Feb 192016
 

 

It was last year that I was duped online by a certain website named Fashionershop.com. The website has ceased existence ever since. This website listed lots of costly products online for a “sale”, and the sale price was unimaginable. A Rs. 4000/- watch for just Rs. 799/-!! Oh how did I fall for that. I got blinded to the fact that this couldn’t be economically possible but the website made tall claims of manufacturer warranty and such. Later I didn’t receive the watch that goes without saying. I check the regular forums online for any complaints about this guy and found a lot of people in my position. I investigated further and found the details of the person who had registered this website and communicated him via multiple email. No response. I even thought of raising a complaint to cyber cell but that would have to be done in Bangalore as the seller was registered in Bangalore.

I finally lost steam. I knew that it could be a waste of resources to pursue this matter further.

The seller happily pocketed Rs. 799/- belonging to me. And I assume various amounts belonging lots of other online shoppers if he has not yet been brought to justice.

The business the seller was doing online was actually not of selling any product. He was actually banking on the fact that even after the scam, given some time, people would forget and leave him alone. For him it was a risk worth taking. His risk paid off.

Present scenario.

A new company called as ringing bells sure does ring some alarm bells. No one knew who they were as opposed to flipkart which started small and rose to fame step by step. Or Amazon for that matter which was already flourishing worldwide and shopaholics in India were praying for its arrival. Ringing Bells was registered in 2015. As a matter of fact, the domain name freedom251.com was registered on 10th February 2016.They do not have any import listings. They do not have any manufacturing plant as yet. They do not have any previous track record. Yet they claim to be able to sell a phone which would be worth about Rs. 2500/- for just Rs. 251/-!! Nothing adds up. They claim that they can reduce manufacturing cost by sourcing parts from India. Well, Samsung, Motorola, LG, HTC, Sony, or for that matter, Micromax didn’t dig deep enough in to the manufacturing industry of India to locate the manufacturers of such parts in India itself. Or the case could be that there aren’t manufacturers in India(which I think is the correct scenario).  Then how is this all possible?

For a start, reports in media point out that the phones used during the launch event were actually some Adcom phones with the brand name covered using cheap whitener. Bells start ringing. Then their website crashes thus pointing towards it being hosted on a cheap hosting account, similar to the one which I use for this blog. The shopping cart doesn’t direct to the payment gateway which means that before the launch; even the testing was not done properly. Then they use the phrase “Economics of Scale” but fail to fully explain how it works because for economics of scale to work, the production cost should come down. But the material cost itself is said to be more than Rs. 1500/- as per few analysts. So if that’s not coming down then their losses will mount in proportion to the economics of scale.

Nothing adds up here.

If I had been the promoter of such company where the business model would not work but I still would want to launch a product with a fanfare, I would actually be thinking on two lines

A . I get enough publicity for this product so that I am able to get orders for about a 10,00,000 phones. Which comes to about 2.5 crore rupees. Put it in a bank for a term of 4 months. Effectively I could get 2.5-3% interest. After 4 months, buy a few re-branded phones, deliver to few customers (say about 100) and then declare manufacturing difficulties or any other excuse which is digestible. Return all the money without interest(I would take care to put a clause in terms and conditions that any refund would be without interest). Everyone is happy. The customers who got a Rs. 3000/- phone for Rs. 251/-(comes to Rs. 3,00,000/-). The other customers got back their money. I got to keep the remaining of interest minus income tax on interest. I could also claim deduction on loss in business which was generated through sale of rs. 3000/-  phone for Rs. 251.

So here we go:

Amount collected = 10,00,000 * 251 = 25,10,00,000

Interest Collected in 4 months(assuming 3 % for the entire period) = +75,30,000

Loss on sale = (3000 – 251) * 100 = 689999

Tax on income = 75,30,000 * 0.3 = -2052000

Refund = 9,99,000 * 251 = 250749000

Miscellaneous expenditures ( Fanfare Launch and website maintenance) = 5,00,000

Leftovers = 4500000(Truly “leftovers” without any “wrong doings” for which the government is currently on watch)

Now that’s Economics of Scale

B. I publicize with so much hype that my website gets million of hit per month. I display one product for few months but prevent booking from going through (only random bookings allowed). People keep on coming hoping that they would finally be able to book (heck they are trying to buy a smartphone for a steal). Meanwhile I sell my webspace for advertisements and start earning. I will try to figure out whether I would want to sell something else for some real money. I can always refund the booking amount fully.

