Solving the Indian Puzzle of Public Services Delivery
Consider the telephone service. The Shanti Bhavan School we run in rural Tamil Nadu has a dozen or so telephone lines installed by the government-run monopoly. Each line is charged a fee of Rs. 125 per month – a small sum by comparison to the monthly fee paid in the U.S. The fee is charged regardless of whether the service is provided or not. That is the rule, according to the telephone department.
At any given time, one or more lines are not functional. It is not uncommon to have all lines cut off for several days. The reasons given are numerous and varied: vandalism, digging of road by other government departments (such as electricity, sewage, etc.), “improvements” being made to the service, or “exchange problems.” In most cases, we have to send a vehicle to pick up the linesman to detect and repair the problem. Unless the linesman is paid a “fee” for his services, problems will not be solved. If the fee is low, he is likely to make faulty connections (line disturbances, wrong number connected to your line, more than one line connected together, etc.) and we will have to bring him back to make further repairs.
Regardless of whether the service is available or not, the monthly bill must be paid. We receive the bill for all our lines, and if full payment is not made, all lines can be disconnected. There is no use complaining about it.
For over 3 years, one of the lines has not been operational. We have tried to get it fixed, but to no avail. We wrote to the telephone department not to charge the monthly fee for this nonfunctional line, but that too is declined. It is likely that this line has been made available to someone else.
Try complaining to higher authorities, and soon you will find more frequent problems with all the lines. Politicians are not interested in setting these practices right – either there is no money in it for them to get involved in such issues, or they are receiving their share of the “benefits.” I am not sure there is an honest way to solve this Indian puzzle.
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