Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008!!!

2004 was awesome in Brigade Road, Bangalore. 2005 was icy-cool in Manali, HP. 2006 was colorful in our hilltop (campus, Indore). 2007 started boozey in Chennai and proved to be splendid overall.

Here’s hoping that the good times keep rolling - for everyone. Cheers.

Wish you a very happy & fantabulous New Year 2008.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Petrol bunk fraud and caught Red-handed!

In less than a month since I came up with the petrol bunk fraud post [Link], I was duped again. Well, I got duped, and by virtue of – let me say – my fraud-identification skills, I came out (almost) unscathed.

This time around, it was the Hindustan Petroleum petrol bunk right next to Guindy flyover in Anna Salai, Chennai. Their objective was the same (which was to fraud), but the modus operandi was different.

As I entered and parked near the dispensing machine, which was to my left, the guy near the machine asked me to check the ‘zero’ reading. A lady to the left then collected Rs. 1000 from me. Simultaneously, another guy appeared near the right car window and asked for my credit card. I retorted that I had already paid cash; he apologized and gave a little longish explanation; and I shifted my gaze back to check the reading. The reading showed ‘300’, and the dispensing guy was done with the loading. I told him I had paid ‘1000’, and asked him to start from zero and go till 700 for the second round. He complied and I watched the dispenser reading slowly move from zero to 700.

I received the bill receipt and started my drive. The fuel indicator slowly inched up and then refused to go beyond the 75% mark. I did a quick retrospection and figured that I had noticed the ‘zero’ and the ‘300’ readings but not the progress from zero to ‘300’. I figured they must’ve cheated me in this stretch. I dialed the bunk operator even as I was driving and threatened to call the police; I reached the bunk in 15 minutes, quite determined to go to any level possible. It’s not the monetary value of the fraud that irritates you. The sheer feeling that you got duped sucks. I just had to fix the fraud to get my mood back on track. As soon as I stopped at the bunk, even before I started talking or demanding an explanation, the lady and the guy came down and explained that they checked with the operator who originally loaded the fuel (who was now, obviously, ‘out of shift’) and that there was an error and they would load Rs. 300 worth of petrol. I asked for Rs. 50 worth of extra petrol since they made me ride 6 kms and wasted my time, and, surprise of surprises, they complied!

It didn’t take me long to figure out the way they work. They routinely cheat customers, and if any customer finds out, they give up without a winker. If people don’t figure out the fraud, the amount is split across the operators. And this is in a petrol bunk on the most important road in Chennai (Anna Salai) near the most important junction (Kathipara). What was most shocking was that all the fraudsters wore Ayyappa garlands (which mean they were on penance) and there was a lady involved.

The larger question is: how do you get out of this very common menace? Looks like petrol bunk frauds are very common. A search on Google yields me other common petrol bunk frauds. After a bunch of research, here’s what I figured out:
  • Avoid PSU bunks and go to private operators who have stringent quality standards. Shell or Reliance fuel supposedly gives 10% to 15% better mileage
  • If (1) is not possible, go to Company-owner petrol bunks of PSUs – BP, IOC, HP etc
  • Ask for the bill, even if it’s a bunk that you routinely visit since it’s the only proof in case your fuel indicator doesn’t behave the way it is supposed to
  • Get down the vehicle and stand near the dispensing machine. It shows that you mean business.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rising residential rates, and the real culprits

For me, its house-changing blues yet again.

For some reason, changing my place of stay has almost become a routine in my life in the past 7 or so years. This is the 12th time I’m changing my place of residence in the 7 years (I’m counting moving all my things from Y to Zee as one change). You could almost say I’m used to moving my things around, but I guess these are things you never quite get used to.

This time though, I’ve picked up a place at a hefty price in a seemingly ‘hep’ location in Chennai – Adyar, in Chennai (for those who know the area). Of course, when you got to stay in the area where things are currently ‘happening’ you go to pay the right price. And I am. A 2BHK comes at 15 grand a month and that in Chennai. That’s 180,000 a year, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the per capita income in India – it is 29,000 a year, which means there are a LOT of people (more than 50% of Indian population) is living with less than 29 grand the whole year. And of course, 15 grand a month is a nice salary even for Indian city standards. You could run a family, and not be a pauper!

When a colleague of mine told me he picked a place for 15 grand last year, I thought he had gone nuts. Who would pay that much and, most importantly, why would you agree for that price and slowly jack up the price for others too? It’s very unfair, but I guess you eventually fall into the very same muck that you hated looking at. These days, you just don’t find a place to stay if you don’t shell out this much.