Though this may not be my preferred business model, this might be one line of thinking

No matter what their business model be, they sure got their share of publicity. They are capitalizing on economics of scale in some way or the other.

Couple of day back I was talking with my brother and his friend about getting in to some kind of business. I revealed to him something I had been thinking about for quite some time. India is a country of more than a billion people. If you could get 1 rupee from each of them by some way, now that would be some business. It’s a land of mass scale everything and you just need to know how to capitalize. Some do it by duping but there are always clean ways to do it.

If you could extract(and I mean by fair means) Rs 1000/- from 1000 people per month it would amount to Rs. 10,00,000/- income per months. But it may be a bit difficult since you would need prior exposure of your credibility. So toning it down, if you could extract Rs. 100 from 10000 people per month, again same income and lesser need of credibility but you would need better marketing. Now if you go a notch down and wriggle Rs. 10 from 1,00,000 people per month, again it would earn you same amount but with much larger need of marketing. The person giving out the money would not be polishing his shoe one day, that’s all he is spending. An on an on can the calculation go.

Simple Arithmetic. 1 Billion people* 1 Rs = 1 Billion Rupees.

So a person, who understands this arithmetic and knows how to apply it, may have wasted all his years of education which taught all the complex stuff of life. Gravity is there to live and so are the magnetic waves. Calculus has made life complex for me during exams. And if you are in to the business of making money, you do not need to know all these. These are just the things which are “nice to know”. If you want to start something in the line of business, you need to capitalize on Economics of Scale.

And if you are in India, you have a Billion and a quarter plus opportunities.

Jul 162014
 

Disclaimer : I do not wish to defame any bank in any way as I type this post. I just intend to create awareness amongst the readers about their options. If you own a bank which conducts fair business practices, I am pretty sure yours is not the bank that I mention henceforth.

In one of my previous posts I had tried to elaborate on the various measures we can take while carrying out online transactions to secure our money and our data. That being done, we still handout lots of our support cash to someone we barely know, for safekeeping and growth. That someone are the financial institutions.

But what if these very people whom we trust, breach our trust and leave us with nothing? Time and again we have learnt about large scams with lots of big financial institutions, including banks, collapse due to a huge scam, resulting in the loss of poor mans hard earned money. It makes us shiver and make a beeline to liquidate our assets/savings and keep cash on us. But the prospects of being robbed, force us to trust the lesser of two evil and we stay put with the banks. So who protects us from the treacherous practices of such institutions?

The answer is Banking Ombudsman. It is not another scam devised by the government to fool us. It actually works and has been handing out justice when banks have been dubious in their acts. Let me narrate two episodes.

A few years back, one fine day, I logged on to check my account, and found that the bank which held my savings account had deducted a considerable sum from my account with some unintelligible narration for the transaction. At first, I took it to be some regular deduction which banks always carry out, based on some finely typed clause(maybe font arial 6) in their 20+ page application form. But later as I remembered, the bank “official”, who had been very forthcoming and courteous in his manners while opening the account, had assured me that I wouldn’t be charged anything for the first year. My year was not yet up and I decided to take up the case.

Wearily, I dialed up the toll free customer care number and after minutes of punching in lots of details on the phone for the benefit of the Interactive Voice Recording, I began my wait for the “executive” to answer. The executive was polite and upon investigation, informed me that I had failed to maintain the average quarterly minimum balance as prescribed by them. I informed that I had maintained the balance as was informed while opening up the account and the executive responded that the balance requirement had been increased in previous quarter. I informed that I had not been updated regarding this, to which the executive said that I must have been informed since they had sent emails and SMS to everyone. I was pretty sure I didn’t receive any such mail and asked the executive to file a complain to which I was denied any complaint and told that I was at fault.

I decided to take matters further ahead and send a mail to proper customer care complaint department, then to nodal officer, within a week of each other. I kept on receiving those “ we are reviving your complaint and will get back to you in a weeks time” for three consecutive weeks, every Monday. That’s when I decided to take matters higher. Armed with all the mail trail, and reference number of my telephonic conversation, I sent them one more strong email, while keeping in cc, the Banking Ombudsman.

