Monday, 10 December 2012

Indian textual offender harrases UK victims

Danish Khan
December 10, 2012

Vintels operates out of its office opposite City Pride on Pune-Satara Road (above). Over 5,00,000 spam texts (shown below) are sent daily to the UK, urging unsuspecting consumers to claim refunds from banks selling Payment Protection Insurance

A Pune-based company has been uncovered as a major source of spam text messages and unwanted calls in the United Kingdom. Jayessh Shah, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Vinayak Infotech and Telecommunications Solutions (Vintels) is alleged to be the man behind 5,00,000 unwanted text messages sent every day to Britons.

Had Shah been operating in the UK, his company would have been shut down and heavily fined under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). Instead, Shah makes £7.50 for every reply received to the messages sent. Shah made this claim to an undercover reporter of the Mail on Sunday which broke the story in the UK on Sunday.

Two similar British companies were recently fined £440,000 for sending spam text messages. Shah’s business model reflects the globalised economy by virtue of which a Pune-based company using servers in the USA sends text messages through its Goa offices to unsuspecting people in the UK. Mobile numbers in the UK are all of 11 digits and start with 07, making it comparatively easy to send spam text messages.

More than two million Britons are estimated to have been sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) without full information from banks. People take out PPIs to ensure that loans they have taken out are serviced in case they die, lose their jobs or are unable to work. In the UK, people have been sold policies without taking into consideration their different needs, circumstances and eligibility conditions.

This means they were given insufficient information or were misled into buying PPI that was not suitable for them, making such consumers eligible for refund/ compensation from banks. Sensing a large market, several claims management companies (CMC) are on the constant lookout for such victims to earn commission.

It is here that Jayessh Shah and his company play an important role by selling numbers that respond to their text to CMC for a hefty sum. A typical text reads: Records indicate you may be entitled to circa £2650 in compensation from the misselling of PPI on credit cards or loans. For info reply PPI or to opt out stop. The moment a person replies ‘PPI’ or even ‘stop’, it confirms that the number is active and fetches money from CMCs. The Mail on Sunday reporter contacted Vintel posing as a company representative and fixed a meeting with Shah.

A deal was struck for £1,800 in return for 2000 numbers that had already been sold to a CMC before. Shah said that he has made millions in the last seven years. According to Shah, he has a database of 1.6 million people who have replied positively to his spam text messages. This reporter called Shah’s number in India and also sent him a text but received no response.

Meanwhile, victims of these text messages are becoming increasingly harassed. Colonel Mukul Verma (Retd) who lives in central London has been bombarded with spam text messages regarding PPI claims. “I receive SMSes regarding PPI claims every other day. It is very annoying and disturbs me no end. I have discovered that the best response is to ignore them and not even respond with the ‘stop’ option.”
 ►  I receive SMSes regarding PPI claims every other day. It is very annoying and disturbs me no end
-  Colonel Mukul Verma (RETD), Who lives in central London

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Caught in a pickle: Indian students at London Met Uni

Over 300 Indian students enrolled at the London Metropolitan University were in for a rude shock when the Immigration Department cancelled the college's license, banning it from teaching overseas students. International students now fear deportation incase they fail to tranfer to a new university in 60 days. 

 Watch the video here

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

British councillor keen to discover her grandpa's India

In search of grandpa's world 

The Hindu

 HISTORY: A passage to India – one woman's quest to discover her roots 

Alison Butler, a Labour Party councillor in London, is eagerly planning her trip to India next year. But her visit will be much more than the usual sightseeing and sampling of local cuisine. She is excited because she will soon be seeing the "sites related to her grandfather". Butler is the granddaughter of Stanley Henry Prater, a legend amongst those interested in the study of animals in India. Moreover, he was also a member of India's Constituent Assembly that deliberated upon the country's Constitution – a fact not many would be aware of.

