Rambling on….

about anything under the Sun!

The boon that is BSNL!

Since I am currently on an extended vacation, I figured I’d pay some attention to an activity that has long been pending – moving my old telephone connection to my new place. I was led to believe that this was going to be at most a 2 hour ordeal and that I would have my connection active in a couple of days time. One of my colleagues who had done this enough times to teach a PhD course on it guided me on the steps I needed to follow.

At the outset, I must confess that I had ignored the repeated pleas of the Telephones department to pay the last outstanding bill on my old connection. They were in possession of my security deposit and I figured they’d just keep that deposit. In any case, I trekked along to the BSNL customer service office and explained my situation. They gave me the most quizzical look in response – surely I wasn’t the first customer in this situation? In any case, the kind (yes, I am being sarcastic here) lady told me that outstanding bills had to be settled at the telephone bill payment center, which was oh, only a couple of miles away. Now why I couldnt simply pay my bill right there and be done once and for all, I will never understand. This was the telecommunications department – they had computers, they had fancy networks (ok, maybe not so fancy…but they appeared to be functional) and they had a wonderful, competent staff(!). It would obviously be the smart thing to do to let me pay my bill right there. In fact, there was even a teller who was accepting payments but wait – that teller only accepted current payments. If you had an overdue payment, the punishment meted out was that you had to travel to another site and pay it there – apparently those folks specialized in collecting overdue payments. There was no point arguing with these folks – if you have ever had the pleasure of interacting with a government agency, you’ll know why.

So I trudged along merrily to the “overdue payment cell”. But guess what, I wasnt quite going to be let off so easily. The person at the billing counter looked up my number and said my account was closed! what? why? when? how? Yeah right, he was going to answer all these questions, and in great detail too – in fact, thats his mission in life. Dream on! He ordered me to go to customer service and ask them instead – after all, they were meant to do exactly that, serve customers. That they think its the customers that need to come serve them is a different story altogether, but in any case, I headed back to my original destination. And no, just in case you were wondering, they weren’t happy at all to see me back there.

Finally, she took the pains of looking up my number in the system and confirmed the bad news – my account had indeed been closed, but rightfully so because I had ignored their numerous attempts to get me to pay up. Fair enough, I thought. But hey, that wasn’t all – she also told me that the department had money left over from my deposit (now I was smiling) after taking their dues and sent me on another merry little adventure to go get that money. And yes, you guessed right – that’s at another location, the refunds department. She scribbled some numbers on a piece of paper and asked me to refer that to the refunds clerk. When I got there, I was shocked to see the clerk pull out this huge ledger and start digging for my number – and just case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t sorted or anything like that. She knew approximately when the entry had been made and was putting Google to shame with her searching abilities. Forty five agonizing minutes later, we (it was a collective effort) managed to find the entry and they had apparently sent the check to my old address and it had bounced. The check was still intact in her office in another neatly arranged stack, but that now involved a fresh search to find the right check – Gawd, this was one of the most technical departments in a country that is supposedly at the forefront of technology, driving change all over the world, and yet, right here in our midst is a process that is completely manual and inefficient. One wonders why we are so proud of how far India has come – all that progress means nothing if we cant turn around and apply it in our own internal systems first. The amount of paperwork and manual data entry that was happening inside that tiny office was just shocking – its an absolute disaster.

In any case, I picked up my check and went back to the customer service department again (we were starting to like each other now – I clearly had my reasons, they had just helped me get my money back that I didnt even know existed) to accomplish my primary objective, that of getting a phone connection for my new place. Thankfully, what followed was far less painful and six hours since I had started, I was done submitting my application. The lady assured me my phones would be working, and now, 10 days later, there is no trace of the wonders of modern communication ever gracing my humble abode. I called customer service again (no, I don’t learn!) and they told me they had technical difficulties because the capacity of their cables in our neighborhood was saturated. Can you believe that? They had no more cables to serve my area!!! It doesn’t get much better than this. I should give Mr. Friedman a call and tell him that there are some parts of the world that still aren’t quite flat. Anyways, they are apparently working on a solution to free up some capacity and they asked me to hold my line until that happens. India is shining, and so is BSNL!!


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