One point to be noted here. Whenever you are dealing with such firms on phone, ask for the reference number of your current conversation. They are bound to give it and they are bound to keep the recorded voice communication for a certain period of time, by law. They say one wrong word against themselves and the case comes in your hand.

After sending the email, I didn’t expect much since my idea of Banking Ombudsman was some hall, filled with about 20-25 people, one or two computers(intel i386), old creaking fans, lots of papers and files covered with dust and a child laborer in a short pant and a vest, serving tea to all. Little did I know that the office of my imagination was most feared by this financial institutions, in case they were wrong. I didn’t receive any auto response of delayed response the next week. In fact, the next morning I got a message that the deduction had been reverted. And hour later, I got a phone call from the pseudo apologetic customer care executive, regarding the wrong deduction and inconvenience.

Needless to say, I closed the account shortly.

Very recently, my colleague narrated an experience she had faced with the same bank. Early one morning, she woke up to book a ticket for her father in law as he had to  travel to his native place on some urgently matter. She went through all the processes and when the time came for payment, it was declined. She tried multiple times and it was declined all through. Luckily, she managed to book the ticket using some other source. She didn’t investigate initially, but had a suspicion and later called up the customer care to check out the reason. To her shock, she was informed that her card had been blocked since the bank had detected some fraudulent transaction on her account. She demanded why she was not informed regarding this via email or a phone call, to which she got no satisfactory reply. She was very angry at such an irresponsible practice from the bank since it was her salary account, she had forgotten the password, she couldn’t use the debit card and all the options to create a new password were linked to her debit card. Effectively, her money was locked in to her account and she would not be able to use it in case of emergency.

She made a complaint regarding this on the regular email and she got a new card delivered immediately within a day or two.(I guess the bank realized their mistake and wanted to amend, a little to late since my colleague was adamant on getting some kind of apology).

When I heard this, I immediately asked her to go through the proper channels, with banking ombudsman in the loop. Later, from what she told me, banking ombudsman started their own process of investigation from their end and it seemed they didn’t get any proper response. The Ombudsman also kept her informed about the progress of her case.

A couple of days back a very respectable amount was transferred in to her account. She was informed by the bank that this amount was the fine levied by the banking ombudsman on to them which was to be paid to the customer for their wrong doings. Though my colleague, was reluctant to take the compensation, since money was not her concern, I asked her not to feel guilty for someone else’s mistake. The compensation was given to her fair and square and the bank needed to apologies and ensure such incidents don’t happen again.

My belief in the banking ombudsman has increased considerably and my mental vision of its office has changed from some desi babu’s office to a swanky high tech houston mission control.

Here are few details for the mission control and the Banking Ombudaman Scheme 2006.

I just hope my colleague doesn’t find a way to return the money to the wrongful owners….

Dec 142013
 

(Disclaimer : This post is not meant to promote any specific financial institution, but through the text ahead I plan to brief you regarding banking security features which can be used to your advantage. If you belong to the clientele of any of the below financial institution, please use their security features. These are meant for safety of your hard earned money. The list of features is not exhaustive and more details can be obtained from your respective relationship manager at the financial institution)

It is almost everyday that we come across a news wherein someone or the other, or sometimes a group of people have been defrauded by hackers and fraudsters who hack people’s credit cards or bank accounts, transfer the money and do a Houdini. Sends chill down the spine while we make a beeline to check our accounts. Banks have been adding layers upon layers of securities to ensure that online transactions done by you are secure and you do not end up loosing confidence in online transaction, which will be very bad for bank business as they have to maintain resources to serve customers at their branches. Certain security features if you understand and follow, you should be safe.

https://

I personally carry out lot of transactions online. The very first thing I check is whether url for the transaction page starts with https://. The ‘s’ in https denotes layering of http over SSL/TLS(all the communication protocol jargons which we need not fully understand) which ensures security of the website. If you are on a page which asks for your details for any monetary transaction, stop; check; go ahead only if you find https in the address bar.

Which brings me to the next point

Type the web address

If you intend to carry out any transaction(banking/financial/shopping) from any website, type the url yourself. Do not click on any link that might have been sent by some third party sender. It happens a lot of times that you get an email from certain financial institution asking you to click on a link to access their website, and you do not recognize the source of the email, do not click on such links. The display text of the link might be showing a bank address but the link may actually be pointing you to a fake page which might be developed for phishingFake Site

eg. check the picture

when you place the mouse pointer on the any link in the browser, on the bottom left hand side of the browser window you will get the url to which the link directs. Check what’s displayed if you are not sure about the link.

