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2011 July 13 [Wednesday]

E-filing IncomeTax returns in india

The Indian government agency that runs the Income-Tax portal  "incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in" has very thoughtfully provided an electronic filing facility for its citizens which enables all tax-payers to file their Tax returns without a trip to the local Income Tax Office. However, their thoughtfulness only extends to Windows users as they have provided the e-forms only in the MSOffice .xls format which will not run any macros on a non-Windows platform. Now, I have not used Windows for many years now and having been forced to pay for a half-baked edition pre-installed on my laptop, I could not wait for my warranty to finish and free up that disk space.

Last week, I found two Open-Office hacks for the ITR forms 1 and 2 at:

However, the Open-Office  supported ITR-2 form from KSEB is borked -- has locked cells which will not work nor retrieve macros in Open-Office and many fields and cells are protected, making it impossible to enter data so that the Tax macros work properly. The ITR-2 form (available from the above link) has some errors in the conversion for Open Office --In Part B - TI in Computation of total income. It does not allow you to enter any figures in the following fields:

1. Salaries (6 of Schedule S)
2. Income from house property (C of Schedule-HP) (Enter nil if loss)
3. Capital gains
4. Income from other sources
This prevents the macro from tabulating the Total (Example: A + B +Total of (I) for all fields), due to which its not possible to tabulate the final tax payable.

Does anyone know how to get locked cell macros to work in Open-Office? All help and pointers to get these hacks working on Open-Office would be a big help. TIA.

PS: FWIW, I had asked this question on the local LUG list, which was a waste as one list member, who didnt read the question, chose to focus his undivided attention on the terrible mistake I made -- used the word  'company'. Thereafter, it was a fun exercise in "I-am-the-loudest-jerk-and-bully-here" ad hominem and logical fallacies. Yeah, total WIN on the technical help scale. The smartz knocked my socks off! 

2011 May 28 [Saturday]

buying LIC Jeevan Dukh insurance policy from L&T Finance

L&T Finance, Bangalore, sells personalized financial solutions, like LIC's life insurance policies to retail customers and a very pushy marketing person managed to hound us since last year until we finally succumbed into buying a Jeevan Anand insurance policy. Little did we know that instead of 'Anand' (joy) it would be the beginning of a period of "Dukh" (sadness) -- after the INR 54,157/- cheque was encashed by them, the sales agent says there would be a medical test and their office would call us to schedule it. WTH?

Thereafter, S.I.L.E.N.C.E.

The silence lasted for two months as the sales agent at the Bangalore office would not take our calls nor did he call us back with details of when the medical test would be scheduled -- So why did the sales guy NOT mention an important detail like a "medical test" BEFORE taking the INR. 54,157/- cheque when he knew it was a senior citizen taking the policy, nor was this mentioned during the zillion phone calls when he wanted to sell the policy?

More S.I.L.E.N.C.E.

After some hassle, we got the Bangalore office number and it was our duty to keep calling them to find out the status of our policy. Finally, we heard that the sales agent had left their employment, talk to a manager --Err..what happened to the INR. 54,157/- cheque that L&T had encashed on 02-Feb-2011 --were they going to return the money to us or grant the Jeevan Anand policy? Nobody at the L&T Finance office in Bangalore knew who was handling the case, atleast that is what we were told upon repeatedly calling them, being shunted around to speak to different employees, and after many weeks of excuses and false assurances it took them only TWO months to schedule the first medical test.

Medical done, we still had no idea if they were actually going to issue a policy, or not. More silence followed and a week of calling them incessantly (the bane of mobile phones and people not picking your calls) were told that the medical test results would go to the L&T Hyderabad office which would make a decision. Upon more calls from us (the L&T Finance Bangalore employees just dont bother to inform us of the policy status) we were told that there would be another medical test....wait, did the Bangalore office realize this TWO months after the first medical test? That they would need to reschedule the second medical test and we were supposed to await a call (which would never come) informing us when to go for the test.