Who’s the culprit, anyway? I guess it’s a combination of three factors – (1) A growing economy that pumps in more money with people, (2) Cockroaches - I mean, brokers, and (3) Shortage of housing supply.

If you are an economist, is there anyway to arrest these? You wouldn’t want to mess with (1), of course. As for (3), you could reduce interest rates so that the housing sector picks up, but it most certainly can’t match the march of the economic growth. That said, I have a big problem with (3). It’s unfair. I don’t want to shell out 15 grand for a broker that just directed me to a house. It’s a cartel, and a very unfair one. It's the definition of improper market. I’ll be ok with a max of 5 grand, but not this much, especially when I know that they have ALL the incentives to increase the rental rates since it would directly mean more money to their kitty. I can’t think of an immediate solution, but there is one – an internet enabled network for house owners and people seeking accommodation, a la Craigslist which seems to work in most global destinations. Of course, that isn’t happen going to happen any time soon in India what with our internet savvy population (sarcasm directly intended), and I better be looking at a house to buy.

P.S: Had a forceful blogging break coz of the shifting. And I haven’t fixed my internet connection yet.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Catching The Kite Runner

Which is the most awaited film in India this season? I can't think of a better one than The Kite Runner, the movie adaptation of the best selling book from the Afghanistani American Khaled Hosseini. The book was supposed to the third best selling book in 2005.

As those who've read the book would endorse, it's really one of the disturbing books you could read, and a great way to know a little about the Afghan culture. After wetting my hands with a lot of 'knowledge' books, this fiction really did a bit to shake me up.

I just hope that the movie adaptation does justice to the book. Few movie adaptations do achieve the same class as the book (Day of the Jackal, for example), but I guess it's worth a wait. Any other ones to watch out for?

[Picture courtesy: IMDB]

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?

If there is a time in the day I’m sure to get flaming, it’s when I’m driving. I sometimes wonder how so many things can go wrong together when it comes to Indian traffic. I’m told Chennai is far better when it comes to traffic and driving sense than Bangalore and Hyderabad, but that doesn’t make things any better.

How can Indian cities be planned so poorly? Some would argue that our cities have always been there and roads can just not be widened, which is not a bad argument on the face of it, but that does not answer why even newer areas of all Indian cities are so badly choked.

Now, given the fact that roads can only be small, how can anybody [in the Government] take so long to build flyovers to reduce travel time?

It’s understandable that the people representing our Government are not so intelligent (to say the least), but how can so many of them be SO dumb? Let’s take just one example. I cross through a famously choked signal zone called Nandanam Signal in Mount Road (Anna Salai, for hardcore Dravidians) in Chennai. I spend about 20 minutes or whereabouts of it everyday crossing that junction. All other routes are worse off for my destination. Now, Mount Road happens to the largest and the most famous road in the city and this junction has been full of traffic for time immemorial (I would presume). Thousands of vehicles pass each day through this junction, the road can’t be widened, but there can surely be a fly-over to make things better. It’s not just the common people (like us) who suffer because of the jams here. The same dumbos in the Government who are supposed to decide get to travel through these same choked roads and signals. If that doesn’t give them reason enough to make everyone’s life a little better, I don’t know what will.

Coming back to the example, I just put one of the most primitive Return-on-Investment (ROI) models to calculate how much time it would take to recover the cost of the fly-over if one builds it in this signal. I’ve taken very basic assumptions, but the model still says that the money spent can be recovered via benefits in just about 100 days. And the fly-over stays for 30-40 years. Talk about the best returns!

Ok, if you are not able to widen roads or build flyovers, why not make things like Singapore? Tax vehicles like crazy to restrict vehicle purchase, and instead build a great public transport system. I can’t begin to think what the 1 lac car would do to Indian traffic. How can city ‘planners’ in India can’t think of just one of so many models that would work?

I know the Government is supposed to do ROI calculations when it comes to public projects, but whether that happens and whether people who are supposed to do that have-it-in-them to do it is anybody’s guess. For now, I’ll rest the case Good-bye.

Update 1: The parameters considered are too primitive and have only been taken for the sake of simplicity. There are different types of vehicles and different types of fuel. Some put off their engine, and some don't. And some of the problems because of traffic cannot be quantified - such as the number of lives lost because ambulances got stuck etc.

Update 2: Read Jam's take on this issue.

Update 3: Read Arun's take on this issue.

Courtesty: Quote