If you have typed the url yourself then you can be sure that any link leading to transactions page from within that site is authentic. But again check for https.

3 digit security code

The initial security feature introduced in credit and debit cards was a three digit security code which had to be punched in while carrying out transaction online.  But over time, fraudsters came up with ways to capture cards details while you carrying out transactions online. Even at point of sale terminals, credit/debit cards details are very much visible to anyone who’s handling the card and it doesn’t take a maths wizard to memorize few combinations of numbers to be used online later. Security features have been enhanced to overcome this. Even still, avoid letting the card out of your sight as the 3 digit code is one of the authenticator for the online transactions.

Virtual Keyboard

Most of the banks provide virtual keyboards. This ensure that key loggers which may have been setup on your computer do not skim your information while you type on your physical keyboard. Use virtual keyboard wherever available.

Transaction Passwords & Debit card matrix

ICICI bank offers the feature of additional password which is required for transactions like fund transfer. For carrying out such transactions on ICICI bank sites, you will need to have a transaction password and will also need to key in 3 sets of double digit numbers out of the grid provided on the back of their debit card. So make sure that you do not show the numbers anyone else

Verified by Visa/Mastercard Secure Code

Any Visa card which is being used for online transaction has to be registered at verified by visa(vbv) website to generate a vbv transaction password. After you enter the visa card details online on the secure https url and press the pay button, the  website redirects to vbv authentication page which asks you to enter either the password or generate a one time authentication password on your registered mobile number. for this the mobile number has to be registered on vbv website. Similar feature has been implemented by mastercard payment gateway. Another security layer to ensure you are performing a secure transaction.

Virtual Cards

Before the implementation of the secure codes and vbv codes, Visa had implemented a feature called as virtual card which still exists. Once the card is registered on vbv website, the user can logon to the the website and create a virtual card of the exact amount for which he needs to transact. The set of numbers for the card will be different in case of each virtual card created and once the transaction is complete, the card is no longer valid. If you have created a card of higher value, the balance gets refunded after a certain short period of time. The limit of exposure in this case is only of the amount for which the card is prepared and only for the duration of the validity of the card. There is a provision to cancel this card if prepared mistakenly or not utilised.

One Time Password

This is a one time password received either on phone or on email while carrying out the transaction. Though one time password, if shared accidently, does not have that much effect, losing your phone will be unsafe. In this conditions if its established that the phone is stolen, its better to get the SIM card blocked.

Credit Card Limit/Enable-Disable

It is common practice now to issue an international credit card to almost everyone applying for a credit card. And though we do not shop on international sites more often, we maintain a risk of being defrauded at international level. HDFC bank has come up with feature reducing the spending limits on the credit card for international usage. The process is very quick. You just need to logon to your HDFC account and on the left hand menu select change international limit. You can also disable the international usage or enable it as per requirement. These change requests are authenticate by one time password sent on mobile and email. So if you are not planning to use your card on international sites, better disable it. Whether other banks have implemented this security feature is yet to be known.

Mobile Application Usage

If you are carrying out the transactions on your smartphone, stop at once and ensure that the application downloaded by you is authentic and the one which is released by that particular financial institute. due to vast number of mobile applications  on store for downloads, its difficult to know which application is the one released by the financial institution and which one if developed out of knowledge of the financial institution. Its always safe to navigate to the download link through the website of the financial institution.

Do not save any id/passwords on mobile in any format on the mobile phone.

General Rules

Do not disclose your personal details on community sharing sites as some of these details are used for resetting passwords. Most important details are dates like birthday/ anniversary, or parents names, place of birth etc. Just think of a situation wherein a bag containing your credit card and your mobile was stolen by someone who knows what you’ve kept in the bags. The person just has to access your social networking profile and crack your password.

All said and done, once in a while do a physical check of your accounts and transactions. Ensure everything is in order. If something found amiss, inform the concerned institution immediately. If you are strictly following these rules, no hacker can defraud you.

Happy Christmas Shopping!!

