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November 2023

Most consumers want service charge to be abolished or made optional, says a survey

Should service charge be levied on restaurants bills or not has been the topic of debate among consumers and restaurant associations have even gone to court to argue that they can lawfully impose the service charge. Now, the latest survey done by Local Circles states that 77% respondents want service charge to be abolished or made optional. The survey received over 23,000 responses from citizens located in 304 districts. Sixty two percent respondents were men while 38% respondents were women. Forty five percent respondents were from tier 1, 32% from tier 2 and 23% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The High Court had directed 3,300 members of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) to replace the term ‘service charge’ with ‘staff contribution’. Justice Pratibha Singh in her order said, “It is directed that the members of FHRAI shall use the terminology ‘staff contribution’ for the amount of service charge that they are currently charging. The same shall not be more than 10% of the total bill amount, excluding GST. The menu card shall specify in bold that after the payment of staff contribution, no further tip is to be paid to the establishment.” As per the survey 53% percent respondents stated that service charge needs to be banned completely and 77% respondents wanted service charge to be abolished or made optional and only 10% of consumers going to air conditioned restaurants were fine with renaming service charge and charging it to ‘staff contribution’. When asked about the allocation of service charge among restaurant staff members, 34% of respondents indicated that part of service charges is likely “used to cover breakage, restaurant maintenance, some distributed among staff, remaining kept by management or used for bribes/tips to local authorities.” Eleven percent respondents said that it is “entirely distributed among staff” and 13% felt “some part of it is used to cover breakage, restaurant maintenance and the rest is distributed among staff.” Oct 03,2023 Source: Times of India

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Avoid Using Newspaper To Wrap, Serve Food: Food Authority Highlights Health Risks Involved

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has urged food vendors and consumers to stop using newspapers for packing, storing, and serving food items, with immediate effect. Reportedly, the food regulator said that the ink used in newspapers contains certain chemicals that can pose various health risks. FSSAI Chief Executive Officer (CEO) G Kamala Vardhana Rao “strongly urged consumers and food vendors across the country to immediately stop using newspapers for packing, serving, and storing food items”, reads a PTI report. Why You Should Avoid Wrapping Food In Newspaper? What Are The Health Risks Involved? G Kamala Vardhana Rao further highlighted the risks associated with using newspapers to wrap and pack food items. According to FSSAI, the printing ink contains “various bioactive materials” that can be harmful to health. “The ink used in newspapers contains various bioactive materials with known negative health effects, which can contaminate food and lead to health issues when ingested,” Mr. Rao said. The report further reads that the ink may have chemicals such as lead and heavy metals that can enter the human body through the food served or wrapped in newspaper. “Moreover, newspapers are often subjected to various environmental conditions during distribution, making them susceptible to contamination by bacteria, viruses or other pathogens that may transfer to the food, potentially causing foodborne illnesses,” FSSAI warned. The food regulatory body has also notified the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging) Regulations, 2018, which prohibits the use of newspapers or similar materials for storing, packing, or wrapping food. According to the regulation, consumers and vendors must avoid using newspapers to cover or serve edible items. Newspapers should also not be used to absorb excess oil from fried foods like samosa or pakodas. The PTI report states that FSSAI is now working closely with the state food authorities to make sure that newspapers are not used by anyone to serve or pack food. G Kamala Vardhana Rao, while issuing the warning, stated that by discouraging the use of newspapers and promoting safer alternatives, FSSAI is reaffirming its commitment to ensuring the safety of food supplied in the country. Oct 02,2023 Source: NDTV

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Transforming emerging markets: How AI is empowering consumers in India

