting them eat cake". With a little help from the no-strings package deviously devised by Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary in Bush administration)

In related news, a large part of the bailout money to AIG, organized by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (ex Goldman Sachs), ended up in the hands of Goldman Sachs. A friend in deed...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Yediyurappa and his Victorian Secret

Bangalore Police raided a party on Sunday but failed to find any drugs. These
youngsters have been booked for hosting a party without permission and also
for obscene dancing. The party was organized by sons of Mr.Ramakrishnaiah,
an official attached to primary education minister Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri.
The sons were not arrested due to pressure from senior police officials.
This qualifies as "Skimpily Clad" in Bangalore's definition.

By this standard, the cops should stand at the Immigration counter in BIAL. They will be able to arrest twice this number every hour for few more millimeters of leg seen on arriving foreign (and Indian) passengers.

I do not support rave parties and indecent behaviour. As a parent now, I want a safe and comfortable social life for my son once he goes to college. However, as the same parent, I do not want to live in a society where the rule of fear is passed off as the rule of law. Where I am more afraid of self-appointed moral cops in the garb of state cops picking up youngsters for "crimes" like dancing, singing and wearing knee-length skirts...

Victorian prudery is one matter. Talibanization of India is a whole another worry. Don't we have enough to put up with already, without sacrificing one of the best qualities that still redeems India over many developed nations? The freedom to "be".

Read the news item here and here

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dancing to Slumdog Millionaire - Jai Ho

It *is* a phenomenon. Admit it.

(This is not my son, just a random video I found online. But it is so cute!)

Monday, March 02, 2009

After Shock

Dev and Frieda have succeeded where Anil Kapoor and Madhuri failed. This video makes the hype totally worth it. Pretty good, I say!

For the rest of us, there's no forgetting the original Bollywood jhatkas that made this music video a classic.