Sep 162010
 

Sometimes back I had posted about how I extracted benefits from the internet by just signing on one website called mginger. I invested jus rupees 3, and received a discount coupon worth rupees 100!! But this offer had been taken off for some time. Now its back again, and here to stay till 30th September. Meanwhile, other offers continue to be online on this site. So grab the offer before it expires.

Are you planning to buy some stuff with total value of less then 1000 rupees but above 395? The items could be something like a pen drive, flash memory card, compact disks, clothes, books etc.? This is your chance to get minimum of 10% discount, as against the maximum discount schemes run by other shops. A coupon download from mGinger and a product buy made on tradus can get you that.

The mode of operation of mginger is that, once you register, you  start getting smses on your mobile, containing paid advertisements. Each advertisement fetches you 20 paisa. If you refer someone, you get 10 paisa for every advertisement he/she receives on the mobile. There is also a third level, through which you can earn 5 paisa per sms. Once time registration will cost you 2 rupees, and you can select your preferred time and advertising category. You can also stop this service anytime you like. Pay out will only be made after rupees 300 or above are accumulate in your account. It will take ages for that, and the amount is peanuts. But there is a second part to it. And that’s the better part.

Here’s how it works. Go to mginger and register your mobile number following this link. Once registered, you have to select you preferred time and category of the advertisement. Once you start receiving ads, you start accumulating money in your account. And here’s the best part. You can buy a coupon using the money out of that amount, for any of the offer available with mginger at that time. It could be a discount on Dr. Batra clinic charges, or a discount on 21 Fahrenheit pub, or my favorite, a 100 rupees discount coupon on the purchase of rupees 395 and above.

Once you have accumulated at least 1 rupee in your account, go to the coupons section, and select from the many different offers available. Then click on download coupon, and a rupee gets deducted from your wallet on mGinger. The next moment, you receive an SMS giving the coupon code and expiry date!!

The coupons are region specific, depending on the shopping merchants in that area. But any coupon, which can be redeemed online, is available for everyone. Some of the tempting coupons for Mumbai are as follows :

The Jail – Restaurant & Lounge 30% Discount on lunch (food and liquor). Also flat 15 % on dinner on weekdays.
Tradus.in 100 rupees off on purchase of 395 and above
21 Fahrenheit 33% discount on entry fee. Enter at rupees 500 instead of 750
Myntra.com 50% off on customised jersey

And many more for Spa, pubs, stay at luxury hotels, etc. are available on this site.

So why wait. Make the most of it while we live in this e-age.

Aug 032010
 

Disclaimer: The method explained herein to track your stock, should not be used for daily transactions, as the quotes  retrieved from the internet are delayed by couple of minutes.

Many of us have invested our life savings in the stock market. And the giants have already eaten into our savings, after promising us good returns. But we are the only ones to be blamed for our loss, because each time we invested, we were taking a “calculated risk”.

Anyway, this topic is not for crying about our losses. It explains one more way how we can track our stock. We all have created portfolios on sites like moneycontrol or BSE website. But all of this sites require us to login before we can access our portfolio and find out how much we have lost at that point. There are many finance management software, but they might be bit difficult to navigate. One easier way, which avoids login each time, is to create the portfolio in spreadsheet(Oh!! What happened to this good old word, spreadsheet. I still remember Lotus 1-2-3, and the revolution it started. It was a killer application). But we are not going to use Lotus 1-2-3 or even the costly excel program. We will use sun’s office suite, openoffice, and specifically openoffice calc.

We require the latest version of openoffice.org, 3.2.1. For those who do not have it installed on their PC, download it here, and do consider using it, since it is a comprehensive office suite, competing head on with MS office. And best of all, its free to download and distribute. Once installed, you need to download an extension, GetQuote, from its extension repository.Once downloaded, open up Openoffice.org application that you have installed. Go to         Tools—–>Extension Manager. Click Add and select the downloaded file. This will install the extension, and you are all set to create your portfolio on spreadsheet.

Open a new Openoffice.org calc spreadsheet. Check out the short code used on yahoo finance for your stock script. For example Assam Company on Bombay stock exchange is given by ASSAMCO.BO. Jindal Drilling on National Stock exchange is given by, JINDALDRI.NS. So on you can get the stock codes. Now to get a stock quote in a cell, type =GETPRICE(ASSAMCO.BO). Once you press enter, it will immediately connect to yahoo finance and display the live price to you. Same goes for all other scripts.

