Tuesday, January 03, 2012

BSNL: Telephones, Broadband and Bribes


A week ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a BSNL employee at our doorstep with a packet in hand. I had applied for a land-line + broadband connection and this 'lineman' had come for the first part: handing over the telephone instrument and activating the physical connection.

Over the past two decades the government-owned telecom company had transformed into a trend-setter when it comes to affordable connections. Spurred by the telecom privatization MTNL/BSNL has seen a huge improvement in its services.

Gone are the days when my grandfather had to write a melodramatic application letter to get a telephone connection in Thrikodithanam. He had to provide good reasons for being granted the privilege of a telephone connection, so he had written a  note about his ailing health, his advanced years and about wanting to keep in touch with  'My son who is in the army posted at Siachin glacier and my grandson serving the Air Force at the Arunachal frontier..'. A few months later a clunky, black bakelite instrument marked 'ITI' was installed with much fanfare.

The instrument I received from BSNL would have amazed my grandfather. It arrived without any special requests and was loaded with features that needed a careful scrutiny of a tiny manual and its miniscule print.

The BSNL lineman, as if to compensate for having exceeded a customer's expectations, went on to crudely pulled together some wires dangling outside the house, borrowed my screwdriver & insulation tape (he believed in travelling light) to fix the wires and, before leaving, insisted on having an "Inaam" (reward / bribe). The minimum amount he assured me, was Rs.100, because, these days, 'even a litre of petrol is so expensive!'.

The broadband guy came a couple of days later with a wireless modem. He was a lot neater and better equipped. He quickly configured the laptop and modem, wrote down detailed troubleshooting notes and left in a hurry, without bothering to even ask for an Inaam.

Obvioulsy, BSNL is an organisation with more than one face. The hoary tradition of seeking bribes is restricted to only the 'linemen' whose expertise lies in creating and maintaining a tangle of wires in every neighborhood. Only they can decipher and pull the right wires out of this tangle and  undertake the task of pulling wires across streets and installing the telephones. Also, By ensuring that the wires are fixed without insulation tapes or covers customers can be then be held on tenterhooks and regularly milked for further Inaams and baksheesh.

BSNL Broadband employees might be the new wave. They are geeks who prefer to buy their own petrol.
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LINKS

A report registered on Janaagraha's IPAB ("I Paid A Bribe"!) - http://ipaidabribe.com/sforms/view_reports_paid
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