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No More of Queue Sera Sera

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February 2004
No More of Queue  Sera Sera

IT and privatization has changed, and continues to change, the very landscape of consumer experiences from draconian to modern ? at lightning speeds.

By SIDDHARTH SRIVASTAVA

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India was a land of queues. Now, technology accompanied by dollops of privatization, has practically driven them to extinction.

What is phenomenal is the dizzying speed at which it is happening. Even as the unsavory memories of ever winding queues are fresh upon most Indians, the actual experience is well on its way to being history.

Although no statistical evidence exists, the amount of time spent in queues by our parents and grandparents, in their lifetimes, must be astounding.

Consider the payment of electricity bills --- there used to be a queue to get in the queue. That is, the actual queue to pay the bill was so long that there were private agencies and individuals who took it upon themselves to pay the bills. But, there were so many people who patronized the agencies that the queues here were longer than the real queue.

This is no joke. Until recently (in most places less than a year), some member of the family took a day off from work to pay the electricity bill. The lucky ones were able to delegate to aging, retired and often ill grandparents. But, it was a sorry sight. Similar was the situation with paying telephone bills.

The problem was the monopoly status of the government in dispensing these services. Further, any reneging or delay in payment led to the same slothful public sector employees to take on unmatched speed and skill in disconnecting the services. Harassment to make money was their motto.

Then Internet savvy private banks came to the fore. Both telephone and electricity bills can now be paid online. A click on the Bill Payment section from the comfort of home or office computer takes care of a host of services?credit cards, electricity, loan premiums, cell phone bills, to name some. The queues have disappeared and the process takes a few minutes.

Private foreign and Indian banks have further contributed their mite to reducing queues?ATMs, online requests for drafts and fixed deposits have made the process of endless waiting for the cashier or manager at an unfriendly public bank a matter of the past. Online share trading, with several banks acting as brokers, is catching on.

The Internet has also resulted in the elimination of several other queues. Train reservation, another long drawn out affair, is now an online process. So is the payment of taxes, booking of cinema tickets, each at some time or the other contributing to the ever increasing statistic of more and more Indians waiting unendingly for their turn.

The filing of tax returns too had engendered an army of touts and agents who took turns to stand in line for a commission. Now the form can be downloaded and submitted online. Another queue has been nipped at the bud.

Not too long ago a telephone connection was the exclusive domain of the bureaucrat and the politician who doled out favors like feudal lords. The waiting period was years and the list more than a million. There were even reports of women sleeping with politicians to avail of personal telephone facilities.

The advent of private players has meant that the public sector employees have finally been jolted by fears of Voluntary Retirement Schemes (VRS) and redundancy. The customer service has never been better; as a matter of fact often better than even the private players who are driven only by money.

Privatization has also meant that now cellular phones can be afforded by anybody above poverty line. The customer is the real king.

One more example in this sector is the phone directory service?earlier one waited and waited for the operator only to be rudely told off. Now, the ladies are sweeter than honey.

Analysis has shown that the government employees are reacting positively to the challenge of competition and in several cases doing quite well; they even call to enquire whether a complaint has been attended to.

Similar has been the case for cars, LPG (?) and airline tickets that are available over the counter or the telephone or online. A few years ago there were special government quotas to book cars and many a senior government official prided on having cars released for relatives. The only planes one could use belonged to Indian Airlines, who took their own sweet time to fly and sometimes did not. LPG was delivered by whims. Food for

the family be damned.

However, problems still fester. Driving licenses and passports are still a hassle. Due to availability of so many cars through easy loan schemes, traffic has become a nightmare and Indians now find themselves facing the brunt of traffic queues as roads, the key infrastructure area still leave a lot to be desired.

The airports too are in a state of decline with immigration and custom clearance still a long drawn out process. Power is the monopoly of the government in most of India making irregular and often non-existent supply of electricity a bane for citizens.


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