Your can use your spreadsheet knowledge to format the display in a more presentable way. Check out the screenshot of an example.

image

Though a bit tedious initially, once you have created it, there won’t be any changes required, and no logging in each time you want to see your investments in stock.

 

Jul 192010
 

As you might all know by now, that the Indian government has come up with a symbol for rupee. Being an Indian symbol, it was natural to accept the one designed out of our own devanagari script. Not that its going to improve the living condition of the poor Indian, or help in the appreciation of our currency. If I go to Argentina, rupee will still be rupee, and I won’t be able to exchange it with Argentina dollar very easily. The entire exercise was to create the “feel good” factor amongst the rich and influential Indians. The poor doesn’t give a damn about it, if its not going to feed them.

15rupee11

The symbol was designed by T Udaya Kumar and was selected by the government. Anyway, now that it’s decided, it will take some time to get it into the system. And getting it in to the system involves getting it on the computers on a large scale. All of a sudden an unknown company named Foradian Technologies takes the limelight after they designed the true type font for rupee symbol. Newspapers and websites immediately jumped upon the font and incorporated it in their media. Though there is no separate key mapped for it right now, it can still be used by sacrificing he tidle. So here’s how you can use it.

  • Download the font from here.
  • Copy the Rupee Foradian.ttf file to the windows/fonts directory. You are done!!
  • The character has been mapped to the tidle key(~) just above the tab key and before number 1 key. If you want to type this character in any word processer, just select the font as Rupee Foradian and press he tidle key.

image

  • That’s it. You have successfully installed the rupee symbol on your windows based computer.
  • On a LINUX system, just double click the Rupee Foradian.ttf file and in the dialogue box that appears, select “install font”. That was much easier than windows, isn’t it?
Jul 102010
 

Information search and communication were the two main reasons for which a person would log on to the world wide web a few years back. Though I worked on computers since around 18 years back, I was the last person amongst my friends to get an email ID, some 10 years back. And I couldn’t hold it long enough, since I allowed the account to remain dormant for a long time, and it was deactivated. This shows how a person who is very much interested in technology can be ignorant towards its full benefits. But the advent of high speed internet has opened up lots of possibilities to a normal user which can help him change his own life. An average user, uses internet not only to communicate or search for information, but can also wander around on the net to explore it, view videos and listen to music, read eBooks, plan holidays, shop and many other activities. Community sites like orkut and facebook, really changed the dimension in which people communicated with each other, while adding a fun element to it.

But along with all this uses of the internet, people with a bit more curiosity and patience, have managed to actually earn while surfing the web. People maintaining websites generate revenue through advertisements placed on their sites. Some sell their expertise on the web. Bloggers are paid to write post in popular news columns. Many of these activities on the web, which generate revenue to an individual come under the category of freelancing, which is picking up quite fast on the web.

On a site providing freelancing jobs directory, a freelancer can find various jobs listed under numerous categories. After browsing through them and checking out which job is best suited for ones expertise, the person has to bid for the job quoting the charge for which he is ready to do the job. Once the bids are viewed, the bid which meets all the conditions and least quote gets the job. A bidder has to create profile which specifies his area of expertise. If he is proficient with more skills, more number of profiles can be created. The advertiser makes sure that the bidder is capable to carry out the job by checking out this profile. In the profile, the bidder has an option of entering experience and proof of the work he might have done in past, which gives his bid a higher weightage.

There are many websites, catering to different countries, which provide freelancing services. Some are totally free, while others have a premium members section for members who pay of the service. A premium member can bid for almost all the projects and can activate all his profiles at a time while a free member can bid for very few projects and can activate only one profile. Some of he websites are listed below. If a person is confident of making good on such sites through freelance jobs, its better to opt for paid service which has much more features. Once you get a job, and you complete it successfully, you get rating on the site, which keeps on increasing as you complete more projects. This rating improves your probability of getting more jobs.

People are already earning huge amounts by freelancing. If you use your expertise properly on he internet, this could be the dream second part-time job that you always wanted.

