Behind the smokescreen
Sir — The reason the World Health Organization suspects to be behind the rise in the number of smokers in India is perhaps correct. With so many stars chain-smoking, there is no doubt that Bollywood has had a carcinogenic effect on teenagers (“Steal a puff, tempt a teen”, May 31). India’s youth, who sometimes live and breathe Hindi films, cannot but be influenced by their stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Sanjay Dutt who enjoy their puff. With most teenagers sporting a Dutt hairstyle, imitating Khan’s mannerisms and Devgan’s dark brooding ways, it is natural they would also pick up the cigarette which so convincingly feed the macho image of their favourite actors. However, trying to analyse the increase in the number of smokers in India only by this yardstick is an exaggeration. For example, Indian film actresses are hardly ever seen to smoke on the screen. Yet there has been a steady increase in women smokers in the country. Youths smoke because it is still fashionable to do so. Unless there is greater awareness of the health risks, smoking will remain a fashion.
Priyanka Choudhury, Calcutta
Sir — The cellular war in India seems to be hotting up. The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited has roped in 2.1 million consumers to give Bharti Tele-Ventures a chase while the latter has decided invest a whopping Rs 1,200 crore to double its consumer base (“Bharti builds network muscle”, May 21). Though the chairman of BSNL claims that his company provides the best cellular services and tariff package, there is no doubt that Bharti Tele will give it stiff competition. Take Bharti’s new pre-paid (Magic) scheme. The card will prove to be particularly beneficial as it is supposed to provide one-way international roaming. At Rs 50 per minute, users in Delhi and Mumbai will be able to receive calls from abroad. There is also the offer of SMS services at Rs 15 each.
Bharti’s efforts are commendable, especially given the fact that it has decided to take on BSNL, a state-owned company which enjoys certain infrastructural benefits which other private operators like Bharti does not. The competition will hopefully force BSNL to change its whimsical way of functioning.
Bijoy Ranjan Dey, Tinsukia
Sir — Many BSNL subscribers of the Durgapur region have received telephone bills dated May 8 on May 28. The last date of payment was stipulated to be May 29, failing which consumers ran the risk of being penalized. Given the short time available, subscribers ran to their nearby post offices for payment, thereby creating a lot of confusion. Post office employees were unable to handle such a huge and unexpected crowd, apart from their regular customers.
The last date for receiving payments has been extended to June 5. But with a little more attention and care, BSNL could have avoided such incidents. Instead of stipulating a certain date, consumers should be given 20 days to pay their bills from the date of receipt of the bill.
Karri Jagannadham, Durgapur
Sir — Of late, many television channels are trying to lure viewers with contests advertised by them via SMS. Millions of participants, encouraged by the prizes on offer, unhesitatingly SMS from their mobile phones. Surprisingly, the SMS made by the clients of one of the biggest Indian mobile service provider, BSNL, are not being accepted in most of these contests. The motive of these channels come under suspicion. Their main aim seems to be to make a quick buck. They may be receiving a commission from the private mobile service providers by helping direct millions of SMS through their networks. The authorities concerned should look into the matter.
Shivaji. K. Moitra, Kharagpur
Sir — I appeared for the Central Board of Secondary Examination this year. It was publicized that when declared, the results would be available on the internet. I tried to connect myself to the said web site soon after the results were announced. However, I was unable to connect to the site for the first few hours after the results were out. The case was different at the cyber cafes in my locality where the connection could be established immediately. They made good money after the results came out. Does this not indicate a nexus between the cyber café owners and the BSNL'
Srija Chakraborty, Naihati
Sir — Although the cellphone companies operating in Calcutta insist that their call centres have not received any complaints, I, along with a large number of other consumers, have suffered due to erratic services (“Site boost spells cell hell”, May 14). For one, it is pointless to enquire at the service centres. Everytime one does so, a new person answers the phone and one has to repeat one’s story, only to be told at the end that the company is looking into the matter.
Hutch has been a particularly disappointing experience for me. I had subscribed to their “Talkathon” scheme, which enabled me to make unlimited calls to a particular number paying Rs 75 per month over my usual rents. However, on April 30, I was informed that the scheme would be withdrawn from May 1 due to some changes in the Telephone Regulatory Authority of India regulations, whereby a new tariff plan would be introduced. With such a short notice, I was not even given a chance to consider other options. I opted for a higher tariff plan, Rs 1,699 per month, giving unlimited free outgoing time. It was supposed to be effective from May 8. Then again, suddenly on May 15, I was told that tariff layouts had changed from May 9 and the unlimited free airtime has been limited to 1,400 minutes per month. How can a reputed company keep duping customers like this, changing agreements arbitrarily when the other cellular service providers are limiting the new rules to new customers only' Hutch’s customer relations is also appalling as none of my emails have even been acknowledged.
Ananya Banerjee, Calcutta
Take it or leave it
Sir — Curtailing the number of holidays enjoyed by government employees seems to have become a matter of obsessive political concern (“Holiday 201 days , work 164”, May 8). This grudge against government employees is held particularly by business communities and workers in private organizations who wish to enjoy the same facilities as their government counterparts. Yet workers in these sectors are not worse off. They also have half-days, five day weeks, earned leave and so on. They also get most of the gazetted holidays as these are sanctioned for the observance of religious and state functions.
The Central government has drastically reduced the number of casual leave for its employees by four days, which means that during a 42-year-tenure, an individual loses 168 leave days. Practically, there is not much difference between the government sector and other organizations when it comes to establishment rules.
Samir Chakraborty, Howrah
Sir — Except the “ministerial” category of Central government employees, the other non-ministerial categories get only 52 weekly off-days per year and not 104 days as the report, “Holiday 201 days, work 164”, stated. The non-ministerial category comprises the bulk of the government staff. I am a staff of the South Eastern Railway services and work for six days a week with only one weekly off. I am also not entitled to 17 gazetted holidays every year as the report claims. The 20 days medical leave and the other 20 days half-pay leave days should come under one category, for they mean the same thing. In case of earned leave, nobody would be such a fool so as to exhaust the 30 days allowed without a valid reason or emergency.
Subho Sen, Calcutta
Sir — Medical leave might be available to government employees only on submission of medical certificates issued by an authorized Central government medical attendant or a Central government health services doctor. But in practice one know how meticulously government employees fall sick and manage medical certificates. In private sector, an employee has to work for at least six days, and sometimes on Sunday. When a government employee is enjoying his morning newspaper, a private sector employee is already in his office and will continue to toil till late at night. The sarkari babu does not have to meet a deadline, and there is probably one chance in a million that he will get punished for failing to complete his assignment on time. A private sector employee may lose his job in a similar situation.
Rajarshi Sengupta, Calcutta