The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Legal stick for phone dues
- BSNL lines up lawsuits to force errant customers to pay up

Beware the lawman’s knock on the door if your telephone bill remains unpaid.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), alarmed by the number of outstanding bills that often outstrips the amount of annual losses, has lined up an action plan with a legal twist to force unwilling subscribers to pay up.

Officials say the move to get even with consumers reluctant to pay their dues comes not a moment too soon. West Bengal Telecom, which has run up losses amounting to Rs 77 crore this year, has subscribers who owe it more than Rs 100 crore.

The new rules — which will enable Calcutta Telephones and West Bengal Telecom to take legal help every time a customer runs up unpaid bills over Rs 25,000 — will be a “big help” in reining in rogue customers, say senior BSNL officials.

Though a list of dos and don’ts accompany the go-ahead given to legal action, officials explain that the new set of rules will allow them to “put the fear of law” in the minds of errant subscribers. “The list of dos and don’ts must be there to forestall harassment of the consumer, but it will not act as an impediment to the department when it tries to claim its dues,” one of the officials said.

They have been empowered to take the help of lawyers to initiate proceedings in the civil court only after trying out “all other methods”.

“All other methods”, they clarify, are the proceedings they have tried all along — repeated reminders over the phone, blocking of outgoing calls and, finally, disconnection of lines.

Officials must also ensure that the cost of recovery does not exceed the amount likely to be recovered, the latter including the fines and the interest.

There are, however, other factors —for which no rogue subscriber can be held responsible — that the local wings of the BNSL must take into account to prevent recurrence of a Rs 77-crore tally of losses. One such instance is a 1,000-day (and, till date, unrealised) plan by West Bengal Telecom to buy computers for web-hosting and a web-based directory inquiry.

“Web-hosting would have allowed us to garner more money by selling space,” a BSNL official said. “But thanks to administrative bungling by the IT wing, we have spent more than a thousand days in floating — and then cancelling — tenders to buy computers worth Rs 50 lakh,” he added.

Also, the revenue-collection module is not totally in sync with the other departments. “More finetuning is required to plug the leak of revenue, an aspect mentioned repeatedly by the authorities in Delhi,” said an official.

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