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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Creating Passionate Users"

If you haven't already been reading Kathy Sierra blog, Creating Passionate Users, then you really really must start. In a time when most bloggers have really nothing much to say, or talk about humdrum personal stuff, or comment on bits of news from round the world (the worst), Kathy picks up thought provoking topics, cooks it up with nuggets of information, illustrations and humour, references to research stuff and dishes it out with dollops of her secret sauce. Hmmm, yummy. Do give it a dekko.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Traffic problems are everybody's problems

Is going after the driver of passenger yellow-plate vehicles incorrect? Should one go after the company admin guys or travel agents instead? Is it a case of treating the symptom rather than the cause? P-e-r-h-a-p-s. I am skeptical about this argument. Here's why:

1. If taxi car drivers are exploited, and perhaps they are, should that be used as an excuse for rash driving on the roads?

2. BPO vehicles are not the only ones who drive rashly. Thats just one class of vehicles. Every passenger vehicle with a yellow plate drives rashly, zipping along with little regard to road sense or safety. What about vehicles employed by non BPO companies, what about private taxis? Is everybody exploited? I take a taxi every time I have to catch a flight, and every time I've had to ask the driver to follow traffic rules.

3. Its easier to catch the drivers and take them to task. If enough people do that, these drivers might just start refusing to work crazy shifts. Though this might be easier said than done.

4. I've seen these drivers break every single rule in the book, from wrong U turns, to weaving in and out of traffic, honking from behind, driving with their headlights on full beam, overtaking from the left, using intimidation tactics to cut into one's lane, etc. I cannot believe all this is because of bad working conditions. I don't buy that argument. And time and time again, I've seen these guys violently arguing with traffic policemen and getting away with it.

5. Do an experiment next time. Drive normally, follow traffic rules, measure how much time it takes. After than, in the same traffic conditions, drive rashly. Do all the things that drivers do. Measure the time. You will take at most 5 mins less in the latter case. Your blood pressure will be higher, you will suffer from road rage, you will be panting and harassed and, of course, you would have caused great annoyance to others. All at the cost of reaching 5 minutes earlier. is it worth it?

6. Why do we have traffic rules? In any civilized country that follows some semblance of traffic rules, the public good is greater than individual good. So while each individual person might take 5 mins more or less, society as a whole will be more productive and efficient. This is well understood by people, or enforced by the police. When will this understanding come to Indians? By following traffic rules, you make traffic flow smoothly, without snarls and thus everybody benefits.

Blog commenting etiquette

This is probably not a new experience for many bloggers. Have you ever noticed that most snide comments are left without a name/URL (anonymous), while the comments which are have something worthwhile to say are left with a name/URL? It does not matter whether you agree or disagree, if everybody had the same opinion the world would be a lot less fun. But I'm talking about trite, silly or discouraging, disparaging comments which are always left without a name. What are such people afraid of? They want to express an opinion but are afraid that other people might recognize them and look down on them, they are afraid of being found out. These are probably the same kind of people who raise a leg every time they see a tree stump to mark their territory, who push little kids for the pleasure of it, who are rude to people just for the sake of it, who beat up wives and demand dowry, who deep in their little hearts are fixated on caste, religion, language, ethnicity and all such petty things, who would just ruin other people's lives with the bad vibes they spread around.

Reminds me of a post I'd written a long time ago about angry/negative people who can be bad for your brains. Kathy Sierra wrote her post after Robert Scoble announced that he would moderate his comments and steer clear of unhappy people and hang around happy people.

Update: I have been wasting a lot of time responding to individual comments and thinking about what each person has said. This is not an efficient usage of my time and is distracting me from getting on with my life. I don't need BS from people. Henceforth, comment moderation has been enabled. If you leave me a silly comment, be absolutely sure that I will not publish it. I quote from Robert Scobe's post:

Yes, I am now approving every comment here. And I will delete any that don't add value to either my life or the lives of my readers.

This is a huge change for me. I wanted a free speech area, but after having a week off I realize that I need to make a change. That, I'm sure, will lead to attacks of "censorship" and all that hooey. Too bad. I'm instituting a "family room" rule here. If I don't like it, it gets deleted and deleted without warning — just the same as if you said something abusive in my family room I'd kick you out of my house. If you don't like that new rule, there are plenty of other places on the Internet to write your thoughts. Start a blog and link here. Etc. Etc.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Another bothered Banglorean starts his "fights"

Looks like the stuff I've been upto has really inspired at least one other person, a close friend of mine :) He's gone on the warpath. And he attributes it to my wife and I... very flattering.

A couple of days ago, Ravi saw some Tata Elxsi buses parked on the road as usual, narrowing the road and causing traffic congestion. Instead of doing what he usually does, grumble and pass them, he decided to do something about it. Read his post: The Responsible Corporates.

This gets even better. Today morning he took a call center driver to task for rash driving. This is what he says on his post The usual rash driving cab:

...The security did not allow me in. I talked to the head of admin department, he invited me in. He requested me to give a written complaint, i did. Within 10 mins he showed me a letter, which was suspension order for cab driver.

Will the driver really be suspended? We don't know. Ravi will follow up tomorrow.

Fight for your rights! - Update 16

Last Thursday, 22nd, the milkman came again to our house late evening. This time he caught us both together and again he apologized profusely to both of us. He said the usual stuff I've posted earlier in Fight for your rights! - Update 13. It was because of the "Cauvery verdict", because of "family problems" that he behaved this way with my wife, etc etc. Its a wonder he didn't blame the phase of the moon for his behavior.

Anyway, at it stands, we are almost certainly not going to pursue the police case against him. I've been getting comments that we "should not discontinue", or "give up", that we "need to teach the milkman a lesson", that we "shouldn't chicken out". But there are valid reasons why we think that we should not take the matter to court. We've given this a lot of thought.

First the lawyer said that our chances of conviction are slim, we don't have direct proof or witnesses.

Second, this guy, for whatever reasons, has come and apologized three times already. He has completely changed his tune from bluster to abject apology. For sure, it was not a change of heart that made him tender an apology... still, how many times does something like this happen? Unheard of. You know the adage, to err is human...

