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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Real estate in India - 1

I've been a keen follower of the state of real estate in India for a long time and its always appalling to see the horrible state of affairs. Buts its even more appalling to see how most of us moneyed IT people in this town seem least bothered about this sorry state of affairs, as long as our greed is satisfied, we will continue investing in this asset class, come what may.

For most people who own 1 house to live in, I sympathize with you. Knowing fully well the problems you have still purchased an apartment with some margin money and felt like a paper millionaire. Did your dream apartment take longer than was planned? Did the plans suddenly change at the last moment? Did the promised XYZ amenity not materialize finally? Did the common area end up as another unplanned block? Did the superb lake view turn out to be a view of the hyacinth filled nalla? Did the myriad builder promises turn out to be lies, did the advertisement turn out to be fake? Did the super-built-up (SBA) area mysteriously increase between pre-launch and possession while the built-up area decrease? Did the encroached storm water drain one day belch out dirty run off water all over the apartment complex? Did you double pay for the car park after already paying for the common area? Did your developer screw you by not transferring the funds collected to the association?

But hey, you've rolled with all the punches, you've somehow come on top, you are a champ. "No problem, what else can we expect. At least we have a roof on your heads, at least we got 70% of what was promised. We can compromise." No matter that you've paid through your nose for 100% of the promises.

Certainly you must have been fooled in one way or the other by the developer/builder. You've not been fooled you say? Ah, my friend, you are wiser than me, you have reached nirvana, ignorance is bliss, yada yada. Enjoy your existence as a chump. Sheep to the slaughter. (Some people who have already purchased apartments ask me what is built-up area and super-built up area. I can only bow my head when in the presence of divinity.)

For others, who have the money and invest in multiple apartments, houses, plots, who are in that perennial mode of keeping track of which is the next soft-launch / pre-launch that one can jump on knowing that after 10 sales, the price will be forcefully increased by 10% and so on, who are always trying to find the next area in Bangalore that will see a boom, who will buy land early in the hope that sooner or later some major road, IT company, software tech park will be built close by and their investment will appreciate: what do I say to you?

Do you not see how you are destroying the soul of this city with your everlasting greed? Do you not see how you are artificially inflating prices with your speculative demand? Do you not see how you are adding to the systemic corruption of this country? Overpaid IT folks are the scourge of this city. Can you invest in something else other than real estate? Can you invest in equity and debt? Can you invest your hard earned (hah) savings in productive assets? Can you give to charity? Can you do anything except invest in real estate.

"Investment in real estate" I fucking hate those words.

Me? I have no real estate holdings, investment or otherwise: I don't particularly understand this asset class, there is no transparency, its controlled by an unholy nexus of real estate developers and politicians (=mafia), free market dynamics don't apply, etc, and thus I refuse to add to the filth by playing the crooked games.

PS: Promotional comments are removed. Dont bother to write one.

PS2: A great article here on CitizenMatters.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Collection of excess Service Tax by Mast Kalandar restaurant - 1

I ordered food from one of the Mast Kalandar restaurants some months ago.

The bill amounts were as follows:

Total = 286.00 INR
VAT @ 14.5% = 41.47 INR
Service Tax = 21.21 INR

Note that the bill did not make any mention of the Service Tax percentage. In their bill, it works out to be 7.42% (21.21 / 286) which is some nonsense calculation and totally illegal. As I've pointed out in an earlier post, Service Tax applied to restaurants is 4.94% of total bill. (Update 24/11/15: Since Service Tax has increased to 14.5% from 15/11/15, including another nonsense called Swachh Bharat Cess, the Service Tax applied to restaurants is now 5.8%)

So MastKalandar is flagrantly violating the law and overcharging customers on this component of the bill. Quite obviously when it comes to depositing the Service Tax with the govt, they would be depositing the correct amount, and thus are pocketing the difference of 2.5% per bill. Do you think the difference is small? Haha, think again.

Here is a probable calculation of the "extra" earnings per month in the name of the Govt of India, assuming conservative numbers:
800 meals served a day x 300 INR average bill x 30 days x 45 outlets x 2.5% excess charge = 81 LAKHS!