Days have passed, but there was no call, only S.I.L.E.N.C.E for company.

As usual, we called the local L&T Finance employee -- if they dont wish to schedule the second medical test and make a decision regarding the health eligibility, the least they could do was to return the money. Instead, we were given the excuse that it was the Hyderabad office making the decision and their local Bangalore office was just collecting documents and couriering it to Hyderabad for final decisions.

L&T Finance, if you dont intend to give the LIC Jeevan Anand policy, the least you can do is return the 54,157/- Rupees that you encashed FOUR months ago. Is this the way you treat senior citizens, by keeping their money in limbo, without interest for FOUR months while you take your own sweet time to make a decision? Is this is the "emphasis on systematic and planned investments" service L&T Finance provides? Why do the L&T Finance sales agent NOT mention important deal-breakers like a "medical tests" BEFORE encashing the INR.54,157/- cheque or during the zillion phone calls when they hound you to sell their insurance policies --or is that also a part of the "continuous monitoring and active re-balancing depending on changing needs and market dynamics" service that LT sales agents use to divest the senior citizens of their life-savings? I wonder how many other senior citizens have paid you their hard-earned money for which you dont pay any interest whatsoever, while taking half a year to make a simple decision.

I had always thought that L&T was a respectable brand name and enjoyed so much goodwill that I would have trusted them blindly BUT the L&T Finance employees have managed to destroy the enormous goodwill that the company enjoyed. Being a Finance company they would know that had this amount been invested in the simplest investment plan in any government bank's fixed deposit scheme, it would have earned around 10% interest for the last half year. Shame on you L&T Finance --do the math and return INR. 54,157/- with interest if you are not interested in allotting the Jeevan Anand policy immediately!

UPDATE [2011may28]:: Others personal experience and public opinions on LIC's Jeevan Anand policy:

[0] http://www.vinayahs.com/archives/2011/01/18/how-to-surrender-and-close-your-lic-jeevan-anand-life-insurance-policy/
[1] http://hubpages.com/hub/MY-VIEW-ON-LICS-JEEVAN-ANAND
[2] http://www.mouthshut.com/product-reviews/Jeevan-Anand-925037407
[3] http://ritusays.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/lic-life-insurance-corporation-of-india-jeevan-anand-endowment-assurance-and-life-insurance-policy/
[4] http://www.r2iclubforums.com/forums/showthread.php/20963-LIC-Jeevan-Anand-1


UPDATE [2011jun30]:: Soon after this blog was published, the L&T company representative contacted us and quickly arranged for the second test but a few days after that they were still unable to tell if LIC would issue the policy or not. The LIC agent also contacted us and they came up with a new scheme to enroll in (read, which entails us spending more on premiums with very little to show in terms of returns). In all it sounded like a terrible bargain and we insisted they return the 54,157/- Rupees without interest. There was some back-and-forth and we finally decided that if they didnt return the money (we were not even asking for the 6 months of interest at 10%), we would go the legal route where we would claim interest and harassment damages. LIC decided to return the money and we got the check this week. End of story.

2009 November 4 [Wednesday]

Online banking and browser neutral accessibility standards

Online Internet banking and financial transactions on most Indian bank websites is jinxed because every bank out there (atleast the ones I use) insist on paying their IT vendors to develop software that does not run properly on a Linux platform.

Their websites will display webpages on FF but verification of online transactions and shares trading will be supported only on IE.  For the last few days, I've been trying to access the BOB site to change the password for netbanking but it keeps throwing a "JavaScript Disabled in Browser" error.

Nope, this problem is not restricted to yet another "government bank", private banks are no better.

The HDFC website is also FF friendly and renders well but try verifying credit cards for online purchase. Earlier the Netsafe/Verified by Visa/ MasterCard SecureCode pop-up screen used to return a "your browser is not IE....." message but now it gleefully crashes FF in a very customer friendly way!

