God Save Us From the Govt-Owned ‘Service’ Providers Like the Post Office and BSNL
To my night prayers for good health and peace, I am adding a new prayer, to “save us from our ‘service providers’.” Whether it is the municipal corporation, water supply, electricity undertaking or telecom services, most of the government service providers harass citizens with their inefficiency, unaccountability, and one-sided rules that protect them, not the users for whom they exist.
 
For donkey’s years, I have been paying my telephone bill at the post office (PO) across the road, because it is convenient. I have a post office savings account, and the bill amount gets deducted automatically and quickly.
 
This month, the PO refused to accept my payment, saying they are no longer authorised to do so. Checking with the supervisor brought the brusque reply that this change in rules is printed on the bill. I went home and checked the small print in the four-page bill document. It gives instructions for payment at post offices. So what is going on?
 
I sent a complaint to the general manager of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), the telephone services provider. Two days later comes the reply by email, “You can pay through bank instruction.”
 
Ah yes, I know. I opted for electronic clearing services (ECS) payment some years ago, and had the horror of being billed Rs700 extra for a modem that I never ordered or received.
 
Getting the charges reverses involved running around from one exchange to another for seven months; that taught me a lesson, and I now prefer to receive a monthly bill, check it, and pay at the PO.  
 
The GM’s response offers no clarification on whether post offices are now barred from accepting payment. This is like the infamous French queen who said, “Let them eat cake” when informed that the poor people had no bread to eat. 
 
Instead of having my grievance addressed, why should I opt for ECS when I have had a bad experience with that option?
 
This same BSNL also sends out bills dated 6th of each month, but the bills reach the customer only by 22nd or 23rd,  the last date for payment.  No one asks why a local letter takes two weeks to be delivered. 
 
So twice during this year, after waiting for the bill, I asked a friend to pay at the Bangalore One kiosk near her house, without a bill (I was undergoing hospital treatment, and could not go myself). 
 
The bill also says, ‘Non-receipt of bill is no reason for non-payment”. 
 
Many years ago, I had contested this clause and written in my consumer column about such ‘one-sided’ rules that government services impose. Why is it that the department observes no accountability, and puts the onus of regular payments on the user? Without a bill, my advance payments at Bangalore One kiosk had to be on a rough estimate, so I was paying more than the actual bill. Why? What kind of ‘service’ is this?
 
I had sued a private telecom service provider under the Consumer Protection Act and received compensation as well as strictures from the magistrate against the company, for harassing customers. 
 
As a senior citizen undergoing treatment, even filing cases under the CPA becomes difficult. So what does one do? “Eat cake, if there is no bread?’ (The insolent queen was beheaded for this statement; our government staff, however, goes scot-free.) 
 
The receipts for electricity and water bill payments are printed on thermal paper that fades and goes blank after some weeks. In case of problems, the ‘blank’ receipt is no use. 
 
Service providers often claim “arrears” and slap penalties, so one has to preserve proof of payment, to protect oneself. 
 
Given the slothful state of even our consumer courts, how many citizens can afford the time and expense of making trips to courts for months, even years, to claim a refund of a paltry amount? 
 
We cannot do without ‘services’ like electricity and water, which are monopolies. In the process of paying this BSNL bill, I have had to tear up the PO account cheque and write another for the Bangalore One payment, when a charge is collected for the wasted leaf. What a shoddy state of affairs!
 
It is the same with most government ‘services’ – government clinics and hospitals are so woefully inefficient that even the poor prefer to go to private hospitals, even though they cannot afford it. 
 
As for government schools, the less said the better; children enrolled in class nine cannot even subtract properly; they merely copy what the teacher writes on the blackboard, without understanding. And the ‘no detention’ policy ensures that they come to high school without even basic literacy.  I have already written about the state of public sector banks, which now have non-performing assets (NPAs) running in to obscene figures. (Read: Banks, the (Dis) Service Providers
 
One aggrieved citizen, or even a handful, complaining about poor quality of services, gets us nowhere. We need massive mobilisation of users of telephones, water, electricity, banks and schools, to voice their concern, in large numbers, to get attention. Till that happens, all one can do is pray -- to ‘save us from dis-service providers’
 
P.S. As I write, I have an update from the GM saying that it is the “post office that is not accepting payment”, so BSNL is not at fault. So where does a citizen turn, tossed between government owned two ‘service providers’?
 