I contacted the outlet and of course the counter folks pleaded ignorance about the billing, they promised that someone from their main office would get back to me. True to form, nobody did. Subsequently I posted a message on the Mast Kalandar facebook wall, and someone from Mast Kalandar got back to me with the following message:

This is regarding to your query on the additional Service Tax at Mast Kalandar. We would like to clarify your doubts and confirm that this is totally as per the new rules on Service Tax by GOI in the restaurants. You can reach us at [email protected] or send us your number / email where we can chat further.

I messaged back with the following:

The charge percentage is not as per rules on service tax by GOI. For more info you may see the following: The allowed charge is 4.94%, you are charging higher than that.

Of course, they couldn't be bothered to reply post this exchange. A few months have passed and now I'm swinging into action again.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Reissuing a passport - 3 or Curious case of the namesake from Bhatinda

Part 2 is here: Reissuing a passport - 2 or Advance to the rear

Couple of days later I again went to the RPO to find out what the hell was going on with the passport, and proceeded through the ridiculous rigmarole of standing in queue, taking a token, find the relevant unmarked counter, asking the people gathered which was the right counter and queue, and which was the bloody tail of the snaking queue where I should attach my wagon.

Then started the long wait until my number was called. In the meanwhile hilarious things were going on at the counter. Every person who was called was asked to pay a fine! Seems there are some conditions under which the RPO can levy a fine on the person. After a while, we began to bet how much the next fine amount would be. What a scam.

After much fiddling with my phone, and playing musical chairs, my turn finally arrived. Applause, bow, woof woof. The lady at the counter took my papers, checked her computer, checked my papers, checked her computer, called the secret service on her phone, probably the CIA as well, and finally proclaimed in an accusing tone: you took an emergency passport from Moscow in 1999 and left for India. Wdf. A whale could have sauntered into my gaping mouth at that point. After I'd gathered my wits which were scattered all over laughing their butts off, I told the woman she was cuckoo, I'd never even been to Moscow. If this stuff happened way back in 1999, were they stupid that it never got flagged earlier through my 1 zillion foreign travels and previous passport issues. And I have a special passport for Israel, those buggers would probably have checked some 6 generations of my ancestors before allowing me in. Unconvinced, the lady continued her tirade: the system says you were there, its gospel truth. Half expecting to be arrested and deported anytime back to Moscow, finally she relented and asked me to wait some more.

After another hour or so, she asked me to go to some room upstairs, my file had been moved closer to god. So off I trudged to meet some more babus. There again they did some secret consultation with persons unknown, between themselves, with their secret records on their computers. Then started a brief interrogation, father names, mother names, where was I born, when was I born, WHY was I born, what did I eat for breakfast in the morning, where did I travel, passport numbers, address, etc. And then just like that they decided that nothing was wrong, it was just a mistaken identity with another Amit Bansal from Bhatinda!

Boody stupid commoner name I have, must be 1 million of us in this country. Damn and blast. But hey, thats just the name match, surely the babus-who-know-all would not be making such a fuss for a name match, surely there must be other data points matching between us. To my absolute surprise, there was no match of anything except the name. This is ridiculous. Father's name, place of birth, date of birth, address, NOTHING matched, and still the computer and the babus decided I was the same person. What a cock-up. These geniuses really need to get their shit together.

Anyway, with the assurance that my passport would be processed forthright, I left cursing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reissuing a passport - 2 or Advance to the rear

Part 1 is here: Reissuing a passport - 1 or Making a monkey of queuing theory

On 5th March since I could not use the online system and anyway was going to apply on Tatkaal, a friend advised me to skip the online system and show up at the RPO directly. I could not believe that there was a way to avoid the online insanity, but hey, its India and we don't question our babus. I would be 10 kinds of a fool if I looked a gift horse in the mouth.

So morning of 6th March, unshaven and looking like as a rowdy I showed up at the RPO. Stood in a queue to get a token number. The token number is given after a cursory check of documents, then went to another queue inside and finally into a room where a babu stamps the printout carrying the ARN. Thats it! Appointment received to go to one of the PSKs and start tatkaal processing.

