On 15th May, I lost my husband of 59 years, at the end of his prolonged and painful illness. I was also suffering from major health problems myself, and was due for knee replacement surgery. The process of obtaining a death certificate from the municipal corporation proved to be a series of endless hassles. For a fortnight, we were made to run around, from one office to another, just to get the death certificate.
What proved to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back, was harassment by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) that keeps sending me bills for a landline that I surrendered in April. That landline had not been working for over three months but I decided finally to let it go, being busy with a sick husband who was in and out of hospital.
Instead of returning my deposit amount, BSNL is now deducting bill amounts from the deposit, although I have cleared all dues.
My queries have brought only a deafening silence as response.
And this is a 'service-provider'?
My queries sent to various high-ranking officials have not been answered. Some bounce, saying 'undeliverable'.
Where does an aggrieved customer turn?
Some time ago, there were reports of 54,000 employees of BSNL being laid off.
Their ‘promotional’ messages also say that those opting for paperless bills (online) will get a discount of Rs10 per bill. I have not received a printed bill for several months, but I do not see any 'discount' on the amounts being charged.
And for good measure, each successive bill is for a higher amount – although the land line has not been in use for months.
In the meantime, BSNL keeps sending promotional announcements about BSNL Care. Month after month.
Really, BSNL Cares? Does it? What a cruel joke!
I also keep getting promotional messages urging me to “subscribe to BSNL Cinema Plus, for unlimited entertainment.”
No, thank you very much.
Or perhaps, I will need 'entertainment' to calm me down, after each time my blood pressure shoots up on seeing my deposit amount getting reduced by 'monthly' charges (for a connection that does not exist).
As a consumer activist, I have heard complaints about how BSNL dilly-dallies in returning deposit amounts, but 'deducting monthly charges' is a novel ruse.
With mobile numbers becoming more and more compulsory for a variety of tasks (from booking cooking gas to paying tax), demand for landlines is declining and, therefore, profits from providing landline connections decline – so, deduct from deposits, even when a landline is surrendered so that the deposits may not have to be returned ?
If that is not the real reason, shouldn’t customers have a right to proper explanations? Isn’t that a basic entitlement? Citizens’ four basic rights include choice as well as redress; without access to redress when a customer is aggrieved, there is no justice whatsoever.
Service-providers, especially those under public sector ownership (like PSU banks and telecom services) have an obligation to uphold users’ basic rights. We keep hearing of PSU banks going in the red and merging and being bailed out. Now is it the turn of telecom service-providers? When the number of customers/ users runs to millions, why are we, the public, failing to raise our voices when accountability is tossed out, and grievances are not heard or heeded, or attended to?
(Dr Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist. She received the government of India national award for consumer protection, twice (1994 and 2000) and is a former Vice president of the Consumer Guidance Society of India, Mumbai. She is also a renowned senior vocalist in both traditions of Indian classical music - Hindustani and Carnatic, an A-graded artiste of All India Radio in both traditions.)