Sunday, January 18, 2015

Is it possible to believe that MTNL, a PSU might have generated unethical business revenue of Rs. 74, 59,050/- from 1st April 2013 to 31st October 2014?

I have been a subscriber of MTNL Dolphin mobile connection. The choice of having MTNL connection was basically that the PSUs operator cannot adapt to unfair trade practices. However my belief shattered for the first time when it came to the notice that BSNL was charging migration fee for migrating from one plan to another. As per regulation of TRAI (an authority in India to protect the interest of telecom consumers) the migration fee is not allowed to be charged. BSNL was violating the same which made me to believe that when it comes to the talk of unfair trade practices, PSUs are not lagging behind. BSNL was charging the same till December 2011. Surprisingly BSNL withdrawn such unethical charges being charged from consumers only after intervention of TRAI. Failed to understand why intervention of TRAI was required. Had it been charged inadvertently, the same would have been withdrawn immediately when it was brought to their notice.

Coming back to the topic of MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.), it was equally surprising when it came to the notice that MTNL also does not lag behind in unfair trade practice (UTP). The mobile connection popularly called "Dolphin" does not work for 22 hrs out of 24 hrs day. It works during 2 hrs when I am driving the vehicle and during which I does not use. This is well intimated several times but without any heed. I would bring out two examples compelling me to believe MTNL might also be adapting to unethical businesses.

1. MTNL is offering broadband services wherein they were offering modem. One can refer to the plan they had uploaded on their site with link
The registration charges as stated therein were:

Registration & installation charges in case subs having landline connection
Rs. 300/-
Registration & installation charges in case subs is not having landline connection
Rs. 800/-
One time non refundable modem security for normal modem
Rs. 300/-
One time non refundable modem security for Wi-Fi modem
Rs. 800/-
As can be seen above in 3rd and 4th row, MTNL has stated charging of Rs. 300/- and Rs. 800/- as  "one time non-refundable security". The term or the head of charge itself is contradicting. As per definition the term like "Security" is used wherein certain terms being secured becomes refundable on exiting. The author sought for a clarification from MTNL as to what is the term "one time non-refundable security". MTNL official stated that the amount being charged is non-refundable. On further probing it was orally revealed that the term security is used to avoid tax payment. This shocked the author as to how a PSU can adapt such practices of tax evasion. However, this is the reality and this reality made me to believe that when chance comes, PSUs does not lag behind in breaking the rules and adapt unfair trade practices (UTP). 

2. Another example has been that the author being a consumer activist is in the habit of discharging the responsibilities before asserting the rights. One of the responsibility is to pay the bills in time.  As a matter of practice, the payment towards the mobile bill was being paid through a cheque and dropped in the cheque drop box well within "pay by date". Despite dropping a cheque in their cheque drop box well in time, many a times the next bill used to come with levy of surcharge fee towards late payment. I used to take up the issue with the concerned officials and the surcharge fee used to be waived off. However, I was told by some of the consumers facing similar problems. I being a consumer activist with reasonable awareness, am able to get credit of the surcharge fee. How many consumers would be able to get reversal and then most of the consumers does not bother on such small value disputes and hence might be paying without raising their voice. Indian consumer seems to be having patient and believing in "chalta hai" theory, do not take up such issues like charging of Rs. 10/- or so towards surcharge and may be their feeling that it would compel them to spend more money on taking up grievances.

Some of the content of the relevant mails written from time to time by me are pertinent to the issue raised herein:

1. A mail dtd. 20/11/2013 to MTNL

"I would like to request you please not to tax the consumers for inefficient system of payment collection. The cheques if collected after few days from the cheque drop boxes, the customer should not be penalised for that."

2. A mail dtd. 04/01/2014 as received from MTNL:

"Surcharge of Rs. 10 was levied in mobile Nos. 9868170286 & 9968079286 for bills dated 07.11.2013. Credit for surcharge has been given."

3. A mail dtd. 24/12/2013 to MTNL:    

"Please refer to my trailing mails. I am in receipt of SMS on 09868170286 about bill due on 30/12/2013 stating that Inv amount :Rs. 8/- and total balance : Rs. 28/-. I presume that Rs. 20/0 have been imposed as surcharge. My previous email clearly states that I do not want to be taxed for inefficient payment collection system of MTNL. If you have inefficient system of taking cheques from your drop boxes, under what way I should get penalised. Please do reverse the amount of Rs. 20/-. This holds true for Mob No. 09968079286 also"

There are many messages like this on the subject of charging surcharge fee for the so called delayed payment, the delay being attributed to only inefficient system of cheque collection from their cheque drop boxes. MTNL has outsourced cheque collection from cheque drop box to Standard Chartered Bank. It is not understood as to why the collection of the cheques from drop boxes has been outsourced when most of the cheque drop boxes are in MTNL premises itself.  However, while it is their inefficient system of cheque collection, the consumers are being taxed with surcharge fee. The question arises as to how to unearth such practices. 

