Airtel Cocks a Snook at Pre-paid Subscribers and TRAI Chief
If a team playing football shifted its goal post every time the opposite team was going to score a goal – or cricket stumps were shifted every time the other team was about to hit the stumps for a run-out --  what would you call that game?  Unfair? Unethical? But that seems to be the strategy that some commercial “service providers” resort to, in their pursuit of profits. Customers protesting about their rights can go boil their heads.
 
Moneylife carried a report on 21st November by Yogesh Sapkale, about the inability of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to monitor service providers’ rules and accountability. On 28th November, when I was in hospital for follow up treatment after a surgery, I received an SMS from my ‘service provider’ Airtel, saying that my outgoing calls facility will be terminated from the following day (one day’s notice!). This, despite my having Rs130 balance in my pre-paid account. 
 
While recharging my account with Rs500, I had expressly chosen a scheme that did not have a limited-time validity. I went straight from the hospital to the nearest Airtel office and checked. I was told that I have to put in additional money, at least Rs23, to extend my account by another few days. Why am I being forced to make calls worth Rs143, in less than four weeks? I am not a teenager engaging in long chats with friends, I am a 78-year old patient, with a mobile meant only for emergencies.
 
On 29th November I got another SMS from Airtel saying that they have “changed their base tariff”, and so I need to pay in more. Under what rule are they changing rates for existing customers, without informing them in advance and without their express agreement? You do not go to a shop, make a purchase after checking the price and paying, only to be told as you walk off that they have “changed their rates” and that you need to shell out more. Not done.
 
I sent an email to Airtel protesting, and asking for a refund of my existing balance, or extending its validity as per the original agreement. There was no reply. I also pointed out that I had sued Airtel once earlier, under the Consumer Protection Act, for harassment, and won compensation. The magistrate had even passed strictures against Airtel, saying that they should be “ashamed to harass an elderly customer like this.” I sent an email again, saying that I will not hesitate to sue again. There has been no reply, nor even an acknowledgement.
 
The staff at the Airtel outlet says they are sending such SMSs to “all customers” – as if that justifies the extortion!  Out of the millions of mobile users in the country, many will be too busy to protest, or sue, they will quietly curse and pay up. Which means Airtel gets away with unfair business practices, in its pursuit of profits. Call that a “service provider”?
 
The cruel irony is that, according to news reports, TRAI chairman RS Sharma had on 27th November sent out instructions to all service providers instructing them not to change rules, and “not to block customers’ outgoing calls, if there is sufficient balance in their accounts”. 
 
This means that Airtel sent out messages to its customers a day AFTER receiving such instructions from TRAI, and followed it up for good measure, again, two days later. What kind of “regulations”, or business ethics, do we have here?
 
Like so many others, I too registered for the DND (Do Not Disturb) facility. I keep getting unwanted promotional calls, regardless, which is a nuisance.  I registered once again, to block unwanted calls. They continue to come in.
 
Once when I complained about a nuisance call, I was told that just giving the time and number it came from is not enough; I need to send them the contents of the call. This means I need to listen to the whole spiel, jot down the contents, and send it on? Surely, I have better things to do? If sufficient number of customers migrated to another service provider, that could teach the errant company a lesson, but as I said, customers are often busy running the rat race, and do not have the time to register their protests by terminating their accounts. Also, if I have money in my account, why should I forfeit it? My demand for refund has brought only a deafening silence from Airtel.
 
So what are my options – keep shelling out, to enrich an unethical service provider, or go through a prolonged court case, or take sanyaas and run away somewhere? Suggestions, anyone?
Moneylife sent an email to Airtel seeking their views or comment on this story. We will update this article as and when we receive any response from Airtel.
 