Prater was a remarkable figure who, due to family compulsions, shifted to the UK leaving his "beloved India" in 1948. An orphan, he was born in south India and was brought up by Jesuit priests, who took charge of his studies at St Mary's High School in Mumbai. He developed a liking for nature and went on to join the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

According to ornithologist Salim Ali, Prater had joined the BNHS right after he finished school in 1907. In his early days, Ali himself trained under Prater and P.F. Gomes, the two assistants of Sir N.B. Kinnear, the then curator of BNHS. Sir Kinnear had recognised the brilliance of the young man during his apprenticeship as museum assistant and field collector. However, his lack of higher education came in the way of his appointment as a scientific member of the staff. So consequently he was sent to tutor under Father Blatter at St Xavier's College to fill the lacunae of a formal degree in biology. Ali, who was studying zoology around the same time, recalls picking up Prater from his "miniature terrace flat at Elphinstone circle on the pillion" of his little Douglas.

Prater went on to become the Curator of BNHS and Prince of Wales Museum. Paying tribute to the genius of Prater, Ali says in his autobiography 'The Fall of a Sparrow': "He had a retentive memory and gift for digesting complicated technicalities and reducing pedantic professional jargon into simple language. Prater's forte was popularisation of zoological knowledge. Most of his writings bear witness to his mastery of the art. He wrote in humorous and pleasing style."

'The Book of Indian Animals' that the naturalist authored in the 1940s reveals his mastery over the language and attention to detail. No doubt, it was this book that got Butler interested in finding out more about her grandfather. "He died when I was just a baby. As a child I knew little about him except for the 'granddad' things," she says. That changed when she chanced upon the book. "I was told that it was a popular book in its time. However, an Internet search revealed it is still in demand."

It was not as if Butler was completely unaware of her India connection. But it mostly centred on the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s she and her siblings "must have been some of the only children then in our area that regularly had proper curry and rice every Saturday, cooked by Nan (grandmother)". When she grew up, Butler naturally got caught up with work and children and by the time Butler decided to probe her grandfather's past, her grandmother had passed away.

Butler continued in her quest to gather more information by connecting with people looking for roots in the Indian sub-continent. Using the Internet as a tool she also realised that her grandfather was not just a prominent leader of the Anglo-Indian community but a member of India's Constituent Assembly. Moreover, he was a Justice of the Peace as well as member of the Legislative Assembly for 17 years.

Prater's achievements are manifold. "I think what really got hold of my imagination was how a young boy who had been left in an orphanage by his father went on to achieving so many things," says Butler. As per her research, Prater's mother died while giving birth to him and his father left him in an orphanage.

In his youth, Prater travelled to London, New York and Chicago to train in taxidermy and other techniques of natural history exhibitions. For more than two decades he remained Curator of BNHS and Prince of Wales Museum. An excited Butler also informs us that her grandfather had even "had tea with Gandhi". When Gandhi was killed Prater had already moved to the UK. He wrote a letter to his friend Frank Anthony, the famous Anglo-Indian representative in the Indian Parliament. "Prater was a typical Anglo-Indian. He wrote me a deeply moving letter. In his words, he wrote that letter with tears not only in his eyes but in his heart," writes Anthony in his book 'Britain's Betrayal in India: The story of the Anglo-Indian community'.

Prater's life is perhaps an apt narrative of the existential dilemma of Anglo-Indians of that time. Those who came to UK and considered it “home” found they didn't quite belong here, that they were different –probably the same feelings that had made them leave India. Butler believes that while Prater was generally happy to be with his family he probably longed for his very different life in India. Unfortunately, he lost his job at the Natural History Museum in London due to a cut in government spending. "Somethings don't change," Butler says, hinting at the current austerity drive in the country. Later, he developed Parkinson's disease and passed away in 1960. What is disturbing to Butler is that her "grandfather never received the recognition (in UK) he had in India and this saddens me". 

As a Labour worker, who rose to become an elected councillor in Croydon, Butler was thrilled when she found out only recently that Prater too was a member of the Labour Party in Streatham. "My two passions are art and politics and I like to think I inherited them both from my grandfather.

She is disappointed that where it has been far easier to follow her grandmother's ancestors, she has drawn a blank with her grandfather's. Hopefully, she will get more clues upon her arrival in India. (Women's Feature Service)

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

What's in the NAMe?