In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force with the potential to revolutionize various industries across the globe. While its applications are numerous, one of the most promising and impactful areas is its ability to empower consumers in emerging markets. That’s us. In countries like India, Bangladesh, and across the African continent, AI is opening doors to greater access, affordability, and convenience in essential services, thereby enhancing the quality of life for millions. It’s time we learn how AI is helping us. Michael Puscar, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and a published data scientist, who has founded companies including Yuxi Pacific, GITP Ventures, Oiga Technologies and NPCx, says that the barriers to implement AI technology are now gone. “You no longer need to be a data scientist, an engineer, or even a programmer. It is 1997 again; but instead of the Internet, the technology that is changing industry is AI. There is a gold rush to implement this technology across every industry, from virtual travel agents to wine recommendation engines, from customer service to accounting,” he says. India pioneered the service economy in the 1990s with outsourcing, but AI now puts that sector at risk. However, despite India’s AI market being half the size of China’s, GlobalData research suggests India’s market growth outpaces that of China. In fact, India AI market size was estimated at USD 672.11 million in 2022, and AI expenditure in India is expected to reach $11.78 billion by 2025 and add $1 trillion to India’s economy by 2035, as per a World Economic Forum report. The country is poised to pivot from outsourcing to artificial intelligence. “Indian companies have intimate knowledge of the manual and repetitive tasks that usually accompany an outsourced project, and that means those same companies have a unique advantage in the race to automate those processes using AI,” Puscar adds. But the clock is indeed ticking, he says. “Just like the Internet boom of the 1990s that created Google (1998), Amazon (1994), eBay (1995), and PayPal (1998), thousands of entrepreneurs will create successful companies based on AI technology, and a few hundred will build multi-billion dollar companies. And just like the boom of the 90’s, this opportunity won’t last forever. The time is now,” he says. One of the significant challenges in emerging markets has been the limited access to traditional banking and financial services. Millions of people in these regions remain unbanked or underbanked, but AI is rapidly changing this landscape. Fintech companies are utilizing AI algorithms to assess credit risk, enabling those without a traditional credit history to access loans and financial services. In October, KPMG India, and Vianai Systems, a human-centered AI (H+AI™) platform and products company, tied up to put reliable, conversational AI directly into the hands of finance users with Vianai’s hila Enterprise. “Delivering the power of AI into the hands of finance users is a foundational step toward making AI available to all business-critical functions. Finance departments and teams must have transparency in their work and deliver transparency to the outside world – with speed,” says Dr. Sanjay Rajagopalan, Chief Design and Strategy Officer, Vianai Systems. AI-powered chatbots and mobile apps are aiding people to manage finances and payments securely. In countries like India, where the government has promoted digital payment systems, AI-driven financial tools have played a crucial role in boosting financial inclusion. Nov 14,2023 Source: Hindustan Times

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Govt plans online portal for quick resolution of consumer complaints

The central government has announced plans to establish an online platform to address consumer complaints more efficiently. As per a TOI report, this platform will serve as a common interface for companies, service providers, and consumers, offering expert panels for quicker resolutions. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has invited bids for an agency to design, develop, implement, and manage the “Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform” for a three-year period. Currently, the ministry operates the National Consumer Helpline (NCH), which allows consumers to lodge complaints via a call center and portal. Once registered, these complaints are forwarded to relevant sellers, entities, or e-commerce players for resolution. If the complainant remains unsatisfied or if the issue is not resolved by the involved parties, consumers can choose to escalate the complaint to consumer commissions or courts. The ministry explained that the ODR platform will act as a preliminary channel for dispute resolution before consumers resort to costly and time-consuming legal proceedings. The aim is to provide a cost-effective, efficient, and convenient redressal solution, allowing stakeholders to resolve disputes online from the comfort of their homes. Consumers will be able to file complaints and complete the entire procedure online. Currently, there are more than 500,000 pending cases with consumer commissions, particularly in the e-commerce sector. The ODR platform seeks to address this backlog by offering a unified portal that enhances consumer protection and expedites e-dispute resolution. It will also employ Artificial Intelligence to match qualified expert counselors to specific requests based on location, expertise, experience, and language. This end-to-end ODR process aims to streamline consumer complaints and ensure timely resolutions. Nov 08,2023 Source: Economic Times

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₹20,000 To 2 Lakh For Fake Degrees In Delhi. Mega Racket Busted

Delhi Police on Sunday busted a fake marksheet racket and arrested two people including the kingpin. The syndicate was involved in preparing forged degrees and certificates of various government and private universities and state education boards across India, the police said. The kingpin, who has been identified as Dal Chand Meherolia, was arrested from his education institute at MH Eduversity, Digital School of India in northwest Delhi’s Pitampura. As many as 19 fake mark sheets and degrees from Shanghai International University, William Carey University, Universities of Shillong, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Kalinga, Bihar, and other states, were recovered, the police said. 11 laptops, 14 mobile phones, and fake stamps were also seized from the spot. “During the investigation, co-accused Mahaveer Kumar was also arrested from Burari and huge incriminating material including fake and blank degrees, certificates, mark-sheets and migration certificates of various universities and state education boards as well as laptop/ printers, fake stamps, etc. used in crime were recovered from his house,” the police said. During interrogation, the accused said that he had been running this institute since 2020 and had employed many tele-caller girls in his office. He revealed that the tele-caller girls used to call students to seek admission to universities and colleges and provided the data of interested students to him. Meherolia then contacted them through WhatsApp and lured them to get a degree without the required documents. He did not meet any student personally, the police said. For providing fake mark sheets from Class 10th to PhD, he charged ₹ 20,000 to ₹ 2,20,000. After receiving the amount, Meherolia used to send the degree through courier. Holograms of the documents were also prepared by both of them. Both the accused also told police that they have sold more than 2,000 fake degrees and that many of the marksheet holders have even jobs on the basis of forged documents provided by them. Nov 13,2023 Source: NDTV