Third, my wife feels that his punishment has already been commiserate with the "crime".

Fourth, we feel that if we refuse to accept the apology and reach a "compromise", he might feel spurned and there's no telling what he might do then. He's humbled himself and if we don't accept the apology, I might risk some harm to my wife. That I'm not willing to do.

Of course this is a good chance that all this is a good bluff, he knows that he will be arrested, he has to spend money on a lawyer, post bail, run to the court, etc. He might even be convicted. So the easiest way out is to apologize. For that we will take our lawyer's help to draft some kind of undertaking, or confession or admission of guilt and get this guy to sign it at the police station with our witnesses. We will have the same filed with the FIR at the police station and another with the complaint we submitted at KMF. This will help the next time anybody makes a complaint about him to the police/KMF/court.

We are still following up on the Consumer Court case, lets see how that goes.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 15.

Do autoricks in B'lore get your gall?

Do I really need an answer to that question? Not really. My wife uses ricks all the time, and she travel around B'lore a lot. She's faced a great many problems with errand auto drivers; nothing uncommon:

1. Doctored meters, even the new electronic meters are doctored.
2. Refusal to ply.
3. Overcharging/not returning change.

Time and again, I've heard people complaining about the bad attitude of auto drivers. Comes out time and again in the newspapers. The authorities claim to be doing something, they publish statistics time and again: so many auto drivers booked, so many tampered meters corrected, etc. But the problems simply do not go away. What can YOU do about it? A lot, to start with you can be more proactive in complaining to the correct authorities.

1. Note down what the facts of the complaint are: date, time, distance, pickup place, drop place.
2. Note down the License number AND if you sitting inside, the DL number and Police Serial number.
3. Call up the Assistant Controller of Legal Metrology @ 22207750 or 22284917 or email: acat@kslmd.com or clm@kslmd.com.
4. Call up the RTO based on the license plate number, for instance KA 01 belongs to a certain RTO, KA 05 belongs to another and so on. There are five RTOs, you can get the phone number of Bangalore RTOs here. You can also mail the Transport Commissioner @ . If you are really irritated (in fact this holds good with other traffic problems), call up the various numbers of RTO Officers given here.
5. Go personally to an RTO and make a written complaint against the auto driver giving all details as I mentioned in #1 and #2.
6. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

I'll post an update on what happens when you actually try to use the options I've listed above to make a complaint.

Update 11/06/07:

Bangalore Centre - Koramangala BDA complex - 25533525
Bangalore West - Rajajinagar Corporation Complex - 23324388
Bangalore East - Indiranagar BDA complex - 25253726
Bangalore North - Yeshwanthpur corporation Complex - 23376039
Bangalore South - Jayanagar Corporation Complex - 26630989

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 15

We went to the Consumer Court today morning. Its 2 floors in the KMF building, which is at the end of Cunningham Road. The irony of the bringing a consumer complaint against KMF in the KMF building ticked us.

The courtroom is a hall with chairs along the wall for people to sit, chairs in the middle for lawyers to sit and a raised dais for the panel of judges to sit. We awaited our turn. When our number was announced, my wife went up to the judges and explained the case to them. To their credit, they listened patiently, then they said that they really appreciate her boldness as a consumer in bringing this matter forward. They asked her if she had proof, she said no direct proof, but we knew some people who had been overcharged before but did not want to come to court. The judges asked if we could at least produce the affidavits of such people, else it would be our word against the milkmans. So we said we would try. Seeing the gravity of the case, the judges didn't dismiss the case outright. they said they would admit the case, they'd send the summons to the milkman to appear in court. The next date for hearing is 26th March.

Read Fight for your right! - Update 14.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 14

We spoke to our lawyer and he said it was completely our decision, whether to pursue the FIR/IPC 509 case further or to compromise with him. He said that since the evidences and witnesses prospects are weak, a compromise is a good idea. So, we need to make the guy take an undertaking at the police station. (We're very tempted by this... its the easy way out. The milkshop guy had come to our house again, a little while ago. My wife is alone in the house. She didn't open the door, and it seems he was shouting his apologies from the street.)

The lawyer also said that the Consumer Court case is interrelated to our decision on this. If we are reaching a compromise with this guy, he doesn't see much point in pursuing it further. But, I disagree here. Anyway, he said that we should go to the court tomorrow and hear it out. The Consumer Case was starting to look strong since we found 3 "witnesses"! We are in touch with 3 girls who were overcharged by this guy before, a few months ago. They had fought with the guy and taken back the money. Good for them. Unfortunately, they are not interested in getting involved with this guy again. Bad for us. We are trying to find out if any other people have had similar problems with this guy, but nobody wants to be a witness in court.

The last option is to make a document, get it signed by these girls and give that to the judge. But the lawyer does not think much of this. He said anybody can make and sign the document. Its not really valid, but still, we can take it and see how the judge responds.

Update: Seems these girls have left for their home town to attend a marriage, so no document from them. Lets see what the judge says.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 13.

Fight for your rights! - Sidenote 4

Catch me on Radiocity 91.1, a local FM radio station between 8am and 9am today morning, on a show called "By Two Coffee with RJ Vasanthi". I've been invited to shoot off at the mouth and provide some "inspiration" on a segment in this show called "Bangalore Inspires". Live. May I have the wisdom not to put my foot in my mouth.

Update: Turned out to be two hours in the end, 8 to 10, and still the calls/mails poured in. Hopefully I managed to get people to think, and perhaps in the future act. I was overwhelmed by the response from people. Its amazing... there are so many grievances that people have, so many injustices faced everyday. People asked about me about overcharging, about illegal parking, land encroachment, pay not received from company, broadband problems, noise pollution, traffic problems, auto-ricks overcharging/not plying, even one about dust in Marthahalli! Wow!