The Nonalignment 2.0 document has generated a lot of interest and controversy. Some have criticised it as not being pragmatic, others thought it was a valuable document to come out in recent times while some believed it was misguided vis-a-vis India's attitude to the China-Tibet issue. However, it has got much applaud for the coming together of political scientists, defence experts and foreign affairs veterans.

After being released in March, a talk on April 18 was bound to generate interest specially as two of the 'co-culprits' (Sunil Khilnani and Shyam Saran) in the production of the document were the speakers. The third speaker was Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, Indian High Commissioner to UK, a career diplomat whose CV is equally impressive for his work in the finance/economics sector.

Much of the derision towards the document has come with its naming. Why NAM 2.0? Profoundly aware of it, the first speaker Sunil Khilnani made it clear very early going into his 10-minute talk that 'Shyam will speak about it'. Khilnani effectively set out what the paper talks about.
"The idea is to initiate debate and not prescribe policies."
-Sunil Khilnani on NAM 2.0
Sunil Khilnani, Director, KII, London

According to Khilnani, the idea was to 'initiate debate' and not to 'prescribe policies'. He spoke majorly on what the document contained. He touched upon the need to have better co-ordination  between different ministries (like MOD, commerce). Touching upon the need on knowledge as an important requisite, he put the emphasis on knowledge as 'national security is rooted in it'. This is in line with his recent article that spoke about the increasing use of the word 'innovation'. The point that it conveyed was that innovation is 'not a simple outcome of spontaneous, Eureka responses'. Hence the emphasis on knowledge that would help chart a long term plan. 
India needs to 'maintain diplomatic contacts with Pakistan' and 'increase exports to China'. One amazing reminder of China's prowess in manufacturing is the Dubai Dragon Mart. Situated in the lap of luxury, it is a reminder of what it means of attaching value to cost of production. Perhaps taking a cue from its presence (and expansion) there are reports of a pound shop style store opening in Dubai.  

The upheaval in the Middle East has brought the focus on democracy as a concept in the kingdoms of Middle East. According to Khilnani, India needs 'to use sophisticated argument for use of force'. Khilnani also made a case for opening up the defence sector to private sector. 'Absence of competition, bureaucracy' have made institutes like the DRDO perform not that well. Food for thought to the proudly smiling news anchors celebrating the launch of Agni V!

Former Ambassador Shyam Saran
Shyam Saran started by defending the title of the document. Why NAM 2.0? Why invoke the past? It is a throwback to the Nehruvian era? According to the former foreign secretary, it was the 'strategic underpinning' of NAM that was 'valuable'. "Hence we thought we should use that in changed circumstances of today." Saran made it clear that during the earlier avatar of NAM 'the bottomline was what was best for India'. Did we maintain equal distance between US and Russia during the cold war days? The answer is not difficult to find out. There was a clear tilt towards Russia.
 "First what is the merit of the case. Second what is in India's interest. If there was any conflict between the two, country's interest came first."
 - Shyam Saran on Nehru's prescription
Taking the point beyond the US-Russia matrix, Saran elaborated in simple language what was Nehru's prescription during crucial votings. "First what is the merit of the case. Second what is in India's interest. If there was any conflict between the two, country's interest came first." Nehru's prescription perhaps is what is being applied  now. Unlike the cold war days when the divisions were much well defined, now we are at a stage when the dynamics of what constitutes national interest changes rapidly and vigorously. "Old divisions have gone," said Saran. Example: At G-20 India aligns with US on Quantitative Easing but makes common ground with UK and EU on regulatory frameworks.

I remember watching the scramble in Parliament during Bill Clinton's visit. The actor Vinod Khanna jostled and rushed towards Clinton breaking into a smile on getting the opportunity to shake hands. The current police commissioner of Mumbai proudly had his picture with Clinton framed in his office during an earlier posting. For those, who are hurt, annoyed, irked that the NAM 2.0 document takes away the due importance to US that India should give can be assured that any further visit of the US President will garner the same enthusiasm. Be happy with that!