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Birla Institute of Management Technology announces Lifetime Achievement Award to Atul D. Boda

Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), one of India’s leading B-schools, organised the 7th BIMTECH Insurance Colloquium in Mumbai on Friday. The Colloquium was themed at “Expanding the Sustainable Value Chain: Climate Change’s Impact on Property & Casualty, Health and Life Insurance.”  There were intriguing and insightful conversations about the important relationship between climate change, insurance, and sustainability. Dr. H. Chaturvedi, Director, BIMTECH gave a heartfelt welcoming address to kick off the Insurance Colloquium. Prof. Bejon Kumar Misra, an expert in international consumer policy and a member of the General Insurance Council’s executive committee then gave an insightful theme address. Setting the tone for the day’s talks, former LIC of India Chairman M.R. Kumar then took the stage to give an engaging keynote address. release of the “India Insurance Report,” which offered insightful information about the current situation of the insurance market in India, was one of the event’s major highlights. Prof Bejon Kumar Misra, International Consumer Policy Expert, Member Executive Committee -General Insurance Council said, “In today’s world, we must prioritize sustainability, innovation, and the well-being of every individual. Let us work together, consult all stakeholders, and create a future where no one is left behind. As we strive to achieve ambitious goals, remember, there’s no shortcut to success, and customer delight is the key. We have the power to overcome challenges and make healthcare affordable for all. Let’s take the pledge to work together, innovate, and build a brighter future for India and the world.” M.R. Kumar, Former Chairman, LIC of India said, “Climate change will significantly impact the insurance industry with higher severity of cat losses, inadequacy of property coverages, and higher business interruption losses. India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate-induced flooding and heat stress. The city of Mumbai could suffer economic damages of USD 49 to 50 billion by 2050 due to sea level rise. Insurers must integrate both physical and transition risks and find ways to manage them effectively. Policymakers may need to require insurers to extend coverage where economically unfeasible.” Atul D. Boda, Group Chairman of all the J.B. Boda Group of Companies, said, “Through 80 years of dedicated work, I have been privileged to witness the growth and success of J.B. Boda Group, a journey made possible by the collective efforts of a remarkable team. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all our clients, stakeholders, and especially my life partner and family members for their unwavering support. With renewed energy and enthusiasm as a result of this recognition from BIMTECH, I will forward to continuing our journey and making great progress in the years ahead.” Prof. (Dr.) Abhijit K. Chattoraj, a Chartered Insurer and the Dean of SWSS; Professor & Chairperson of PGDM-IBM at BIMTECH, emphasized the importance of a net zero transition in underwriting while moderating the first session. The panel discussed how to mitigate losses caused by climate risks. Property and casualty underwriters must strategically work to seize the growth opportunities resulting from this transition. Underwriters must adjust their portfolio to minimize their carbon footprint.” The Colloquium concluded on a high note with the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to  Atul D. Boda, Group Chairman of all the J. B. Boda Group of Companies. His acceptance address highlighted the industry’s commitment to addressing climate-related challenges. Nov 07,2023 Source: Bilkulonline

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82% Indians are falling victims to fake messages: McAfee reveals scam list

McAfee, a renowned cybersecurity company, recently conducted its first-ever Global Scam Message Study, aiming to comprehend the impact of scam messages and the growing sophistication of scams powered by artificial intelligence (AI) on consumers worldwide. Over 7,000 adults from seven countries, including India, took part in the study. According to the study, Indians receive an average of 12 fake message or scams per day, and they spend approximately 1.8 hours per week identifying these fraudulent messages. Shockingly, a staggering 82% of Indians have fallen victim to these fake messages. The most common types of scams reported are fake job notifications/offers (64%) and bank alert messages (52%). The survey conducted in India further revealed that 60% of respondents find it increasingly challenging to identify scam messages as hackers are utilizing AI to make them more believable. Additionally, 49% of individuals mentioned that these scam messages are now error-free, highly convincing, and even contain personal information, making them harder to recognize. The study also highlighted that Indians spend an average of 105 minutes per week verifying the authenticity of messages. Furthermore, 90% of individuals receive fake messages via email and text on a daily basis, while 84% encounter them on social media. Shockingly, 82% of participants admitted to clicking on these fake messages. As a consequence of the rise in AI-powered scams, 37% of Indian survey respondents reported a decrease in their trust in digital communications. Many Indians are uncertain about the appropriate measures to protect themselves from these scams. To cope with this knowledge gap, individuals adopt various strategies: 28% ignore scam emails, 28% block the sender, and 31% report the messages. However, despite their concerns, 88% of Indians trust AI to detect online scams, with 59% believing that AI is necessary to combat AI. Nov 08,2023 Source: Economic Times