Some brief (?) gyan that I perhaps didn't manage to share on the show:

1. Ordinary people can make a difference. Knowledge is power, as hackneyed as it may sound. The only way you can protect your rights is by being knowledgeable. There is no excuse. We live in the Information Age. There is such an immense amount of information available on the Internet in India. Just search and you will find government sites (yes government sites), private sites/blogs, NGO sites, et al.
2. The government/civic authorities are not as "bad/horrible/uncaring/corrupt/slow" as they are perceived to be. I have talked to people from the police, traffic police, BMP, BESCOM, BWSSB, you name it. Every single time I have had courteous conversations, people from these departments have called me back, apologized for whatever trouble I've faced, done whatever they could to put right the problem. And I don't speak Kannada. I am absolutely amazed at the response from all the civic authorities. Not many states/cities in India can boast of this.
3. There are a great many number of laws, rules enacted by the government. Please look these up. Read about previous court rulings, find out about experiences of other people, see how you can escalate matters. The most powerful law is the RTI Act, 2006. If you find that *any* government agency is not responding, or asking for a bribe, or delaying, anything at all, please please use the RTI. Its a weapon in the hands of ordinary citizens. EVERY government agency, the smallest to the largest can be taken to task using the RTI. Many times, the threat of using the RTI is an even bigger deterrent to malpractices.
4. Network, network, network. There is a vast network of bloggers/agencies/NGOs/sites/SHGs/lawyers/journos in India who can be contacted for any help. These people ask for no money, they will extend any possible help for making a small difference to the society we live in. Use these networks to the full extent possible.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 13

On this 13th update, I have some strange news. Today morning we went to the police station to get an update on the case. The Head Constable said that the Sub-Inspector would meet the milkman today, and we should meet the Sub-Inspector in the evening.

Today evening, I dropped into our house on the way to the police station. While I was there, the milkshop man came to the house along with two other guys. No no, not to fight, but to reach a, ugh, compromise. Maybe the Sub-Inspector met him and he finally realized that he might be in a lot of trouble and that we would not give up the case. One of the guys with him said he was the brother; the other a friend. They said they had brought him along to apologize to us! Unfortunately, my wife was not there. So she missed the show. She might have figured out whether it was an act. I'm a sucker for sob stories.

In great filmy style, these two other guys asked me to forgive him, said he had some "family problems" that day, as soon as they heard that he had done such a thing they berated him and dragged him to us to apologize, he was an uneducated fellow, he didn't know what he was saying, they tut-tutted him in front of me, scolded him, told him he should respect customers and women, that behavior like this is unforgivable and he looked suitably ashamed. This guy in turn apologized profusely for having said such things. He said they he would apologize to "bhabhi" (!) in front of everybody, he was sorry, yada yada yada. Then the other two guys pitched in again: he has been a milkman for 15 years, nothing like this has happened before. He is the only earning member of his family. He will never do anything like this again. The "brother", Venkatesh gave me his phone number and requested me to call him night or day if this guy ever did anything like this again and he would personally beat him up. Ok, take it easy guys. Don't pour it too strong else I might catch on.

The guy said that we should drop the police case against him, he would never behave like this again. He said that "he didn't think that we would turn this into such a big matter". (Oh, and would he have come apologizing if we haven't done all this?) He said that we should start buying milk from his shop again. They were humbly requesting us to compromise and drop the case and would leave it to us to decide what to do. I told them that I could not say anything at the moment... we have filed a Consumer Court case and an FIR. These are not playthings that we might just retract them at will. I would talk to my wife, we would consult our lawyers and then we would decide.

Whew!

Well, I didn't go to the police station after that. My wife returned later and we discussed this. We think that it might be an act. Obviously he was not apologizing out of his own accord. So what was the need to eat humble cake? Perhaps the police have told him that he can go to jail and be fined heavily, perhaps the KMF have threatened to take away his license. He said he has been under a lot of tension since the event occurred. Yeah, like we don't know. That was the intention.

Now the most important question is whether we should take the offered olive branch, or should we continue with the IPC 509 case? We'll discuss with the lawyers and lets see what they advise. One thing we want to continue on with is the Consumer Court case which is on 23rd morning. We think that the overcharging is a separate issue and must be dealt with.

Update Fight for your rights! - Update 12.

What do you do if you are short-changed?

An excellent article came out in Hindu (Bangalore edition) today: What do you do if you are short-changed?

It has been a nice evening. You and your family have just had great fun watching that mindless fare from Bollywood. You have paid through your nose for the tickets, but who cares? It has been a nice occasion after a long while. But something is niggling you. You know you have coughed up more than the marked price for all what you ate and drank at the mall. But you do not want it to curdle your mood and prefer to keep quiet.

But wait. There is a platform for redressal. There is something called the Department of Legal Metrology, formerly the Department of Weights and Measures, that is supposed to hear you and act as well. The public is largely unaware of this department which raises questions about its effectiveness.


It is a must read for all consumers. And this is a wonderful coincidence, right when we are having all this hassle, out comes this article exhorting people to watch out for their rights and complain to the authorities.

Fight for your rights! - Update 12

Yesterday morning the Assistant Marketing Manager of KMF came to meet us again at our house. He had said that his boss wanted to meet us, but he turned up alone. It was a strange visit. He wanted to know whether we have given up the Consumer Court case. Huh? He said it was bad for the company, etc etc. Could we "compromise" by not following up the Consumer Court case? Compromise for what? Why? Was he solving our problem, was he offering anything in return? No. All he said was that the image of KMF would be tarnished. Now what kind of stupid justification is that? "Sorry your honour, please don't prosecute me, my image will take a beating." And how do I care? Am I a KMF employee? He said that we don't have proof, so what would we achieve in court? We told him that he doesn't know whether we have proof or not. If we don't have proof, the court will dismiss the case. Its for the court to decide.

Anyway, I hate the "compromise" word, half the bloody problems in India are because people are so ready to bend over backwards into compromising positions. So we politely told him to bugger off and that we wouldn't, um, "compromise".

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 11.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 11

My wife met a criminal lawyer and a consumer court lawyer yesterday. They cautioned us from talking about the case in public anymore, and gave us a bunch of instructions on what to do next. The police have to take a "Voluntary Statement" from my wife before filing the charge sheet against the guy. We didn't mention in the FIR that we know this guy for more than a year, so we have to do that. Else, we have to identify this guy from a line up, which is a needless procedure in this case.