(The writer is a columnist on consumer protection, and former national Vice President, Consumer Guidance Society of India, Mumbai.)
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COMMENTS

Sridhar Rao

4 days ago

We have one idea prepaid which us now Vodafone and they did the same thing, gulping up a balance of Rs.300 in 2 months and threatening blocking of outgoing. Went in for a recharge to avoid this but definitely it is unethical on part of Vodafone.

sarbajit roy

1 week ago

The TRAI Consumer handbook is being openly flouted.
https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/TRAI-Handbook-2015-ENG-30092015.pdf

pages 26-27
"Any tariff plan presented, marketed or offered as valid for any prescribed period exceeding six months or as having lifetime or unlimited validity in lieu of an upfront payment shall continue to be available to the subscriber for the duration of the period as prescribed in the plan. In the case of lifetime or unlimited validity plans, the plan is valid as long as the Service Provider is permitted to provide such telecom service under the current license or renewed license. In the case of plans with lifetime validity or unlimited validity, the service provider shall also inform the subscribers of the month and
year of expiry of their current license."

Unfortunately, Vodafone is being allowed to surrender their licences and permissions and so to flee from India (presumably leaving all their litigation and spectrum demands behind) to Birla group to "settle" for them. This is Kingisher/Nirav Modi type scam on 100x scale.

Rakesh Parikh

1 week ago

The least TRAI can do is to force them for the new terms to be applicable for newer recharges and force the telcos to continue for the existing subscribers as per the last plan taken for which recharge was done and insist on telcos providing option for refunds without any deductions. As regards Airtel their signals are most pathetic and in majority of the interior buildings there are no or weak signals. Further even in case of 4G their technology is so pathetic that the signals keep on fluctuating between 3G and 4G and at each fluctuation the calls get disconnected..... but Airtel is not tired of spending crores on Rupees in advertising "Thanks"........

Abhijit Kanjilal

2 weeks ago

Even Idea and Vodafone is practicing so. Need action against all three.

Baskar

2 weeks ago

Airtel is known for such harrasments. 1. I remember Airtel was not responsing at all to change my subscriber from Airtel to Other subsribers intentionally to feel fed up and continue using Airtel if wanting to keep the Same Number. I decided to lose it and move on.
2. About a year ago, Jio users had problems to reach Airtel users. If i’m not wrong, TRAI looked into this matter and warned to bot intentionally block calls.

archana_rahatade

2 weeks ago

I too faced same issue. thanks for sharing n voicing against provider. can u please share emailid where I can also complain.

B. KRISHNAN

2 weeks ago

I had a very similar experience with Airtel last week. When I had more than Rs.500/- in my pre-paid account, they forced me to take a package for 84 days saying otherwise they will terminate the outgoing calls. I talked to Airtel customer care, but they were unhelpful quoting "company rules". Actually I will not be using the data or free calls offered by this pack, and it is a total waste of money for a person like me (aged 78). I am forced to keep this Airtel connection as it is linked to my bank account, Indane gas account etc., otherwise I would have thrown out this fleecer long time ago.!

REPLY

Rajesh Kumar

In Reply to B. KRISHNAN 2 weeks ago

It is not only Airtel. Vodafone is also harassing the customers the same way. I have a vodafone unlimited validity plan and having sufficient balance available in my account. Still they kept on sending the messages to stop the services if i do not recharge with a minimum amt. of Rs.35/- valid for 28 days only. Similar is the case with my airtel account, wherein i had a balance of about Rs.1500/- still they asked me to recharge my account if i wish to continue. Why can't the courts or the concerned authorities take cognizance of such high handed ness of these service providers. Whose services are always marked with frequent call drops and low speed data service.

Akshay Kini

2 weeks ago

All telecom or mobile providers are doing the same. (Idea/Vodaphone is the same).

This is what I call as "Metric" driven development. A few years ago, stock markets used to reward telecom service providers for having greater subscriber numbers (absolute or additions in a quarter).
Out of this was born: Lifetime validity recharges. Free Sim cards. No one disconnected a sim, everyone kept TWO sim cards. Dual SIM became a rage, as maintaining a SIM card was ridiculously low charges per month.

Many don't remember this, but before all this, even on pre-paid there was a monthly cost (I recollect the plan I was in was 1 RE/Day at-least deduced from balance).