This time I decided to drop a cheque well before time on 27/10/2014 and intimate the same to MTNL officials of having dropped a cheque in the cheque drop box without stating the location of the cheque drop box. I dropped the cheque on 27/10/2014 in their cheque drop box at their office at Friends Colony, Delhi and intimated the dropping of the cheque on 27/10/2014 itself. Some of the correspondances undertaken through email is reproduced here:

4. A mail dtd.19/10/2014 for the bill due for payment on 28/10/2014:

"Thanks for mailing the bill.
1. The said bill also contain Rs.10/- levied as surcharge. The surcharge is being charged to the consumer for the inefficiency of the MTNL. Its really great. The consumer pays the bill in time and the company takes the cheque out of cheque drop box after few days. This was brought out to the notice of MTNL several times in past and thinking that there will be improvement in the system. However, one cannot change system of PSU and specially realising PSUs economic condition, this time I will not request for the waiver. In fact I have decided to pay Rs.10/- as surcharge as I also have got some social responsibility to contribute to PSU financial status.
2. Almost more than 90% of the time of the day, there is no signal. Neither it can be used in my office nor at my home. 10% of the time I am on the move when there is some signal. Payment should be paid irrespective of whether us can use or not. Great. Based on such feedback I got my two connection disconnected but the PSU cannot look into basic service issues.
Nevertheless I have decided to pay the bill and contribute to PSU in whatever manner I can do."

5.  A mail dtd. 27/10/2014 after the cheque dropped in the cheque drop box on 27/10/2014:

"Dear Sir,
This is in continuation to my trailing mail dtd. 19/10/2014. I would like to inform you that I have dropped a cheque for an amount of Rs. 116/- dtd. 27/10/2014 in one of the cheque drop box in Delhi. Further (few):

1. The amount of Rs. 116/- also includes surcharge of Rs. 10/- towards inefficiency fee of MTNL officials. It is natural that the customer should pay for the inefficiency of the officials of the service provider like MTNL. However, I would feel proud to contribute towards the economic health of PSU.
2. I had two connections which were surrendered earlier with the reason stated therein. But I have failed to get the improvement in the system. I remain in office for 8 hrs. where I do not find any signal, hence the connection remain unutilised. Two hours or spent in the car driving where the mobile cannot be used while driving. Rest of the time I remain in house most of the time where again I does not find signal. So connection is used for downloading SMS during driving time. 
3. Even just a day before due date of payment, the hard copy bill has not been received.
4. Even the mail box of CMD of MTNL is over quota and mail gets bounced due to over quota. Least to be commented on such affairs.

A copy of this mail is being endorsed to TRAI. I am planning to bring out an article on MTNL so called efficient system for the persual of the public on public domain incl following urls sometime around 15th of November 2014. If any significance improvement is noticed by 15th November 2014, that would be suitably incorporated.
With kind and best regards."

6. Next mail dtd. 30/10/2014:

"Dear All,
First testimony to the in-efficient system of MTNL officials: The cheque dropped in the cheque drop box on 27th October at about 08.40 AM still not presented. I do hope that MTNL should again impose Rs. 10/- as surcharge for inefficiency of MTNL officials in the next month bill too. Planning to submit RTI application to seek details of how much money being collected under head "surcharge" for late fee. Before that .............

Lets keep watch when the cheque gets out of cheque drop box. 

With regards:

7. A mail dtd. 1/11/2014 as received from MTNL:

1503 MTNL <> 

to me
 Plz mention payment details like cheque number & Bank Name, also mention address/location where are you facing network problem."

8. My response on 01/11/2014 to their email dtd. 01/11/2014:

"Surprisingly. The cheque number was already given yesterday on telephone. Bank name is Punjab National Bank. As far as signal problem is concerned, my office address is IIPA, ITO Ring Road and residential address is given in my bill. 

This is where I tried to prove the inefficiency of MTNL officials. I feel I have established the same reasonably beyond any doubt. The only thing remain is to see how many days are taken by MTNL to take cheque out of the box. The cheque dropped on 27/10/2014 at 08.40 or so could not be taken out of cheque drop box till the close of 1st November 2014. I do not know why the consumers are burdened with surcharge due to inefficiency of MTNL system. Lets wait till 15th November 2014 the day I plan to write an article about MTNL on public domains including blog. In case you are planning to take up issue with Standard Chartered Bank, please consider a copy to be marked to me as the consumers are affected due to your agreement. Please consider a copy of the agreement for sharing with me. 

It could also be seen that my mail dtd. 19th October 2014 brought out a fact that 90% of 24 hrs day, there is no signal. It has taken 13 days by MTNL to find out the address. God knows when the team would inspect and when the signal would be improved. Lets watch till then. 

Another request to 1503 is not to remove any mail id from the communication as everyone is desired to be kept in loop.

With kind regards"

9. Finally a response dtd. 05/11/2014 from MTNL:

The cheque is not appearing yet in the data.  Please intimate the cheque no, /amount and  location of the drop box to track the payment with agency services.  To avoid such situations, the cheque collection/clearance  services are entrusted to a reputed bank which furnishes data within 3 working days."