Anyway the consumer court hearing is on 23rd, this Friday. Lets see what happens. I'll update after that.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 10.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Do you want Abu Salem in Parliament? - 2

Here is what I've mailed across to the two people mentioned towards the end of the previous post. Please write something similar and mail the Committee members. It is no use talking about corruption if you are not willing to do something about it yourself.

"There are 11 Ministers and 98 Members of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha that are formally charged with some crime. I think this is horrendous and does not bode well for the future of this nation. I believe it is high time that we as Indians stamp out corrupted, tainted ministers, criminals, and various anti-social elements from the Parliament and State Assemblies. It is wonderful that The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, presently considering the subject “Electoral Reforms” is asking the general public for their opinion.

In my opinion, it is extremely necessary for any person formally charged with a crime carrying a sentence of TWO years or more by a competent Court to be barred from contesting elections. A person who has been charged by a competent Court should be barred from contesting election even if he has not been convicted. We all know that the due process of law in India can easily be subverted and cases drag on for decades without conviction. Hence the Committee’s recommendation of disqualifying a person only after being convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of 5 years is very wrong, and goes against greater public interest.

I also suggest that legislators who are so CHARGED after being elected should mandatorily seek fast track disposal of their cases within six months of charges being framed. Legislators who are CONVICTED after being elected should automatically be disqualified even if they go on appeal in a higher court. In case a candidate is charged six months prior to the date of elections, he or she can approach a competent Court asking for swift disposal of the case."

Do you want Abu Salem in Parliament?

If you don't, act today (and at most, by tomorrow).

This is a copy of a mail from Prof Trilochan Sastry to IIMB:

Dear Friends,

The Prime Minister and the Election Commission have expressed concern that persons with grave criminal charges may become Members of Parliament (letters dated October 27, 2006, and November 21, 2006). They have asked The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, presently considering the subject “Electoral Reforms”, to examine the matter. This Committee in turn has asked the public to send in their views on this matter before
February 16, 2007. The correspondence goes to the extent of naming two persons - Abu Salem and Dawood Ibrahim - as examples of persons who might wind up in Parliament or some State Assembly.

If anyone wants a copy of the communications, please let me know. I am putting below a short paragraph of a draft that you might like to send today itself if possible over email. The matter has come to a head because of the large number of disclosures of criminal records in recent times as a result of the mandatory disclosure required by the Supreme Court. The suggestions below are in line with what the Election Commission, the Prime Minister, the Law Commission, and the National Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution have said on this issue. For the record, their recommendations say crimes carrying sentences of five years or more alone should attract disqualification. We are suggesting two years or more. The reason is that the Representation of People Act disqualifies those convicted of crime carrying a sentence of two years or more. We (and the various committees mentioned earlier) are asking for disqualification even before conviction, where after due process, a competent court has framed charges and trial is in progress. The peculiar situation in India is that such cases drag on for decades and the person is never convicted.

Draft:
"We recommend that persons formally charged with crime carrying a sentence of two years or more by a competent Court be barred from contesting elections. The recent disclosures of the criminal charges faced by several candidates reveals that this is a reasonable restriction in the greater public interest. There are 11 Ministers and 98 Members of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha that are formally charged with some crime. At the same time, legislators who are so charged after being elected should mandatorily seek fast track disposal of their cases within six months of charges being framed. Legislators who are convicted after being elected should automatically be disqualified even if they go on appeal in a higher court. In case a person so charged six months prior to the date of elections wishes to contest, he or she can approach a competent Court asking for swift disposal of the case."You may like to send your suggestions to :

Smt. Sasilekha Nair,
Under Secretary,
Rajya Sabha Secretariat,
528-A, Fifth Floor,
Parliament House Annexe,
New Delhi- 110001 (Tel: 23035308, Fax: 23016784),
lekha.n@sansad.nic.in.

Also, the Chairman is:

Dr. E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan,
M.P. Rajya Sabha
emsn@sansad.nic.in ,
011-23794015, 23793907, 23766540, 9868181909(M)

The next fight

I want to take a bank locker on rent. So you think that its an easy task? Ha ha. Wait till you try to get a locker. Just try renting a locker from any bank and they will tell you that there is a great scarcity of lockers and hence banks are "prioritizing" the locker service for customers who might be willing to keep a certain sum of money in their account. My wife walked into a number of banks in the neighborhood and all said the same. The certain sum of money varies between Rs. 1 lakh to a nonsensical Rs 5 lakh (this is what a local Vijaya Bank manager told her). I then called up at least 10 other banks and all said exactly the same thing.

Think about it. You have an account with a particular bank, but they don't have lockers free. So now, just because you need a locker, you have to open an account with another bank which has lockers, and should give it on first-come-first-serve basis, but are exploiting the need for lockers by forcing people to keep Rs 1 lakh with them. So you'd have to leave at least Rs. 1 lakh lying in the account, underutilized, earning a measly interest of some 5% when you could invest the money and easily get 20% or more.

Now this clearly smacks of malpractice, so I started searching (again on the Internet) on any RBI rules/regulations/guidelines about this matter. I found a draft circular, Draft Circular on Safe Deposit Lockers issued by the RBI on Dec 4th, 2006 (RBI/2006-07/198, DBOD.No.Leg 5049 /09.07.005/2006-07). It says:

In this connection, the Committee on Procedures and Performance Audit of Public Services observed that linking the lockers facility with placement of fixed or any other deposit beyond what is prescribed is a restrictive practice and should be prohibited forthwith. We concur with the Committee's observations and advise banks to refrain from such restrictive practices.

It can't be told in any clearer language than this. But this was a draft circular, and comments from all banks were invited by 23rd Dec. So I've to find out what the validity of this "draft" is. In any case, the RBI is aware of the problem, so I can complain to the Banking Ombudsman. A prerequisite to doing this is to complain to the bank first and either not get a reply within 30 days or get an unsatisfactory reply. So this is what I'm going to do after I'm done with the current case: start writing to the bank managers of the banks we talked to and ask them why I should not complain to the Ombudsman about this non-adherence to the fair practices code.

Let me preempt the usual comments about price rise because of supply-demand economics. I know all that. I'm sure the RBI does too. If it is still calling this a case of restrictive practice, then it jolly well knows what it is talking about.