The above caused a DROP in ARPU (Average Revenue Per User). But this was more than offset by some of the premium users, who used to spend thousands per day on these networks.


Then Reliance Jio came into this world. With a unique proposition to the stock market: Subscriber numbers + Minimum ARPU. If you see a Jio plan, there is no better plan than the Rs. 399 / 84 Days (minus Rs. 50 discount voucher that everyone has). This tariff plan fixed a benchmark for ARPU for Jio. If you see their reported ARPU it is near this (dragged a bit lower due to Jio Phone perhaps).

Now, the investors and stock markets are using ARPU as a measure of health for service providers. The problem for incumbents such as Airtel, Vodaphone-Idea (no one else is left), is the way to boost ARPU.

Earlier days, it was thought that ARPU could be boosted by "value" adds such as Video and Music. Unfortunately, the 4G expansion happened by offering high daily data AND TRAI brought in Net-Neutrality. Thus, these add-ons or Over-the-top services (Whatsapp), all were no longer potential revenue sources for service providers. i.e. users could use Saavn, Amazon Prime Music/Video etc. and enjoy these services without any payment or revenue to the telecom provider.

Additionally, Reliance Jio also brought in plans that made it literally stupid for anyone to be paying more than Rs. 500/month for a cellphone plan. You can get unlimited calls, roaming AND good data for that much. Instantly forcing Airtel/Vodaphone to lose revenue from their high-paying customers, further bringing down ARPU.

So, as it stands in Nov 2018 Jio ARPU : Rs. 130/- per user (despite the telecom industry crying fowl on it's supposed discounting). Airtel ARPU < Rs. 90.

Think of it. Airtel was a Premium Telecom brand. Jio was a "freebie" brand. But Jio earns more per user than airtel!!

Airtel/Vodaphone-Idea cannot increase tarrifs anymore, so they have only one way to fix this problem: Get RID of all low paying customers. From the new tariff plans and announcements, their current target seems to be Rs. 35/month as a minimum threshold to remain on their network. I consider that a FAIR pricing to remain on the network, but they needed to handle the transition for customers like you (and me) better, by introducing a gradual way to SPEND our current talktime as Rs. 35/month recharges.

The days of 100% telecom coverage and dual sim are numbered.

It is time TRAI also allow a way out for dual-sim subscribers to consolidate their two numbers into one sim and operator. If they do, I will merge my current two SIMs to one operator (Jio).

Airtel/Vodaphone-Idea don't seem to realize that while Jio started off with cheap tarrifs, I will stick to it as they are pretty fair and stable in terms of pricing and charging me (I know Sucheta Maam will diagree with this) but just last week Idea deducted Rs. 8/- for some VAS that I never subscribed to (some "hot wallpapers", which is more insulting to me). Jio has never done that. That is a single reason I will stick to Jio.

All those who want to swith to BSNL, watch out for all the SMS offers for "hot wallpapers". That seems to be their single largest revenue source. Given that it is a public sector entity, I think it is time someone files an RTI to find out how much they earn from that crap.

Muna

2 weeks ago

In my opinion f**k Airtel and switch to bsnl

Liju Philip

2 weeks ago

Same issue with both my idea and vodafone numbers. And dont expect any solution as the govt and the regulators are hardly bothered. What do you expect from a govt which came to power on the businessmen's monies. They will obviously dance to their tunes. Its only Khaunga aur apne doston ko khilaunga.

Aditya Singhal

2 weeks ago

same issue with Vodafone. They will make your life difficult to switch from post paid to prepaid

Anand Vaidya

2 weeks ago

Me and my family members have been receiving these threats for some time.

Here's my revenge: I pay for 3x mobiles voice/sms and have an airtel DSL. Total cost to me is about Rs 10-12K per annum. Now if I cancel my DSL (max 30GB/month) and accept Airtel's Rs 399-84d-3x plan, I get unlimited calls, SMS, 1GBx3=90GB/month 4G speed data. I save between 3000-5000 per year.