What a criminal waste of time and money. All the procedure at the RPO just to get an appointment at the PSK. Why couldn't I have gone directly to the PSK in the first place, why do I need to come here and do all this halabaloo just to get a rubber stamp. There is nothing checked except the application which shows your intent to pay the needless extra fees of Tatkaal. India must be the only country which has made made it a government art to make money off delivering services in a time expedient fashion.

Well, armed with this document of knighthood, Sir Galahad galloped on his giggling goat to the gable of the ghastly PSK. At the PSK, there was a long queue outside. Ask the guards at your own peril, they'll make you stand in the queue. I went directly inside the office to the Tatkaal counter, submitted the passport and documents with photocopies, etc and waited for them to call. Most part of the PSK is run by Tata Consultancy Services which had won the tender some years ago.

At the PSK I found that TCS is blatantly overcharging people for photocopy service. Right under the board which says Re 1 per photocopy the guy was charging Re 1.5. I made a huge racket about it, more on that in a later post.

Anyway, the rest of the experience was quite marvellous. The infrastructure and facilities are really great, seating spaces, TV with displays of token numbers, minimum bureaucratic at display, clean restrooms, snack joints, etc. There are three stages of processing, A, B and C, each game show round gets harder to cross, and I flunked stage C.

At Stage A, they actually take a photography right then and there and thats the photo that ends up in the passport! Whats the f-ing idea of this? Taking portrait photos even if its a mug shot is an art best left to studio lighting and a photographer who knows what he is doing. One does try to tidy up before getting passport photos taken, the photographer takes care to see that chin is down, eyes are up, (or maybe chin up, eyes down) etc etc and that you don't look like a jailbird on parole with a hangover. Remember I said that I showed up looking like a rowdy, so that's how my mug has been captured for all eternity in the bloody passport. Fat chance I have of getting past immigration looking like that.

PS: The first photo the guy took actually looked like a weevil from Torchwood, so I made him take another one which was a wee bit better.

Well I got past Stage B while the cheer leaders shook their pompoms and bottoms, and then to a nail biting finish at Stage C. At stage C, the guy referred me to another counter in Stage C, and by this time I was pissing my pants. The person at this counter took my file, looked through it, checked the computer, looked through the file, looked at me, checked the computer, and after some long moments of doing more of the same, opened her mouth a wee bit and muttered "policy".

WDF is policy? With the most cryptic smirk she said that I have to go to RPO policy section, no she cant tell WDF "policy" is, its against PSK policy to tell citizens what "policy" is. And her smirk proclaimed in words ten feet tall, dude you toh are FUBAR. Well, strike 1 for the babus, so muttering evil curses I went to perform the exit ceremony.

At the exit I got a paper which essentially said, all is fine, all your documents are correct, but we've decided to fuck your happiness, further processing is on hold so come to the RPO and maybe if you bend and scrape enough we'll grant you another passport. Oh joy.

The govt is still living up to its promise I see:

"To deliver passport services to citizens in a timely, transparent, more accessible, reliable manner and in a comfortable environment through streamlined processes and committed, trained and motivated workforce"
Shri Salman Khurshid

Friday, March 08, 2013

Laying to rest taxation at Indian resturants

See update as on 16/11/15 at the end.

In addition to the ridiculously high VAT, our stupid authorities have added this nonsense of service tax, currently 12.36%. Too many people are busy posting incorrect information about taxation rules at restaurants. While this is highly appreciated, i.e. the more people are involved in spreading awareness about such matters, the better it is of course. But the problem is that incorrect information spreads just as fast. So lets lay the taxation angle to rest in this post:

Food and Beverage = Rs. 1000.00
Service Charges @ 10% = Rs. 100.00
Service Tax @ 4.94% on Rs 1100 = Rs. 54.34 (on F&B + Service Charges)
VAT @14.5% = Rs. 145.00
Total = Rs. 1299.34
As per the definition - "Service Tax can be charged ONLY for the services provided to the customer".
Now, see what is happening here in the above example.
Service Tax should be charged only on the Service Charge amount i.e Rs.100 ONLY, and NOT on the entire amount (1000+100).
In this example, the customer should be charged only Rs 4.94, whereas he has been charged Rs. 49.00 extra.
Incorrect 2, that too from a presumably knowledgeable body like the DHCBA.