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Travel sites told to refund air tickets booked during lockdown

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCa) has directed online travel platforms such as EaseMyTrip, Yatra, MakeMyTrip, HappyEasyGo and Cleartrip to refund booking amounts of airline tickets to consumers whose travel was disrupted by the pandemic. In 2020, the Supreme Court had also ordered airlines to refund passengers who were forced to cancel flight tickets due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. The DoCA told the companies to process the pending refunds by the third week of November, failing which the Central Consumer Protection Authority(CCPA) will initiate legal proceedings in the apex court, including filing of a contempt petition against the defaulting platforms, it said in a statement. During a meeting on Wednesday, the department also discussed the possibility of integrating the National Consumer Helpline with the, a traveller support portal. The meeting was chaired by Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs. While Yatra has 5,695 refunds pending this year, EaseMyTrip has one refund pending, the statement added. MakeMyTrip has 63 pending refunds this year. DoCA highlighted commonly prevalent “dark patterns” on online travel platforms such as confirm shaming, showing pre-ticked checkboxes, triggering alarm and told them to find ways to counter these deceptive online practices and protect consumers’ interests in the travel sector. Nov 08,2023 Source: Economic Times

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Delhi Environment Minister urges Centre to only allow CNG, electric, and BS VI-compliant vehicles in Delhi-NCR

Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai has urged the Central government to only allow CNG, electric, and BS VI-compliant vehicles in Delhi-NCR to address the issue of vehicular pollution. In a letter to Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, Rai expressed concerns about the anticipated decline in air quality due to Diwali fireworks and stubble burning in neighbouring states. He called for an emergency meeting with NCR states to address the issue. Starting November 1, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) directed that only electric, CNG, and BS VI-compliant diesel buses operate between Delhi and cities in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan within the National Capital Region (NCR). Rai proposed extending the ban on non-BS VI compliant vehicles throughout the entire NCR. Studies indicate that on-road vehicular exhaust emissions contribute significantly to PM2.5 emissions in Delhi. Although pollution levels in Delhi and surrounding areas slightly decreased overnight due to improved wind speed, PM2.5 concentrations remained over 80 times the WHO-recommended limit. A persistent haze has raised concerns among doctors regarding respiratory and eye problems, particularly in children and the elderly. The air quality in Delhi-NCR has worsened due to decreasing temperatures, stagnant winds trapping pollution, and increased burning of post-harvest paddy straw in Punjab and Haryana. Central Pollution Control Board data reveals a significant rise in Delhi’s Air Quality Index from October 27 to November 3, reaching ‘severe plus’ levels on Friday. Nov 04,2023 Source: Economic Times

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Onions could drive inflation near 6% in last two months of 2024: Economists

Rising onion prices are unlikely to have a significant impact on inflation in October but may lead to inflation rising to near 6% levels in coming months, said economists. Onion prices rose nearly 75% in the first week of November compared with the previous month. “Alongside a rise in broader vegetable prices in October, we expect CPI inflation to rise to 5.3% y-o-y from 5.0% in September, with headline inflation tracking 6% in November/December, before moderating next year,” said Sonal Varma and Aurodeep Nandi, economist, Nomura. While economists contend that falling tomato prices are expected to keep inflation in check in October, they say the situation may worsen going ahead. “Daily food prices from the National Horticulture Board is indicating a 10.9% MoM rise in onion prices in October, which is being countered by a 9.3% decline in tomato prices. Potato prices are also showing a mild decline in October. Overall vegetable prices, on a CPI-weighted basis, are showing a mild positive increase on a month-on-month basis,” said Gaura Sengupta, economist, IDFC First Bank. Onions have a 0.64% weight in the retail inflation basket, whereas tomatoes have a lower 0.57% weight in the inflation basket. “Retail prices are up by 30-40% y-o-y basis, so the impact can be around 0.19-0.24% in October,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, Bank of Baroda. However, economists contend that a repeat of the July-August period, when inflation rose beyond the Reserve Bank of India’s upper band target of 6%, is not possible. “The pick-up in onion prices is due to uneven monsoon distribution, which has impacted arrivals in September and October. But the disruption in supply isn’t as steep as it was in the case of tomatoes. Seasonally, onion prices tend to rise in October and November and then decline in December or January,” Sengupta said. The government has a buffer stock of 500,000 tonnes. Till October 28, the government had offloaded 170,000 tonnes. “The government has swung into action, announcing export duties on onions, minimum export prices and offloading buffer stocks, although prices are yet to cool,” said Nomura economists. Despite falling prices, food inflation averaged 6.6% in September; a stress in onion prices is expected to keep food prices high. The government will release October inflation data on November 13. Nov 07,2023 Source: Economics Times

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