The document says that India is at a favourable stage today and strategic decisions have to be taken now to take full advantage. I wished the document had elaborated on what are the variables that made them infer about the criticality of time. Khilnani and Saran both talked about the timing factor (the latter more vigorously). Saran spelled out the advantages: favourable demography, good entrepreneurial class, ability to adjust easily, advantage of English language. Are any of these going to change in the next few years? The English media continues to grow with more and more percentage of the population reading and conversing in English. Living in a country within a lot of countries makes us adjust easily! More states and new capital cities will continue to add to the diversity. Is it just the timing or the manouverings of the actors in the global theatre that might make India lose the bus?

Dr. Jaimini Bhagwati, India High Commissioner to UK
It was not expected of Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, Indian high commissioner to UK, who assumed office a couple of months ago to speak for the government. He was in the running to be the SEBI chairman and chose to talk on the economic/financial aspect. Having done stints with international agencies he raised the level of the debate. "Do not worry about criticality of time. Every day, every year is critical," he said, emphasising on the fact that 'political executive has to form consensus'. This was perhaps in response to the contention that India needs to take steps soon to capitalise on the situation. He also spoke about what India cannot experiment with by virtue of being an 'old civilisation and new nation'.

 "Do not worry about criticality of time. Every day, every year is critical." 
- Dr. Jaimini Bhagwati on the contention that India should act now

When I had a few minutes with Bhagwati I told him that it would have been great if he had spoken about the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and shared an article in the Economist that came a few months ago (apart from the recent Feb issue where it describes it as 'among the world's best central banks). The article described the conservative hold of India's central bank on the FIs, and spoke about the elaborate security before the reporter could meet, not the Governor but a general manager. It very well characterised the near impossibility of a housing bubble in India that struck US (am I being too positive?). Our own conservative central bank can teach a thing or two on keeping banks on tight leash.

PS: The then Mumbai police commissioner did not yield to several demands (during Obama's visit) of the US security guards who have a way of getting their way around.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

3 years after 26/11: Brit guest Will Pike sues Taj

Will Pike who was left wheelchair-bound after the attack cites poor security

Pike fell and broke his spine while trying to climb down from his room using bed sheets

Danish Khan
Mumbai Mirror
Cover Story

In London A little over three years after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, a Londoner who broke his spine trying to escape the slaughter at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel is suing its owners, the Indian Hotels Company controlled by Tata Sons.

Will Pike, who is confined to a wheelchair now, was at the Taj with his girlfriend Kelly Doyle when terrorists struck the sea-facing hotel. He has approached the High Court in London, where the Indian Hotels Company owns two five-star properties - St. James Court and 51 Buckingham Gate.

The terrorists, who entered the hotel from the rear, had killed 31 people over a three-day siege of the hotel.

In his lawsuit, Pike, an advertising copywriter, has expressed anguish over Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata's interview to CNN International in which he claimed the hotel staff had been warned of a terror attack. Pike has said that with foreknowledge of the attack, the hotel staff could have done much more to protect guests.

Pike and his girlfriend had hid in the bathroom when the terrorists took control of the hotel. However, as the room filled with smoke from fires set off by the terrorists, Pike smashed a window with a table to get out of the room. He used a knotted bed-sheet and curtains to lower himself and his girlfriend down. However, he fell down as the curtains and bed-sheets could not take the weight. The fall snapped his backbone.

Russell Levy, Pike's lawyer, said the Indian Hotels Company had previously refused to entertain his client's compensation claim. "This is not a case of vengeance. We recognise it was an attack by terrorist. My client is seeking claim for damages as he is confined to a wheelchair. He will need care to look for himself."

According to Levy the couple had gone to India on a pleasure trip and had booked a room in Taj as they wanted to stay in an expensive hotel in Mumbai. "It was unfortunate that the attack happened the same night in the same hotel where they were. Pike's girlfriend saw him fall down and got a shock as she thought he was dead. She was rescued by the fire brigade later."

Levy told Mumbai Mirror that the steps taken by the hotel were inadequate. When asked whether a London court could hear the case as the attacks took place in Mumbai, Levy said: "The court will decide on that. We do not think they (the Indian Hotels Company) will be at any disadvantage. It is a big group with presence in the UK and they can afford the best lawyers."

A public relations officer of the Tata Group in Mumbai on Friday refused to comment on the matter because it is subjudiced.

Popular Posts