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Taking us for a ride

Too busy to check if you’re being billed right? Welcome to the forever-stressed club.

health and fitness Updated: May 01, 2011 01:30 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times

It sat pretty in my inbox, among a whole lot of mails you sent me in response to the column about my car catching fire. While some were super informative and enlightened me about my rights as a consumer, a few others were simply heart-tugging as you shared your personal experiences and woes.

So at first glance, Vanshita’s mail, which seemed about an unrelated topic, didn’t quite register. Last week as I sat replying to each one, I re-read what she’d written and realised how she’d woken me upto a stress I’ve forever lived with, as a consumer. You know, that nagging feeling that service providers are overcharging you but you can’t really do anything about it for sheer lack of time.

Let me share excerpts of what she wrote in reference to the monthly electricity bill, and you’ll know what I’m saying. "According to the unit system rule, if a household’s electricity unit consumption is 200 units or less, it is charged at Rs 2.45 per unit, if it is between 200-400, the charge is Rs 3.95 per unit and above 400 units, it is Rs 4.65 per unit. So if my household consumption is 180 units, I
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
should ideally be billed at the rate of Rs 2.45. However, the billing cycle fixed by the company is every two months. So even if we break our back restricting our consumption to 180 units a month, the total reading of 360 units for two months leads the company to bill me at the higher rate of Rs 3.95, for 160 units. For no fault of mine! How stressful is that?"

Hmm. Now, this is no consumer rights column and my mathematics is as good as Mayawati’s English, but even I got Vanshita’s logic. And whether her calculation is correct or not, I realised one thing — that I neither knew nor ever bothered to check the break-up of how I’m billed for routine services. On an impulse, I picked up my phone bill, which till now used to get exactly 3 seconds of attention, and tried making sense of it. There was a Rs 30 charge on account of ‘value-added’ services while I had no clue what value was being added to the communication in my life. So I decided to call up customer service.

After pressing nearly all the digits on the phone’s keypad to select options and half a lifetime of being on hold, I was told that the value added service was a caller tune. On my landline phone. "But I don’t have one." I protested. "Maa’m you do," the operator replied. "It’s Om jai jagdish hare," he hastily added, and I could hear a stifled laughter. Huh? I had suddenly become religious and I didn’t even know it. My mom, the only frequent caller on my landline, soon confirmed my conversion into a pious soul. "Yes your phone has been singing ‘Om jai jagdish hare’ for the past week or so. I’ve been thrilled about it and told your mausi too. She has sent her blessings," mom beamed. So the operator was right. But when no one at my home owned up to a sudden urge of spirituality and consequently ordering a caller tune, it turned out that an accidental press of a few keys when you call someone can easily lead to their caller tone, and religious fervour, becoming yours. Anyhow, I tried de-registering the caller tone, but somehow the value added charge on the bill persists. The long and short of what I’m saying is this. When it comes to bills — mobile, credit cards, electricity, water, you name it — a lot of us are too busy to get into the nitty-gritty and gleefully pay our hard earned money for things we had not agreed to, when hiring the service.

With e-payment becoming popular, a lot of us don’t even bother to see our bills as the money gets deducted directly from our account. For companies, it’s a blessing to have such busy customers as they can have a field day slipping hidden costs into the bills. Google any service provider’s name and add the word ‘over-charge’ while searching. The sheer number of results would tell you why we have every reason to be stressed. I’m sorry Vanshita, I don’t have calmness tips for this one yet. Am hoping some of you would help me. Meanwhile I’ll join a crash course in demystifying monthly bills.

Sonal Kalra has made peace with her caller tune. Calling her own landline number four times a day guarantees calmness… and nirvana. Mail your calmness tips to her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com. Follow Sonal Kalra on Twitter at twitter.com/sonalkalra