The sly customer cesses of corporate India

Last Updated : 25 June 2017, 19:39 IST
Last Updated : 25 June 2017, 19:39 IST

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All of us are well aware how all kinds of cesses are added to the taxes we pay, to fund specific social schemes of the government. For example, we have educational cess on our income tax, the Swachh Bharat cess on all service tax transactions along with the Krishi Kalyan cess. Some time ago, an infrastructure cess was also added on the purchase of four wheelers. There is also the Clean Environment cess, which consumers don’t pay directly, but do so indirectly in terms of the rate hike in power tariffs, every time the cess is revised.

Cesses are basically sly tools used by the government to make the public cough up additional resources without protest, because they are levied at very low rates, making them appear like pittance that no citizen can grudge without appearing churlish.

More importantly, the cesses are linked to noble initiatives that are politically correct and therefore cannot be faulted or argued against. Who, for instance, can anyone complain against education, cleanliness, farmer welfare, infrastructure building and clean environment as non-laudable objectives?

Most of us therefore simply accept cesses as a fact of life, an additional expense which we have to bear for a greater cause, especially since it is both the prerogative and responsibility of the government to pursue these objectives.

But why must we allow corporate entities to slyly pass on their expenses to us under the garb of noble objectives? Indeed, companies have hit upon a perfect ruse to make consumers pay for various charges that should actually be borne by them. Take, for instance, the concept of e-statements and bills under the guise of cutting down paper usage and thus saving environment.

Banks, cellular service companies, credit card services, mutual funds, radio cabs etc, coax us into accepting e-statements and e-receipts and shun hard copies. But practically speaking, many of us require hard co­pies for filing or keeping records, accounting purposes, office reimbursements or for simple convenience etc. Various tax authorities also need us to retain physical records for a certain number of years. Soft copies are simply not enough and difficult to maintain.

In the process we, individual customers, end up taking printouts on our own print­ers and very little paper is actually saved. But using the pretext of a noble cause like environment, organisations like banks and cellular companies successfully manage to save huge amounts of money — in generating printouts as well as postage/ courier charges for sending hard copies to lakhs of customers.
Isn’t this a hidden cess of a kind that private companies have levied on us? Assume you have to generate about 10-15 pages of such printouts a month – bank account statements, credit card statements, mobile bill statements, online payment receipts, radio taxi receipts and so on.

This means you spend about Rs 15 — Rs 20 on printouts per month (paper, cartridge, internet costs), which adds up to Rs 180 to Rs 240 annually. In fact, we usually end up spending more, so it is almost like a non-government cess — an amount which is too negligible to make a dent to your pocket or protest against, especially because you are indirectly being made to pay it for an ostensibly noble objective.

Another example of corporate slyness behind the guise of environment protection is the charges being collected for big branded plastic bags in malls and department stores. This is apparently to reduce the use of plastic, which is no doubt a laudable and desirable aim, given the amount of plastic waste clogging our cities.

But the plastic bags that really cause problems are the small, thin micron carry-bags that were used (and still are in many places) by everyone from the neighbourhood kirana shop to the roadside vegetable seller for customers like you and me.

How come then it is the corporate malls and departmental stores which are charging us for much larger bags, rather than these small shops, which either politely express their inability to provide small carry-bags any longer or still manage to furnish them without any charges?

Branded bags
If corporate organisations are so concerned about environment, why don’t they altogether stop providing branded plastic bags instead of charging customers for them? That they don’t do so indicates that it is just another cunning manoeuvre to pass on costs to the customer instead of any real environmental concern or attempt at corporate social responsibility.

So entrenched have these practices become that these are now seen as the norm and customers who may want hard copies of statements/bills are discouraged by companies, by citing charges for the same.

The question is why are the costs of any seller’s basic obligations for customer transactions and service like providing a bill/receipt, account statement, ticket etc, being palmed off to customers surreptitiously, by sending them as e-copies?

Why are these unofficial costs being imposed and given acceptability? This is bad enough with banks, mobile services, credit cards etc, but why must a taxi customer receive a bill/receipt on his email address, rather than an on-the-spot printed receipt? When an airline issues you an e-ticket, why must the onus of a printout be on the customer? After all, hefty online charges are being collected.

Why can’t a copy of the ticket be couriered or provided at the airport counter of the airline? Better still, why not give the customer an option to deduct Rs 5 or Rs 10 from the price of the ticket while booking, if he is prepared to take his own printout? All these might look like petty costs, but isn’t it time we stopped organisations from imposing hidden cesses on us, masquerading as corporate commitment to noble causes?

(Desai is a Pune-based author and film­maker)

Published 25 June 2017, 19:39 IST

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