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Identity Crisis

It is said that Ravana performed miraculous feats of parallel processing by virtue of his 10 heads. One recited
shlokas, another conducted matters of state, a third carried on a flirtation and a fourth sang hymns.

Print Edition: January 25, 2007

It is said that Ravana performed miraculous feats of parallel processing by virtue of his 10 heads. One recited
shlokas, another conducted matters of state, a third carried on a flirtation and a fourth sang hymns.

The rest of us are not so blessed. But we do perform multiple roles. The same person is a child, parent, friend, lover, colleague, consumer, investor, tax payer and citizen. Yet whatever the multiplicity of social roles, every honest person
has a unique identity.

In every official or commercial interaction, it is useful for individuals to be tagged with a distinctive identifier. In Russia, a unique “internal passport” identifies citizens. In the US and several other nations, it is a social security number. Elsewhere it may be a passport, a voter’s ID or a driving licence.

Given that we all have one unique identity, one unique number ought to be enough to cater for all official interactions. Not in India. Several Indian agencies issue their own IDs in preference to accepting ID issued by other agencies.

Indians must have driving licences, passports, voter IDs and PAN cards. For a while, an investor in equity needed a Mapin in addition to PAN. Mapin is now useless since Sebi has halted its induction. But we now require MIN cards to invest in mutual funds (see story MIN: ID Encore).

Obtaining each of these IDs involves a tedious process of queuing up, filling in forms and submitting proof of ID, fingerprints, income tax returns, paying for applications, etc. It’s a duplication of effort on a monstrous scale. The Election Commission has issued over 60 crore ID cards. The IT department has issued around five crore PAN cards. Lakhs of investors had signed up for Mapin and they must now sign up for MIN.

If you want to be an honest citizen, a voter who travels abroad, an investor or a tax payer, you must possess ALL these documents.

Quite often too, you may have to wait for indeterminate periods before your application is processed. Many tax payers have submitted PAN applications years ago and continue to wait for PAN cards.

Perhaps no government agency trusts the verification efforts of other government agencies. Or maybe, it is easier to force citizens to acquire new dog-tags than to simply accept ID that has already been issued.

It is politically incorrect to make a fuss about the implementation of KYC norms—a unique ID cuts down fraud and criminal activity. But when citizens must acquire a multiplicity of unique IDs, the entire KYC process is reduced to a theatre of the absurd. One hopes MIN is the last in this long line of documents. Better yet, the AMFI could scrap MIN and accept PAN instead. —DEVANGSHU DATTA

MIN: ID encore

On 27 December, the Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI) issued a guideline with effect from 1 January 2007. Anybody who invests Rs 50,000 or more in MFs must have a “Mutual Fund Identification Number” (MIN).

Is MIN necessary? MFs only accept cheques and banks possess ID proof. A copy of the PAN card must be attached for investments
of Rs 50,000-plus. Explains A.P. Kurian, chairman, AMFI: “Sebi’s KYC to prevent money laundering requires investors to furnish these documents.” Earlier, Sebi required investors investing Rs 1 lakh or more in equity to obtain Mapin. This has been scrapped. But investors with Mapin must still get MIN!

Tax Arbitrator

Death and taxes are said to be certain, but it is a different story that there are thousands, perhaps millions, who manage
to give the latter the slip. Like the most commonly heard refrain —the salaried professional ends up paying income tax,
and the price of that honesty usually is harassment, or at the very least, inconvenience.

Keeping these travails in mind, the government has stepped in with a solution—another ombudsman, this time to address the numerous income tax related issues. The official will act as an arbiter to sort out complaints about the tax department. If you have any complaints against a tax official, this is the watchdog you will go to. Strange that it has taken more than 4years to go back to the tax ombudsman that was discontinued in 1960. The office of the ombudsman comes into effect from 1 January 2007 and be initially located in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Bhopal and Kochi.

But, will the ombudsman manage what he is being brought in for? The procedure is not as simple as one would expect it to be. One will first have to send a complaint to the department and that too to an official who is senior to the one who has allegedly harassed you. If, within a month, you do not get a satisfactory answer, you can head for the ombudsman’s office.
The ombudsman is empowered to fine up to Rs 1,000, which is not to come from the official’s pocket, but from the exchequer that you so arduously feed every year by paying taxes.

Trend Spotting
Indians are becoming “loan”some. And it’s not home alone. They are picking a majority of luxe needs on credit. While home loans are the hottest on Google search, personal loans are not far behind. Car and education loans form the rear end of the list.

Today EMIs are a part of monthly household expenditure. Easy access (as is evident by the Internet searches), customer-friendly features in an increasingly competitive market and spiralling aspirations of the middle class have led to this credit-happiness. However, it is surprising that education should be so low on priority even in hubs such as Kolkata and Pune.

Globally, home loans again ace the searches. Only Filipinos and Canadians would rather take a car loan than one for a home. So loans are the new age genie, make your wish...

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