10. My final response to MTNL when I decided to inform them about cheque drop box:

"Dear Sir,
This is where I have been pointing out the delayed picking up cheque from cheque drop box and despite delayed picking up the customer getting penalised by way of surcharge. I am the testimony to such levies as many times I have requested for waiver and many such emails are in my email box. 

As you would kindly appreciate that the cheque dropped in the cheque drop box on 27th Oct. 2014 is still getting traced. Had the instructions issued to the concerned offices having cheque drop box, you would have realised and at the same time would have been a step towards system improvement. With this idea I did not inform you the location where the cheque was dropped expecting that senior management would issue circular to all offices so that all such connected offices gets sensitized. However this has discouraged me and feel that PSUs could not work for betterment. In fact a security guard sitting at that point of time was also callous in replying when I casuall asked "why nnot fix the drop box in such a location so that the cheque could be even dropped from outside even if the office is closed. His reaction was looking to be that I have committed a crime in suggesting. 

To add further agony, the cheque number is being asked again whereas the same was intimated to the caller. However , please note the same:
1. Cheque No. 921727 dtd. 27/10/2014
2. Bank: Punjab National Bank
3. Cheque Drop location: Telephone Exchange, Friends colony, Community Centre, Mathura Road
4. Time of dropping: 08.40 Hrs.
5. Date of dropping : 27/10/2014

I would appreciate receiving your feedback on the steps taken by MTNL in improving the system to avoid penalisation of customers for inefficiency of the MTNL. As you would also appreciate that the other points raised in my mail regarding non-operational of mobile for 22 hrs out of 24 hr. day is remaining to be even heard of. 

With best Regards"

11. A mail dtd. 11/11/2014 to MTNL:

"Dear Mr. Parwani,
Thanks for sending the current bill including an outstanding amount of Rs. 126.00. I shall be grateful if you could kindly confirm me the details of the outstanding as to how you have arrived on such figure. It will eb really interesting story fit for posting on public domain. In case you have any objection for writing about MTNL on public domain, please do so by 15/11/2014. Non-receipt of any communication to this effect will compel me to go ahead with posting on public domain.
2. I am also surprised to see levy of some Rs. 0.11 towards data usage. I have neither activated any data service on the mobile nor use it. Shall be grateful if you could explain this part also.
While responding , I would request you not to remove any email id from the mailing as the issue of Rs. 136.00 is quite pertinent to be known to all and feel that TRAI should also be kept in loop about such unethical operation of PSU like MTNL. I would be eagerly awaiting for your response so that malpractices prevailing in MTNL gets  surfaced out.
With regards"

12. A response of MTNL dtd. 11/11/2014 

" Payment of Rs. 116/- made on 05.11.2014 will only be reflected in the bill for the BC-07.12.2014.  Surcharge of Rs. 10/- charged in the current bill has now been waived due to late/non receipt of bill.  As per our record, nothing is outstanding as on bill issued upto 31.10.2014"
1. Now a cheque dropped in the box on 27/10/2014 at around 08.30 AM due for payment on 28/10/2014 was picked up from the cheque drop box on 05/11/2014 (that too after getting information about cheque drop box) and more shocking was next bill was levied for a surcharge of Rs. 20/-.

2. When I intimated about dropping of cheque on 27/10/2014, why the issue could not get sensitized among offices having cheque drop boxes despite stating in my emails.

3. The purpose was to get issue an order or formulate a system to take out cheques from the drop boxes in time. The officials preferred to maintain a silence.

4. Now when the cheque was taken out after getting the information about location of drop box on 05/11/2014, why no disciplinary action taken.

5. Why Standard Chartered Bank not pulled up?

It seems, such modus-operandii was suiting to MTNL carrying out such practices. This is what an unfair trade practices by MTNL. The information revealed under RTI Act 2005 is that such a business revenue on account of surcharge for late payment comes to Rs. 44,60,060/- during 2013-14 and Rs. 29,98,990/- from 01/04/2014 till 31st October 2014. Looking at the incident above, it could lead to believe that such revenue could have been unethical business revenue if not 100% but major portion of above.

Is it that MTNL has done unfair trade practice of Rs. 74,59,050/- from 1st April 2013 to 31st Oct. 2014? Since MTNL being PSU, no money would have been cornered by officials but it is definitely believeable such an income of the MTNL under unfair trade practices. May be Standard Chartered Bank got benefitted!! 

However, if PSU MTNL really care for ethical business practices, it should come forward to either refund the money to the consumers or else transfer the same to "Consumer Welfare Fund" of Department of Consumer Affairs, Govt. of India. 

A copy of the article is being mailed to MTNL as well as TRAI besides posting the same on various public domains. Their comments on the article shall be highly appreciated so as to reflect the stand of MTNL.

(Next Post as to how much amount of non-refundable security was evaded for tax payment)


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