So clearly, Airtel has been stupid enough to drive from higher revenues to lower revenues. They are making loss. Any idea why? ;-)

Swapnil Deshpande

2 weeks ago

Now BSNL and MTNL GSM will be the preferred network for the users after Introducing Minimum recharge by AIRTEL, VODAFONE IDEA AND TATA DOCOMO to extend sim Validity. MTNL GSM operates in Mumbai and Delhi circle and on a first recharge of Rs 24 in MTNL Mumbai GSM, user gets 1 year of outgoing and incoming service and later on from second year onwards MTNL Mumbai GSM validity can be extended to again 1 year on a Recharge of Rs 84. BSNL offers a 180 days of validity on a recharge of Rs 36.

REPLY

Francis Xavier R

In Reply to Swapnil Deshpande 2 weeks ago

yes, me too thinking about migrating to BSNL ...

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Troubled with Spam SMS or Calls? Do Not Disturb, TRAI is Sleeping!
In September 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, when he was the finance minister, made the lethargic Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issue a notification to curb unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) or spam calls and SMS. Unfortunately, the ordinary mobile subscriber has no respite from the spate of unwanted commercial calls and SMS messages bombarding her everyday despite being registered on the national do not call (NDNC) registry. 
 
The TRAI released consultation papers and then launched a mobile app called DND (do not disturb) to report unwanted SMS or call. But without any real time monitoring or strict action against violators - which include top insurers, lenders, telecom operators and credit card issuers, this menace continues, leaving mobile subscribers searching for a respite. 
 
In addition, unlike other regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) or Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), the telecom regulator seems unconcerned about customer issues and has no formal mechanism for grievance redress or filing complaints.
 
TRAI does not take any cognizance of individual complaints from telecom subscribers. The TRAI portal under its telecom consumer complaints monitoring system, says, “TRAI Act, 1997 does not envisage handling of individual consumer complaints by TRAI. Consumers are advised to take up their complaints with their respective service providers. Complaints, if any, received in TRAI are forwarded to the service providers. No follow up action is taken by TRAI on individual complaint(s).”
 
When the regulator is not responsible for addressing consumers grievances, there are no prizes for guessing how complaints are treated. A majority of complaints are discarded without much action or on flimsy grounds, especially those against telemarketers or the telecom service providers. 
 
According to the telecom regulator, as on May 2018, there were 23 crore mobile subscribers registered with the DND registry. 
 
Last heard, TRAI and its chairman RS Sharma were coercing Apple Inc to allow access to call and SMS details for its DND 2.0 mobile app on iPhones in India.  
 
The app DND 2.0 works well for Android based devices. In my previous article, I had examined the first version of the DND app. The new version is much better in terms of ease of use and functions. Unfortunately, an app is not a regulator and can only act as a facilitator by forwarding details of spam calls and SMSs to the central registry number 1909 in a specified format.  
 
I am also regular complainant about unwanted SMS and calls. I had opted for full or zero DNC category (which means no telemarketing SMS/call). However, except in few cases, where the number of the caller or SMS sender is available, and thus can be disconnected, there is hardly any action against the telemarketers or spammers reported on the app.
 
 
This is especially true for spammers who use codes (XX-XXXXXX) to send bulk text messages; they are evidently protected through various means. For example, one astrologer was spamming me with SMSes using ‘BW ASTROL’ as header. When I filed complaint through the DND app, after a few days, the status showed 'incomplete/incorrect info'! 
 
Many spammers are shielded by the telcos themselves as these are paid services. For example, I used to receive several SMS from a portal  selling old items, with a header of ‘IM-Selold’. When I complained, I was told this was a 'service SMS/call'!  
 