(Dr Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist. She is 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. She is also a musicologist and author, and has written a book on the Rampur gharana.) 
Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

User

COMMENTS

Harish

3 weeks ago

Please dump BSNL

Thaijwel Akkara

4 weeks ago

Except for the Passport Seva Services all other Govt services are pathetic.... unfortunately citizens have no choices if there are no privatized options.

Prakash Patel

1 month ago

The writer has tremendous patience and perseverance. Wherever we have choices, must opt for the better. What is the need in wasting time with BSNL, opt for another one. These government organizations are beyond repair. They are surviving only on taxpayers money, otherwise, they would have long been dead.

TIHARwale

1 month ago

when it comes to service providers Government or Private all are same. recently Jet has cancelled some of its flight for December 18. Jet SMSed the passenger. when flight is cancelled why Jet automatically send the refund to customer account if booked directly and to online travel portal if booked thro online travel portal and SMS/email to passenger of having refunded the ticket cost in full. when Chidambaram ticket was involved and news came in media in less than 24 hours airlines/online travel portal refunded the ticket cost in full.

Balajee K.S

1 month ago

It happens like that..in BSNL or PO or Insurance or Transport or any for that matter in State/Central Govt depts/offices. It is very difficult to get things done in Govt depts., unless you go within the stipulated time. Whenever go to HPO you see, one counter is operating among 6/8 counters available with personnel sitting there inside doing some calculation or tampering with mobile or reading weekly magazine or some times there is not even a person in the entire department and is empty but the 'CLOSED' board is hanging or blocking the counter and that too in that one counter a long serpentine queue is waiting and running even outside the PO.. I suggest that the public should slowly avoid.. and choose some other alternative ways..

Debo C

1 month ago

BSNL bills can be paid online or thru mobile App of many banks and BSNL. Bill can be viewed on BSNL Mobile App. so what is the issue? should we not upgrade ourselves with time? Or wallow in self piety that senior citizens cannot use mobile or internet services?

Ashok ashok

1 month ago

In india i think majority of indians at some point of time would have also had similar problems dealing with PO or BSNL.Since they are govt servants they do not have any accountability and go scot free.Govt has to think of improving the services which they provide which are very bad or even atrocious.

Anand Vaidya

1 month ago

Why don't you exit as many Gov services as possible? Afterall, Airtel has much better service (though not perfect) all bills can be paid online (web/mobile). Even mobile broadband is cheaper/convenient/better

I don't see any reason for gov companies/dept to improve unless Mr. Lee Kuan Yew reincarnates in India and takes over as PM.

Rounding Off Charges: Competition Commission orders probe Against Railways and IRCTC 
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered a probe against Railways and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp Ltd (IRCTC) for abusing their monopoly by charging higher than the actual base fare on the pretext of rounding off. 
 
Meet Shah and Anand Ranpara, residents of Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and Rajkot, respectively, filed a case before the CCI alleging inappropriate practice of rounding off charges used by Railways and IRCTC while calculating fares. They said, actual base fares are rounded off to nearest higher multiple of five to arrive at the total base fare on the online portal of IRCTC. For instance, the total fare per passenger in the sleeper class of Ashram Express from Ahmedabad to Delhi is charged at Rs475, including taxes. In this case, the actual base fare could be anywhere between Rs421 to Rs424. However, the base fare for this journey is Rs425, after rounding off to the next multiple of five. 
 
The informants also alleged that in case of bulk booking also the rounding off is used to charge more from passengers. For instance, if the actual base fare for a journey is Rs7 per passenger and four tickets are to be booked then the total base fare would be Rs28, which after rounding off should be Rs30. However, the railways round off actual base fare for each passenger separately. This results in each passenger paying Rs10 and the total face jumping to Rs40 instead of Rs30.
 
The CCI after finding prime facie evidence of norm violation as per section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Competition Act 2002, observed that, “At this juncture it appears that the Railways and IRCTC are rounding off the actual base fares for the online bookings without any plausible justification for the same.”  
 
The Commission ordered its director general to conduct an investigation into the matter and submit his report within a period of 60 days from the receipt of the order. 
 
The bench was also quoted saying, “If the DG comes across anti-competitive conduct of any other entity/person in addition to those mentioned in the information, the DG shall be at liberty to investigate the same. Also, the DG is directed to conduct a detailed investigation without restricting and confining to the duration mentioned in the information.”
 