Freelancing Websites:

Freelance, Freelance India, Guru(the paid service which I was talking about earlier), Freelance Free(which provides completely free service), Get A Freelancer

Jun 192010
 

We all in India know how the private transport operators hold us to ransom, time and again, to increase their fares. The most recent incident being that of autorickshaw(hereafter referred to as auto) drivers in mumbai threatening to go on strike, if base fares are not increased from rs. 9 to rs. 15. This is been in the backdrop of the governments decision to hike the CNG prices by rs. 6. I, along with many other commuters, feel that this demand is very steep, even though I do not require to use their service often. Lets analyse the situation.

1.  It a commonly known fact that CNG, as against petrol, is a very efficient and clean fuel. The government has pushed for this fuel owing to its low cost and cleaner exhaust. The cost of running a vehicle, especially a transport vehicle, is very less on CNG as compared to petrol and diesel. Even then the base fares for auto drivers running on CNG are same as those running on petrol. An increase in CNG price translates to very few paisa additional running cost per kilometer.

2.  While I was discussing this topic with my brother, he informed me about a particular conversation he had with an auto driver. As per the figures that the driver gave out, the returns on running an auto on petrol were about 125 rs. per litre of petrol(petrol costs rs. 50 in Mumbai). Compared to that the returns on running an auto on CNG are rs. 175 on an average per kg of CNG(CNG costs rs. 25 per kg). So clearly there are huge margins in operating an auto on CNG. But the auto driver revealed that one of their “leaders” was pushing for this hike, even though others were against. Infact, one member of the union has suggested that the base fares, instead of being increased, be reduced to rs. 6, so that more commuters would be attracted to auto. But the member was silenced then and there, reminding of his state of origin(this proves how deeply this state divide is rooted even in the “united” union).  Though I cannot vouch for the statements made by the auto driver, I feel these calculations are quite accurate.

3. While discussing this issue, the subject of transport in singapore came up, and my brother informed me that the government has levied heavy taxes on private vehicles, so that the commuters opt for MRT(mass rapid transit) or public buses. I would suggest that the India government goes ahead and agrees with the demands of the auto union. But they should also control the number of autos plying on the roads. Also the government should do something to the number of autos stationary at their designated stands, which normally are located just outside the suburban railways. A control in their population can very easily make some road for public buses which the commuters will prefer to autos, due to less cost and easy availibility.

4. Let me recite the problems we had at our place with transportation. We had a very good state transport bus service plying in our area, which is around 5 km from suburban train station. But around 10 years back, people started getting restless waiting for a bus, which started getting delayed time and again. Many times there were incidents of buses being cancelled due to one reason or the other and people got fed up. Then one by one, commuters started to opt for the auto service, which was rare initially. But seeing the growing demand in our area, more and more auto service was given to us. The fares were kept exactly same as the bus fares, and people, with a blind on their eyes, were attracted to it. Within few years, the buses has very few patrons, and ultimately many services were stopped, citing non feasibility. Our social leaders, went just short of kneeling in front of the commuters, in request to continue using buses. But ultimately, all the buses to our routes were stopped. Now was the chance for auto drivers to get their wishes. First of all the fares were increased for day journey, with and additional charge for night drive. Drivers started taking 5 passengers( three on the back seat, and two on both sides of the driver) to start the journey. Then came the six seater autos, which we call Dum Dum, which ran on diesel. The drivers wouldn’t start if the auto was not filled with 10 passangers(8 in the seats meant for 6 and 2 on the left of the driver). People with broader bottoms, and even pregnant ladies were made to sit in very small and uncomfortable seats. There was no use complaining, else the driver would ask the commuter to get down, and make seat for some one who would not complain. All this while, the RTO chose to turn blinds eye to these broken rules, with a wet hand for the traffic police stationed near the junctions. Finally again after years of struggle by our social activists, the buses, though limited in number, have started plying in our area. Men, who had opted for motor bikes, due to harrasement at the hands of auto drivers, have stopped using this costly transport and chose the red and yellow bus, provided by the government of maharashtra. We expect higher number of commuters this monsoon.

Though this story diverted me from the original point, I feel that its important for commuters to use public transport, hence I narrated it. All in all, the fare hike demand is irrational. A question to the union leaders. If you demand for a hike in fares, when fuel prices are hiked, do you reduce the fares when the fuel prices go down? I don’t know. I didn’t see the fares going down, when the petrol prices went down from the high of rs. 51 per lire to rs. 46 per litre.

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