Interestingly, the header ‘IM’ stands for Idea from Mumbai circle, my service provider. So no guess how the spammer could have received my mobile number and got away from the crime with a label of 'service SMS/call'. As per TRAI regulations, first letter in the header of the SMS denotes name of operator followed by area or region. (For more check this page from NDNC.in)
 
Out of my 30 complaints about the Idea number filed through the DND app, there was action only against four. This too was because these four were mobile numbers and were disconnected after my complaint. On my Jio connection, I had filed 15 complaints, and there was action against one number only. 
 
In both cases, there was no action against any telemarketer, who had used bulk SMS services. This means telemarketers, who sent SMS through any telco are shielded by the same or other telco from where the message originated. 
 
Check the SMS below that was sent by a telemarketer. 
 
 
However, instead of taking any action, I was told this was a service SMS/ call! 
 
 
I am wondering which service provider offers to book a spacious flat for Rs2.5 crore. This is a clear marketing messge soliciting business, however, Idea Cellular, Vodafone (I received the SMS on this number as well) and TRAI (yes, ultimately the buck stops with the regulator) think otherwise.  
 
 
This action taken message was sent by Vodafone. It mentions ‘no action has been taken by HFCL’. This HFCL is Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, which had won 4G licences in almost every telecom circle. As per TRAI, there are 175 telecom service providers, but HFCL does not feature in the list. I even checked the list of registered telemarketers. There are 8,638 registered telemarkers as per the national do not call registry portal but again HFCL is not there in the list. So the large question remains, who is HFCL and how it was supposed to take action on my complaint?
 
In the above cases, the operator is Idea Cellular, which recently was merged with Vodafone. Hope, they will at least try to match with DNC handling efficiency of Vodafone (it is not the best, but still much better compared with others).
 
On handling DNC complaints, less said is better for Reliance Jio. It directly tells that the spammer is not a telemarketer or the CDR (communication detail record) does not match or the subscriber only has opted for this preference or service call/SMS. 
 
What I found through my UCC complaints and attempted resolutions is that Lodha, one of the biggest name in building and construction is not a telemarketer and hence all SMSes (spams text messages) sent by them should be considered as ‘gift’. In case of another spammer, ‘Radius’ builders and developer, I was told this was my opted preference on a zero DNC number!
 
 
As I mentioned earlier, I have opted for zero DNC, which means telemarketers should not send me any SMS or make any calls on my number. However, it does not happen. Despite the zero DNC, I continue to receive spam SMS and calls.  
 
 
Another reason, why there is no action against spammers is non-availability of records. This is absurd, but yet most of the times used by telcos. For example, Vodafone have a funny way to handle DNC complaints. When you file a complaint (by sending an SMS to 1909 in this format: the unsolicited commercial communication, XXXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy), you will immediately receive an SMS providing complaint number. What follows is really funny. The customer care executive will call you and ask to provide all the details, which you had already shared through the SMS. What is weird, is many a times when I complained through Twitter, Vodafone told me that they could not reach me. This too when I was in our office in well-located and connected place like Dadar! But maybe they are admitting their poor coverage or network signal in this area.
 
Is there any solution for getting rid of telemarketing SMS or calls? Unfortunately, nothing within the ambit of TRAI or its rules and regulations. Few years ago, one mobile subscriber had won a compensation of Rs3 lakh from Airtel after filing case in the Maharashtra State Consumer Commission. Shashikant Ganga, a Mumbai-based lawyer had filed complaint about receiving text messages despite having opted for do not disturb (DND) facility. After hearing both the parties, the State Commission had awarded Rs3 lakh to Ganga and asked Airtel to pay this amount within 60 days, says a report from Times of India
 
But then how many subscribers will approach the consumer courts? This means, TRAI has to pull its socks and help mobile subscribers get rid of unwanted commercial communication or spam SMS and telemarketing calls. The regulator can do this by imposing heavy penalty on telemarketers as well as both the operators, sender and recipient for failing to filter spam messages or calls.
  
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COMMENTS

BR

2 weeks ago

SMS sent through Service Giver can be stopped by DND service. SMS sent directly to cellph nos by people or advertisers who got other users' cellphone nos by any means Iike through friends, correspondence for any purpose, calls made to others from those nos) , can send to those nos even if DND Service is active. DND service is active for some weeks. It must be reactivated to continue to stop SMS through the advtg system.