After a whole week of running around between branches and complaining online and talking to divisional heads... the status quo remains. Frustrated, I used IE and voila, everything just works. Ughh!!

Supporting transactions for non-IE browsers is almost non-existent and talking about standards with the bank staff will get the standard response "yahan sab log Windows use karte hain (here everyone uses Windows)". That is the managers cue to me : "Yo customer, I dont care about your problem so end this Linux conversation". Asking to speak to the technical folks will not materialise --see they would not speak to lesser denizens like me, their customers.

Yet another private bank, ICICI does not think a second layer of security verification for credit card transactions online is important. Simply using a https server is not good enough. A second layer of security for each transaction should be mandatory. Ideally before approving an online transaction the merchant website should redirect to a Visa or Mastercard verification page (via your bank) which will ask you to verify with the CCV pin#, email id, password, etc... (exact procedure differs slightly from bank to bank) for EACH transaction. Currently ICICI simply approves the transaction which is a security lapse on the banks part because someone can memorize the card number, the expiry date, $name and simply flip over your card to read the 3-digit CCV overleaf and voila, you just gave a stranger access to your money!

While we were in Delhi, a restaurant printed the name, the 16-digit CC number (in all its glory) with expiry date on the POS receipt. So sans the second layer verification from Visa/MC, anyone with access to the merchants copy of the CC payment receipt can misuse the card online. All s/he has to do is memorize the 3-digit CCV number on the back of your card. _That_ is a BIG security hole. I didnt bring this to the merchants attention as I didnt want to alert them to a possible route to a financial fraud. 

Now, if ICICI had a II-layer verification, for the online transaction to be approved the fraudster would need to know your email id, password, answer to your security question, etc.. before they can (mis)use your card online. This II-layer verification (besides the IP verification, etc)) will help to narrow down the culprit(s) to: 1) an internal source who has access to your bank records, OR 2) social engineering, where you gave the details to your confidant/relative/friend/family and it was (mis)used sans your permission.

I suspect that the second layer verification is provided by  Visa/Mastercard  only to those banks that pay them for this service and I've experimented with multiple cards for the _same merchant_ and ICICI is still approving the online transaction sans the second verification layer. Now, if a second layer security feature service provided by VISA and MasterCard is being withheld by not informing and not providing the service to the customer, then it is a security lapse on the banks part. 

The other scary bit with online banking with some Indian merchants is the practice of auto-debiting your Credit Card  for annual subscriptions. If I want to re-sub to your service, I will.  I would prefer the merchant sending me a email notice instead of directly debiting my card without my approval or request. This tells me that the merchant is storing my Card details, without my knowledge and permission, which is not good security practice and most likely I will not use their service again.

Another problem area is the live trading on BSE. Currently this data is available deferred live if you use a non-IE browser. The merchants I spoke to are un-willing to support live trading on a Linux platform, partly because the share traders and banks are so used to IE that they dont support any neutral standards or system platforms.

The European Union's Internet accessibility laws are pretty strongly enforced and India should also have such laws. RBI, http://www.rbi.org.in, has a list of all the circulars sent to all Indian banks under its jurisdiction, including small branches which as per law are required to publicly display rules and regulations in B&W on a notice board within their offices. Maybe a PIL on behalf of the Persons With Disabilities Act will get browser neutral compatibility standards enforced across the board in India.

UPDATE: Now the Reserve Bank of India has made it mandatory to have an extra level of authentication called VBV (Verified by Visa) or MSC (Master Card Secure Code) password. This password is required to use while you are making an online transaction. All customers are requested to visit your respective card issuing bank’s website or VISA/MASTER sites and register your card for Verified by Visa or Master Card Secure Code to get your password.

For VISA Credit Card registration process, click on the following link
http://www.visa-asia.com/ap/sea/cardholders/security/activate.jsp

For MASTER Credit Card registration process, click on the following link
http://www.mastercard.com/us/personal/en/cardholderservices/securecode/sign_up.html

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