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Wrong number

Amita Malik gets the run-around from the telephone department while trying to avail a senior citizens' concession

I always seem to get on late to many privileges offered to silvers by various authorities. So I was grateful to a friend when he tipped me off that the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam in the capital was giving a concession of 20 per cent to senior citizens on certain fixed monthly telephone charges. This did not apply to charges on actual telephone calls, which is understandable, but things that do not change from month to month. It was not an enormous amount. For instance, the monthly rent for the telephone is Rs 250, which means one would get a rebate of only Rs 50. But this amount means quite a lot to elderly people living on modest pensions, the telephone being a vital necessity for them.

I duly sent off an application to my local telephone office asking if I could be extended the facility. I was then asked to provide proof of my senior citizenship. I sent along the office boy with my senior citizen's card from Indian Airlines. He was sent back with the reply that only my passport would do as proof of age. I immediately sent off a photocopy of my passport. He was sent back again as they wanted to see the original. That was also duly shown and the passport was sent back with the promise that I would get the concession from my next bill.

I was feeling on top of the world when the lady at the counter who had sent the message about the rebate being included in the next bill rang me up. "Did you move from Kaka Nagar to your present address two years ago and have your telephone transferred?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "Do you have any documentary evidence?" she asked sternly. Taken aback, I said: "The very fact that you knew my telephone had been transferred two years ago and you know the two addresses surely shows you have it on your records." "No, we don't," she continued in the same stern tone. "The central office was supposed to send it to us, but didn't." "In that case," I replied in an equally stern tone, "You can ask the central office to send it to you, since it is the mistake of your office. I am prepared to wait. Besides, a senior citizen is a senior citizen and even if I had been in this flat for one month, I am still entitled to the rebate, aren't I?" She remained silent.

As I knew they would not stir on their own, having wasted two years already, I reverted to the good old do-it-yourself method. I delved through my two-year-old files and found a letter from the telephone department telling me that my telephone had been transferred from my old to new address and that it was now operative. I sent it off in triumph to the telephone office, having done their job for them.

This time, miraculously, they did not raise any objection. Besides, I had also sent them a letter telling them that it was a pity that the kind concessions given by the government to senior citizens were being made a mockery of by bureaucrats at lower levels who did everything to stall them and caused unnecessary harassment and worry, not to mention waste of time. I said I was sending a copy of my letter to the minister. Well, my latest bill has 'Senior Citizen' stamped on it. But, alas, there is no rebate anywhere. So now I have paid the bill, and sent with it a letter asking if they could please tell me how, when and where I will get the concession? In the words of William Shakespeare: I pause for a reply.

And I would like to share with readers my long-held belief: This country is not being ruined only by politicians - after all, they come and go - but by petty bureaucrats, who seem to be there forever.

Amita Malik, often referred to as 'the first lady of Indian media', is a columnist and film critic

Featured in Harmony Magazine
April 2005

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