Gopal Manna, 35, of Midnapore, refused to pay Rs 2 instead of the government-prescribed Rs 1.26 per call at a public call office (PCO) booth in Howrah station.
The owner, Deepak Samanto, attacked him and snatched his bag, refusing to return it. After a scuffle, Samanto pushed him out.
Manna is not the only one being duped by PCO booth-owners. A survey conducted by the Council of Consumer Guidance confirmed that this practice was prevalent in the city and the districts. A. Karmakar, secretary of the Council, said: “The results of the district survey revealed that 75 per cent of the PCO operators charge Rs 2 per call and the rest between Rs 1.50 and Rs 2.”
Complaints have been sent to the All Bengal STD, ISD Booth-Owners Association, representing pay-phone owners. The association then refers the complaints to the vigilance cell at Bhabani Bhavan. President and founder of the association Ratan Majumdar said: “We want users to stand up for what is right and protest against these offenders.”
He specified that each booth should have a display board, with the name and address of the owner, the call rates and the names of the authorities to approach in case of a grievance. “We want all PCOs to have the rate-card on display, so that the public does not get cheated,” Majumdar said.
PCO operators explained that they have to overcharge because of money blocked in security deposits at the telephone department, on which interest is due. “They promised us 12 per cent interest per annum on the security amount. But we have not received anything yet,” said Ram Villas (name changed on request), owner of a PCO booth on Sarat Bose Road.
“Members of the association held a meeting with senior officers on January 22. The amount was to be cleared by February 15, but apart from PCOs under the Howrah Satyabala Exchange, payment in all other areas is pending,” added Majumdar, also the owner of a PCO booth.