Fight for your rights! - Update 10

My wife talked to a lady who is very familiar with consumer court proceedings for advice. Here's what she said:

1. We need physical evidence that we have been overcharged - a receipt. (But we didn't buy anything, and even if we did, he doesn't give receipts.) What about witnesses? She said it completely depends on the panel of the day. We can take a few people who can stand up and say they have been overcharged by this guy before and doesn't give receipts. But its not guaranteed that the panel might give us the chance - so we have to ask them to do it. Tell them that we can't wait for another date as we can't keep on coming for the case, that we have got witnesses and we need to be heard. They will give adjournment and only one adjournment is given per law. She advised that we should go and watch some proceedings first. Some judges can be pretty bad and throw the file away saying that there is no case at all etc. But if we are lucky, we can get a pro-consumer judge who will listen to us and work favorably. She said the opposite party hardly turns up.

2. She was surprised that we were given such an early date and that we were given a hearing even without evidence. She said that must be a sign that there is some validity in our complaint for them to give a date easily. Usually it takes around two months. and she said we should just go to the hearing and take it from there. There isn't much for us to do.

3. She said that she has tried following up with KMF on the rampant overcharging (50p more on account of "cooling charges"). Seems there was no response from their side and they washed their hands off saying that its a problem of the retailers. She was surprised that my wife managed to meet the various officials of KMF.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 9.

Fight for your rights! - Sidenote 3

I've been thinking about a comment from Ashish on a previous post of mine: Fight for your rights! - Sidenote 2.

Yes, there are cases where the complaint didn't get resolved. For instance, some years ago I was given a gift voucher from HSBC to use on a new e-commerce website that was being launched. I used this voucher to buy a book on the website, but the book wasn't delivered. I waited for nearly 2 months (There was a 4-week delivery period) and then wrote to them. They said that the book was out of stock, and they put the money back into the voucher. I selected another book and amazingly the same thing happened again. The book wasn't delivered for a couple of months. This time it took quite a few emails (and months) to get the money back into the voucher. The voucher had a validity of a year, and while this was going on, it expired! So again I fired off email after email to them referring to the previous problems. It was quite clear that the voucher had expired through no fault of mine. But try as I might, I never heard from those buggers again.

The same is true of the traffic complaints that I make. I suppose the only thing that comes out of it is my personal satisfaction. Does the police really do something about it? Your guess is as good as mine. I would have to follow up each of the complaints that I've made. I definitely don't have that kind of time.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 9

Witnesses? None your honour. If thats our answer, we will surely be kicked out of court. So how do we get witnesses? There were quite a few people there that day, isn't anybody who was there reading this blog?? So I've an idea, dunno if it will fly. I'm planning on printing a flyer and getting it delivered with the newspaper to the people around my neighbourhood. Something brief, giving the facts of the case, and appealing to anybody who

1. might have been there and was a direct eye witness
2. has been overcharged before by this guy (should be lots of people, will they step forward for once?)
3. has gotten into a similar altercation with him earlier, or seen him misbehaving with people in the past

I'd like some feedback please from people who are following the case. Will it fly? Or does it look too much like grandstanding? If YOU received such a flyer and you had some information, would YOU step forward with it? Might it attract unwanted attention? We will definitely not give our address in the flyer, but what about phone numbers? If we give our personal numbers, they can be misused... so should be give the number of the police directly, or of our lawyer? Neither my wife nor I speak Kannada... how do we handle calls (if any) in Kannada?

And here's another thought: can any of you kind people volunteer to have his/her number put on such a flyer for people to call?

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 8.

Fight for your rights! - Sidenote 2

There is a common thread running through so many of the comments people have left in the previous posts... people are amazed that I'm taking the time and effort to do all this. In turn this amazes me, because I never knew that a majority of people don't do the same. So I thought I would post about some other notable "fights" I've been in over the years. It might serve to show you that something can be done about the little injustices you encounter, if only you take a little bit of trouble.

Update: I've been getting comments about the nature of issues I'm fighting for. You are missing the woods for the trees. The complains themselves are not important. The fight is. I am not persuading you to fight for the things I have. YOU fight for things YOU believe in, let me fight for things I believe in.

Camelin incident: I was probably in Class 8. I was gifted a lovely camelin fountain pen, came in its own leather case, which was in a velvet lined box and a choice of two nibs. Quite expensive. Unfortunately after a few months of use, the tip of the pen cracked, and the nib wouldn't fit. So I wrote to Camelin, lauded them for the wonderful pen and accused them of bad workmanship for such an expensive pen. Lo and behold, they actually send me a complete replacement set with their compliments. Small thing, but it made me understand the power that each one has, if only we take the trouble to complain.

Spectrum magazine incident: A few years ago I filled out the subscription form for Spectrum magazine, a Delhi based publication. I gave my credit card details, but forgot to mention whether I wanted the subscription for 1/2 or 3 years. Guess what Spectrum did? They obviously charged me for 3 years. So I wrote to them three times, by registered post, by courier, but didn't get a reply. Then I engaged a lawyer who sent them a show cause notice (I think thats what its called) on my behalf. My wife (my gf then) in Delhi took a lawyer friend with her to Spectrum office and" explained" the problem to them. A lady from Spectrum immediately called me up, oozing sympathy and apologizing. Within a few days, they had refunded my money.

HSBC Credit Card incidents: I've been charged not once but twice for making late payments. And I've gotten the late payment reversed on both these occasions. I've been a customer of HSBC for more than 6 years. I'm always very prompt in making the payment before the due date. Twice, due to forgetfulness, etc, I did forget and they slapped me with late fees. I wrote to them, complained that this was bad service, talked to some people and had the charges reversed after some effort.