Mahesh S Bhatt

3 weeks ago

Why are we complaining on additional revenue streams of Telcos when TRAI has washed off its hands on primary State Responsibility of Quality of Calls in Rs 584 bill ie 58400crores between 5 operators predominantly Idea/Voda/Reliance/Bharti & (BSNL/MTNL) for 110 crores subcribers the mecanism.

ie per Operator per Year Revenues Rs 11680 cr taking 5 major operators.

Complaint the Service Provider nicely worded Customer Care but NO ONE CARES eg Vodafone
As per website & personally experienced:

Vodafone Nodal Officer Mumbai
Office of the Vodafone Nodal Officer Mumbai is located at 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East, Mumbai, Pin Code 400059. You can contact Mumbai Nodal Officer with the unique complaint number (docket number) on 982-001-5032 from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 AM and 6:00 PM. The docket number is generated when you register your complaint by calling Vodafone Customer Care Number Mumbai on +919820098200 / 199 / 198 or registering online through www.vodafone.in. Alternately subscribers who would like to send written complaints can also do so by sending e-mail at nodal [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com or faxing their complaints to +91-226-666-1200.

Appellate Authority Mumbai
Office of the Vodafone Appellate Authority Mumbai is located at 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East, Mumbai, Pin Code 400059. If Vodafone India Limited subscribers want to appeal further, they can do so by appealing to Appellate Authority with their unique complaint number (docket number) by calling on +91-982-001-5713 from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. or by sending e-mail at appellate [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com or faxing their complaints to +91-226-666-1200.

Vodafone India Limited
Postal Address: Appellate Authority, Vodafone India Limited, 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East
Pincode: 400059
Mumbai, Maharashtra
Phone Number: +91-9820015713
Fax Number: +91-2266661200
E-mail Address: appellate [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com

Means the appellate also is on Vodafone server & nocomplaint factually reaches TRAI or DOT technically.

God also cannot bless Mahesh Bhatt

Harish

3 weeks ago

Cheap telemarketers, cheaper telcos, cheapest trai.

B. KRISHNAN

4 weeks ago

TRAI is only interested in protecting telecom companies interests, because they stand to gain by the business offered by telemarketers. TRAI have a vested interest here: they want to earn more and more money thru auctions of spectrum and this is possible only if the telecom companies in turn earn more profit - let the interest of the poor consumer be damned!

Aditya G

4 weeks ago

I follow the old & time-tested rule: do not answer any call from a number that is not in your phone book. It works for me.

I don't think TRAI has the intent, infrastructure, or bandwidth to combat spam or calls. Machine learning is probably the only way to combat it. And the best solution for this is to develop an ML algorithm inside the handset itself. But it's expensive AF.

REPLY

Tarun Goel

In Reply to Aditya G 4 weeks ago

I have the Same Experience. Though there is a Good Action taken on Telephonic Call from 10-digit number. But there is ZERO action on the Marketing SMS i.e. Example "AD-GiriJi" or IM-VOUCHR" etc.. My experience with reporting to Airtel is same as you.

Additionally I have observed,
(1) Time Delay is Increased for the OTP.
(2) Many times OTP is not received. - Banks Do blame DND for this.
(3) Many important Service SMS are blocked.

My understanding is, Instead of Penalizing the SPAM Marketing company, and imposing fine/disconnecting the connection. Airtel is Filtering the SMS, which increase the Time Delay for SMS Delivery, and Some of the SMS are being filtered.

One more issue is, some of the Banks are making many calls and they claim to be service calls, while their intention is to sell insurance.

Surendra Babu Matavalam

In Reply to Tarun Goel 4 weeks ago

I see this filtering even in Jio. Airtel is much better compared to Jio in handling DND complaints. Out of around 10 complaints in Jio, none of them is blocked. I just stopped complaining now.

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