In order to place emphasis on the fact that the Railways had indeed abused their monopoly, the Commission observed that they had earned Rs18 crore by rounding off actual fares at the cost of consumers. Since they are the only ones in the field, consumers have no option other than to accept this unfair pricing scheme, it added. 
 
The railways, however in their defence argued that this kind of rounding off was done to ensure reduction in transaction time and that this policy is followed both online and at the counters. They also reiterated that, “in most of the classes, passenger fare is not charged as per the cost of running of services and is subsidised. It has been averred that there is a huge recurring loss in the passenger segment and the passenger fare has not increased substantially during the last fifteen years.”  
 
The railways did accept that they do not maintain a separate account for such rounding off. 
 
The Commission stated, “The Railways and IRCTC have not been able to convince the Commission as to why the policy of rounding off of actual base fares to the next higher multiple of Rs5 is applicable to the sale of online tickets, when it may be possible for them to transfer even one paisa electronically. Further, during the preliminary conference, they could not explain why rounding off is done separately for each passenger even when more than one tickets are booked through one account of the same time for a journey.”
Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

User

COMMENTS

Mahesh S Bhatt

4 weeks ago

Could we do RTI to get roundingoff collections past 3 years and transfer that money for level crossing safety bridges Mahesh Bhatt

Students are Consumers too, Rules Maharashtra State Forum
A student is also a consumer and can file complaints against educational institutions if it fails to adhere to the rules and regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC) or are found to make bogus claims and are involved in malpractices, rules the Maharashtra State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (MSCDRC). 
 
In a recent decision, the bench of Justice AP Bhangale and AK Zade stated, “In view of Section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, every consumer, who seeks service from the service provider may complain of deficiency in service or unfair trade practice, as the case may be, unless there is a clear bar by any law to prohibit the student as ‘consumer’ to lodge a complaint before the consumer fora against the educational institute.”
 
The case is related with Anjana Ramasubramanian, whose son Aditya was a student of Goregaon-based Oberoi International School. Alleging unfair trade practices by the school, Ms Ramasubramanian filed a case before Mumbai suburban district forum. However, the district forum dismissed her petition by merely making reference to a ruling by the National Commission. 
 
Expressing displeasure over the district forum, the bench said, “(the) District Forum in such cases, if it entertain, try and decide the complaint, can surely address itself to the questions as to whether deficiency in service has occurred and or unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice, as the case may be, to decide the complaint within the scope and legal provisions of the Consumer Protection Act.”
 
“We must express our dissatisfaction for the cryptic way of disposing of the complaint by the District Forum and set aside the impugned judgment and remand the matter to the District Forum with direction to the District Forum to give full opportunity to both parties to have their pleadings on record with affidavit in evidence and to,” it added. 
 
The district forum, based on previous judgements by the National Commission dismissed the case stating that a student is not a consumer and used the “SK Chaudhari Educational Trust V/s. Pradip Kumar Chapparwala” case as an example to show that educational institutions are not service providers and hence cannot be tried in this court. 
 
Ms Ramasubramanian however argued that in a variety of cases, the National Commission had themselves passed judgements where redressal had been provided to the students.  
 
When the case was taken up with the State Commission, she pointed out that although examinations are not considered as a service, in the absence of any legal binding, students should be considered as consumers unless specifically stated otherwise by law. 
 
The bench observed that in case any institute is found taking an action which is in contravention with the rules laid down by the UGC, said action shall be considered as unfair trade practices and by extension the people affected by that shall be considered as consumers and shall be redressed accordingly. 
 
The bench remanded the case back to the Mumbai Suburban Consumer District Forum. 
Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

User

COMMENTS

jpmoolchandani

1 month ago

Only Stock Market Investors & Traders don't have consumer status w.r.t NSE?

We are listening!

Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.
  Loading...
Close

To continue


Please
Sign Up or Sign In
with

Email
Close

To continue


Please
Sign Up or Sign In
with

Email

BUY NOW

online financial advisory
Pathbreakers
Pathbreakers 1 & Pathbreakers 2 contain deep insights, unknown facts and captivating events in the life of 51 top achievers, in their own words.
online financia advisory
The Scam
24 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
Moneylife Online Magazine
Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
financial magazines online
Stockletters in 3 Flavours
Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
financial magazines in india
MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
(Includes Moneylife Online Magazine)