Citibank Ready Credit incident: I normally do not accept *any* offers from Citibank since they have a bad reputation of employing sneaky tactics to get money out of their customers. Still, I fell for it once, a couple of years ago. Some agent of Citibank called me up and was extremely persuasive and said that I would only have to opt for the Ready Credit scheme and they would give me a gift voucher of some X amount. I would not be utilizing the ready credit account, and I would not be charged anything at all. I clearly got this last undertaking from the agent. Still, to protect myself, I signed the form but made a large cross in ink across the entire form. In the box which asked the amount of ready credit I needed, I put in "Rs. ZERO" in big, bold capital letters. Do you think that would stop Citibank. Oh no. The smart people at the bank credited me a small sum of money from Ready Credit, then debited me automatically after some time and charged me interest of Rs. 27 for the transaction!!! And I didnt get the promised gift voucher either.

So I began calling up Citibank customer care center and talked to a great many people, was passed from person to person, had to explain the same thing multiple times and this went on for a year. One year from the incident, Citibank had the gall to send me a notice saying that since I has "used" the Ready Credit facility, it was charging me (nearly Rs 1000) from the second year onwards. They told me that they had already informed me of the charges "earlier". Needless to say I hadn't been sent any such information else I would have got the Ready Credit facility canceled.

I went ballistic at this point. Till then, I was pursuing the case slowly. Then I began to look around for legal recourses available to me. I found out about the Indian Banking Ombudsman system, to which one can complaint for any kind of banking malpractices. I ready through everything on the site, read through the rules, read through all Citibank terms and conditions and then made a complaint to my "relationship manager", making a strong charge of malpractices. I also notified them that I would take the matter to the Banking Ombudsman if there was no response or unsatisfactory response from Citibank within 30 days (thats the precondition to complain to the Ombudsman). 1 month, some conversations and e-mails later, Citibank finally reversed all the charges, and I got the Ready Credit account canceled for ever.

Here's the complaint I sent to Citibank:
Citibank complaint
Citibank complaint...
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Traffic complaints: I don't know how many traffic complaints I've made till now, how many altercations I've gotten into with uncouth call center vehicle drivers who drive rashly on the roads. For instance, see this post about Bangalore Traffic, 3 parts. I've had e-mail exchanges with the Transport Commissioner, with the Deputy Comm of Traffic Police about the state of Bangalore traffic, the way in which call center vehicles drive, the abusive nature of drivers, et al.

Another associated problem: I used to call up 103 to make traffic complaints, but since a year ago, the moment I make a call somebody would disconnect it (or so I thought). I thought they knew my number by then and didn't want to hear any more complaints by me. This kept on happening to me for maybe 6 months. Finally, frustrated, I called up the Traffic Police DC office, and made a strong complaint about this. Amazingly, two officers from the police department called me back, apologized for the inconvenience, explained to me that this was a BSNL problem, that they had repeatedly complained to BSNL about this but the problem had not been rectified, and that definitely no person was disconnecting my call. They gave me three direct numbers of the Traffic Control Room to call up anytime to make any kind of complaints.
Nowadays I call up these numbers, somebody picks up immediately and listens, and I'm a happy man.

Noise Pollution: A few months ago, I decided to take on a temple in my neighborhood for noise pollution. This temple had been playing loud music, songs, chanting, etc all day (from 6am to 9:30pm) and causing us great disturbance. So I started doing research on the net about Indian noise pollution laws and judgements. As usual, I found a wealth of information. I found out who is responsible for preventing noise pollution: in most cases it is the police and if it involves industry then the Pollution Control Board can also step in. I found out about the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, about permitted decibel levels, about how to go about filing a complaint, about previous judgments made by High Courts and the Supreme Court, esp against religious institutions.

I'd spoken with the temple authorities many times, told them politely at first, then rudely after that. After I learnt about the law, I threatened them with a police complaint, and finally with a court case. Still no avail... for a few days after I would complain, the temple would reduce the volume and then back it would be to normal. I even made a few complaints to the Police Control Room, the police came, the volume was reduced and then a few days later it went up again.

Finally, it was time for action. I wrote out a complaint and went to the nearest police station. It took them quite a while to digest what the complaint was about and one fellow had the gall to tell me to change my house. The junior officers were quite flummoxed, and asked me to speak directly with the Inspector. So thats just what I did. Well, the problem is quite under control now. The loudspeaker volume is fairly less. They play between 6 and 10am, and then between 6 and 9pm. We've been enjoying a month of heavenly peace and quiet.

Here's the police complaint I filed:

Sound Pollution upload
Sound Pollution up...
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A first person account of women harassment

Read Poupee's very personal account of what she has faced, like countless others, through the years... and there must be millions more of unwritten accounts.

Fight for your rights! - Sidenote

Download the complaint we filed against the KMF retailer with the Consumer Court, with the Police and with KMF.

Perhaps it helps someone.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 8

My wife went with the updated complaint and the Rs 100 DD (and the bank charged another Rs 30 more as service charge) to the District Consumer Forum. They accepted it this time and have already set a date of 23rd Feb for the hearing!! I was astonished to hear that. Thats fast. Now I have no idea how a Consumer "Court" looks like, but good things come to those who wait. So lets see how that goes. Can the court really pass a judgment without a shred of real evidence? Remember, my wife's didn't buy anything. But perhaps the court will be lenient given the facts of the case, the FIR, etc. And maybe pigs have wings and can fly. Here's my fantasy... the court will award damages of Rs 1 lakh to my wife. Ok, quit laughing. Even I'm falling off my chair.

She also took a friend along and met the police today to find out what cooking. The police said that they are doing the paperwork and are a little busy with the happenings around town. Monday (12th) is Bangalore bandh, as a protest against the Cauvery verdict. I'm getting a little scared of the bandh. Its the perfect opportunity for this guy to do something on this pretext. And I park my car on the street. Might be trouble. Anyway, they said that they will arrest the guy right after the bandh. Then the court date will be decided... I'm not quite sure of the procedure. On one hand I hear that getting a case to court takes ages, on the other hand the police are saying that they will arrest this guy and produce him in court. They again asked that we get a witness to strengthen the case. Seems (quite obviously) this guy will produce two witnesses for every one we produce, saying that the incident didn't occur. But, of course, the court expects him to say that. So even if we have one witness it will help.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 7.

Fight for your rights! - Update 7

We met the police last evening. Gave them the update of what had transpired between my wife and the KMF officials. Also gave them the contact details of the MD of KMF and asked them to get in touch with him.