Now from the actual govt notification published here:, one can quite easily make out that service tax is computed on full bill after abatements. The abatement allowed is 60%, i.e. 40% of the food bill is assumed to be "service", and the greedy govt wants a share of this. So final service tax component = 4.94% (0.4 * 12.36%) of total bill. And thats the only correct calculation.

PS1: I refuse to patronize restaurants that tack on a "service charge". Its my prerogative to tip based on the service and I'll be damned if I pay the fixed 7-10% that the owner wants to squeeze out of me. For others who insist on being scalped, at least don't prove that you are a moron by leaving an additional tip, just because your credit card slip has such a provision, or you are feeling even more generous, or cant be bothered with simple maths. Do realize that between VAT, service charge and service tax, you are ending up paying THIRTY PERCENT in extra charges on the food bill. If that doesn't scare you from eating out, you probably deserve to be taken advantage of :)

PS2: Please make it a point to calculate the right amount of taxes and check that the restaurant is authorized to collect. Only A/C restaurants can collect. I've taken to tasks restaurants which collect taxes without TIN number, etc on bill.

Another excellent reading on this topic: Service Tax in Restaurants - What the law really says!
And an even more elaborate post which should leave no doubts in anybody's mind: Computation of service tax on food served in a retaurant

Update 16/11/15: Since Service Tax has increased to 14.5% from 15/11/15, including another nonsense called Swachh Bharat Cess, the Service Tax applied to restaurants is now 5.8% (0.4 * 14.5%)

Reissuing a passport - 1 or Making a monkey of queuing theory

I need to apply for a UK visa, and the consulate needs 2 back-to-back blank pages in my passport for the same. Who knows why, but this ridiculous requirement has screwed up my travel plans and I've already wasted 2 full working days. Anyway, so now I needed to apply for a new passport since I dont have 2 back to back blanks on the old.

I filled the form and submitted it online for Tatkal on 5th March and then tried to figure out how to get an appointment online for the further processing at the Passport Seva Kendra.  There is no information on the process available on the passport website. Not surprising of course, just the Indian government living up to its promise:
"To deliver passport services to citizens in a timely, transparent, more accessible, reliable manner and in a comfortable environment through streamlined processes and committed, trained and motivated workforce"
Shri Salman Khurshid
On the website, every time I tried the link "Manage Appointment" I got the message "Maximum number of appointments exceeded for the day". Exasperated I started googling and was stunned by the amount of material on this stuff online. Great many people complaining bitterly online that its next to impossible to get an online appointment, many websites devoted to explaining the process and strategies to get an appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) online. Seems its a black science, I kid you not. Sample these:
And an entire website devoted to getting the appointment:

This last website is a great pot of valuable info, and thats when one realizes that the entire appointment process must have been pakaoed in the fertile brain the size of  the left testicle of an ant. In brief  here's how it works:
  1. Discover from somewhere the actual time at which the online appointment window opens, this is 6pm for Bangalore, and is different for each city. Of course the Indian govt cant be bothered to provide this info in the first place, and this is the first fuckup.
  2. The booking window opens for a short duration, in this duration one has to click on the "Manage appointment" link, enter some captcha, select the date/time slot best suitable, enter some more captchas, and voila! one has an appointment to meet some shabby babu in the PSK.
  3. But back up a moment, do you think its so simple? Ha. Like I said, left testicle. At 6pm, all of Bangalore is also logged into the website trying to get the appointment, and the website just f-ing dies. On 5th March, the website just hung from 6 pm till 6:30, and I could not even go into the "manage appointment" link. And the punishment is that you need to try the entire process a full 24 hours later. And thats the 2nd fuckup.
  4. Needless to say most people cant figure all this shit out in the first place, get snafued by fuckup 1 and fuckup 2, and never manage to get the online booking, and end up paying the govt for overpriced Tatkal, or the touts.
And that ladies and gentlemen is the story of the "timely, transparent, more accessible, reliable manner" of service that the govt has setup for getting passports.

On to Reissuing a passport - 2 or Advance to the rear?