Today early in the morning (7:30am, that early for us BTW) an Assistant Marketing Manager of KMF came to meet us at our house. He also wanted to know what had happened. So we explained the whole story to him all over again. This is getting to be a bit of a drag BTW. He called up his boss then, and again we repeated the story so far to his boss. He said that they have already started taking action against this guy. They have been finding out all the details, have informed all their units and their people, etc etc. He repeatedly assured me that this would not happen again. He also said that this guy's threats were a lot of hot air, he can't and won't do anything whatsoever to harm us in any way. I'm glad to hear that.

Now here's the bouncer. He hinted that we should not proceed with the FIR and the Consumer Court complaint. Huh? Huh? Said that it will reflect badly on the company. Well, sure. I know that. Kinda late in the game to be telling us this.

I'm from IIMB. If it was a matter of overcharging and misbehaving with me (a man), I would taken the corporate approach. I would have complained to KMF, and talked about bad service, the consumer face of the company making a bad impression, why it is bad for their business, etc. But this goes beyond that. The overcharging issue is just one aspect, which may be dealt with by the Consumer Court (hopefully, because, again we don't have proof). But this is really about harassment of a women. I am quite impressed by what the Blank Noise Project is trying to achieve, as well as the many groups working for women's rights in this country. And this is an open and shut case of harassment of women. I cannot even repeat the abuses and derogatory remarks this guy made on my wife when I met him in the evening of the incident. It would redden your ears if I put them down here. Why should women have to suffer such incidents, and then go through their own personal trauma and hell, maybe even without support from menfolk around. Why is it that such things are swept under the carpet and become a woman's problem rather than society's problem? So this is the bigger issue that I hope we can address through the FIR and the subsequent court case.

And underlying the whole issue is one about fighting for ones rights. This guy gave us a challenge, hindi movie style "lets see what you can do, I know blah blah and blah". This problem I think is endemic to Indian society. Every two bit so and so threatens common people with bodily harm and gets away with it. How many times have you had an altercation with shop keepers, auto drivers, et al, who tell you confidently, on your face to do whatever you can. They will offer you their cellphone so that you can call the police, right in front of them. They tell you confidently that you can complain to anybody you want to. Do they think that they can get away with it if you really were to complain? NO. What are they counting on? They are counting on our ignorance, our negligence, our chalta-hai attitude, our who-wants-to-get-into-trouble attitude, our it's-below-my-dignity attitude and i've-got-better-things-to-do-with-my-time attitude. I've got a point to prove here. I want to show this guy that I've called his bluff.

Maybe we wont be able to indict him in court (in fact, lets be practical, we probably wont), but that will not prevent us from trying. So we WILL proceed with the FIR, we WILL try to find witnesses, we WILL go to court, we WILL engage a lawyer, we WILL file the Consumer Court complain, we WILL follow up each of these threads, we WILL spend our time, money, effort and hopefully others will follow.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 6.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fight for your rights! - Update 6

After the police left, my wife went to the District Consumer Forum at Cauvery Bhavan, on KG Road. There she met the concerned person, and presented her complaint as well as a copy of the FIR. We had not made the complaint in the correct format, and we need to make a payment of Rs. 100 by draft. So we have to rework the complaint and go back to meet this person tomorrow.

Next she went to meet someone at KMF, at Diary Circle. She met the Marketing Manager who was extremely helpful and listened to her. He said that this milkshop comes under the Yelankha Mother Diary and immediately faxed them about this issue. He also inquired with someone in his office about this particular milkman. Now here's the first piece of good news. Seems the other person knew about this milkman and that he had been rude with other consumers in the past and especially women. Seems that he had been beaten up before by a crowd, perhaps a month ago. If this is true, then this is our strongest evidence yet. In any case, the Marketing Manager immediately started an inquiry into the history of this milkman. He also directed my wife to meet the Managing Director of KMF.

The MD was also extremely helpful and receptive. He expressed his happiness that at least someone had taken the trouble to complain. He said that he knew that his agents were causing trouble, were mistreating customers, were overcharging, but he could not do anything since nobody complained. He also assured my wife his full cooperation into the investigation and said that he would help the police. He said he'll send a person from Amul to the neighbourhood to make inquiries, to go to the shop and talk to the milkman like a ordinary customer, etc.

So the KMF angle is currently our strongest angle right now. Today evening we have another meeting with the police and we will inform the police about what we learnt from KMF and put the police in touch with the KMF officials.

Next we are planning on talking to an advocate from Alternate Law Forum. Seems they have an excellent track record in dealing with such issues and would be glad to help. Time to engage a lawyer and get legal counsel. The person at the Consumer Forum advised us to sue for monetary damages since my wife suffered deep mental agony and trauma. So we will ask the lawyer's opinion about the same. We are not interested at all in monetary damages. Still, if it makes the case stronger, why not?

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 5.

Fight for your rights! - Update 5

There are some problems. One is that this asshole may be a local goon, and I am fearful of my wife's safely. I've asked her to take the utmost precaution. She usually travels about by auto. I've asked her to avoid passing in front of the shop, not to be out late, to stay at a friends place if she would be late and I would pick her up on my way back from the office. Lets see what develops on this front. I mentioned the same to the police, and they assured me that this guy would not be able to do anything. That they would keep an eye on him.

Another is that we don't have any witnesses at present. The small crowd which had gathered was not known to her. There are some vendors beside the milkshop, we will get a friend of ours who speaks Kannada to talk to them and see if they have heard anything and would be willing to make a statement. This task is quite hard. There is a natural fear in this country to make a statement, to be a witness, and anything to do with the police and courts is to be avoided at all costs. Lets see how this goes.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 4.

Fight for your rights! - Update 4

Today (7th Feb) morning, we waited for the police till 9:30 or so, then called them up. They said they were not able to come since they did not have a vehicle, so would I please come and get them. Ok, what else can I do? Its my complaint, anyway. So I went and brought them to the milk shop. They did whatever they needed to, looked around, made measurements of the "crime scene", and talked to the wife of the milkshop guy. She was full of bluster and muttering some stuff in Kannada as usual. Next the milkman also came and even in front of the police was threatening me and my wife. Giving us dirty looks, like the usual "dekh loonga" looks. He dropped the name of the Inspector of the Police Station and said lets go to the station right now, he'd see what we would do. He knew politicians, he was a government employee, etc etc. And then started his tirade against us in Kannada, unfortunately we have no clue of what he was saying. We could understand some stuff here and there. He said this was a false complain, a "stunt complain", yada yada yada.

Admirably the police were quite curt with him and told him to shut up and come to the police station when called. They were harsh with him and assured us that they would look into the matter. Then we went to our house (which is just nearby) and they wrote out a long report, and said that they would charge him under some more sections because of the threats he had been making, right in front of them.

Finally, I dropped them back to the police station and we came back home to decide what to do next.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 3.

Fight for your rights! - Update 3

On 6th Feb, my wife and I went to the nearest Police Station to file the FIR. Amazingly, the police were very helpful. They read through the complaint, inquired into the facts of the case, and said that they would lodge the FIR. They said that we would have to go to court and we assured them that we would. I think seeing the resolve on our faces they did not try to deter us from filing the FIR. So, note this, it pays to be knowledgeable about the laws. I had read through a lot of material the night before and knew exactly which IPC we wanted to charge this guy under, all that came out clearly in the written complaint which we submitted. In fact, the police thought that it had been prepared by a lawyer.

Unfortunately this was the day on which there was quite a bit of trouble in the city as a backlash against Tamil Nadu and the police were really busy with all this. Even in the midst of all this trouble they took a lot of time and effort with us. Very very laudable. It took us quite some time to get the FIR done, mainly because it had to be written in Kannada, and neither my wife nor me know a bit of Kannada. So the police did all the paper work, translated it, read it back to us. In the FIR, the police had registered *more* IPC sections that the Section 509 that we had originally asked for. Very smart and proactive.

After the first copy of the FIR was done, we need to get multiple copies made, one to go to the PC's office, one for the Assistant PC's office, one to be filed, one to be given to me, one for the court. A copy of the FIR is supposed to be given to the person free of cost. However, the policemen apologetically explained that there was no photocopier available at the station, and hence if we really wanted it free of cost they would get the copies and pay from their own pocket. This seemed to be really strange. Is the state of affairs so horrible that they cant get such an official bill reimbursed? Maybe they can't. It was a trivial thing, anyway. So we ourselves went and made 5 copies of the set of documents.

The police said they would come for their "spot report" the next day morning.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 2.

Fight for your rights! - Update 2

While pursuing the harassment angle, we also wanted to complain against the overcharging. Again, the Internet came to our rescue and we found a bunch of sites providing information about consumer protection rights and how to go about filing a complain.

Overcharging, i.e. charging any amount over the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) printed on any product is illegal in India under the Packaged Commodities Rules (PCR). For that matter, the MRP is only the maximum possible price a trader can charge a consumer, it does not mean that they cant charge less. But charging more is a strict no no. But like I said before, the IT capital is full of weenies who'd rather pay more than protest. Its a straight forward problem of too much money. Why count the pennies when the easy pounds are rolling in, and everybody is laughing all the way to the bank?

Anyway, here a bunch of links that we looked at. May it make you wiser.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 from Vakilno1.com.
Consumer Protection, Consumer Awareness - FAQs from Vakilno1.com (Excellent source, BTW)
India's Consumer Online Foundation has a list of Consumer Courts in India, Consumer Courts in Karnataka, and Consumer Organizations in Karnataka.
FAQs relating to filing a complaint, from the Dept of Food & Supplies, New Delhi.

Read Fight for your rights! - Update 1.

Fight for your rights! - Update 1

We worked late into the night looking up various information relating to women rights, harassment, eve-teasing, etc on the Internet. Its heartening to find a wealth of information on the Internet from India. From women's rights groups, to laws, to the Indian Penal Code, to judgments, stories of other women who have been in similar situations, helplines, how to file an FIR, blogs, we found it all! We wrote up a complaint detailing exactly what had happened, and decided to file an FIR at our Police Station the next morning. The basis of the FIR was IPC Section 509 which states:
Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman - whoever intending to insult the modesty of any woman utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or both.

We also decided to lodge a complaint with the District Consumer Forum, as well as KMF, addresses and contact details for which we again found on the Internet.

Here's a bunch of links that can help someone else who wants more information:

Blank Noise Project which has a mine of information.
Taking legal action upon being "eve-teased" from Blank Noise Project, which has answers from a lawyer from Alternative Law Forum.
Sexual harassment, paper by Pratiksha Baxi.
Existing laws in India which can be used in cases of sexual harassment, from the Network of Women in Media, India.
In defence of women, from Frontline magazine.
What is an FIR?

Read Fight for your rights!.

Fight for your rights!

What is it with the scared pansies who inhabit the great IT city of India, Bangalore? There is rampant overcharging of milk packets in the city, and yet nobody raises a voice or complaints. Every retailer charges 50p more on the pretension of "cooling charges". Does anybody say that they wont pay? Does anybody protest? No. Like quiet sheep they pay up.

Not my wife, who by the way is not an IT person. Thank God for that.

On 5th Feb, the Cauvery verdict was announced. A local KMF retailer in my neighbourhood overcharges each time there is a hint of trouble in the city. At 8:30 in the evening, my wife went to buy milk from this chap. As usual he was demanding more money than the MRP. She brought to his notice that overcharging is illegal under the Packaged Commodities Rules (PCR), which state that any trader charging more than the MRP mentioned on the package can be prosecuted. Upon hearing this, he turned extremely abusive and verbally assaulted her. He insulted her, threatened her with physical and sexual harm and physically intimidated her. A crowd gathered but nary a person came to her rescue and to restrain the milkman. Like I said, pansies.

I came home later in the evening to find my wife in a heavily distressed condition. Took me a long time to get her to tell me what had happened, after which I went to accost the milkman. He was still abusive, pushed and shoved me around, and asked me to complain to whoever I would and that he would see what I would do. Since there was no point in getting into a physical fight with him, which I would of course lose, I left his shop and called up the police. The police dispatched a 2 member team who came to the house and advised me to lodge a complain in the police station.