Why the Whopping Electricity Bills!?

Electricity bills

During the recent corona virus lockdown, other than the ginormous issue of the pandemic itself, one of the issues that bogged down many people in India was the issue of high electricity bills. The common reason given by electricity supply companies unanimously was that people were home during the lockdown, hence there was a rise in consumption and hence a hike in the bill. Now if the bill was slightly higher, that was acceptable. We received a bill that was almost 5 times our average bill. Here is my theory on why everybody received such high electricity bills.

Higher electricity bills can be attributed to 3 reasons:

  • Higher usage during lockdown
  • Error in billing
  • Bill Calculation Method

Higher usage during lockdown was the default reason given. While I don’t rule that out completely as a possibility, but the bill being exponentially higher makes this reason less likely.

Error in billing is also a possibility, but how could the billing error happen to a majority of folks all of a sudden.

So here is what I think was the most likely reason for the high bills – Bill calculation methodology.

I will show you an example where the same amount of unit consumption for two months, calculated separately costs much lower than the bill calculated combined for the two months.

Basically, for every bill charges are calculated based on units of consumption. Let us say your average energy consumption is 150 units.

Assuming you are charged (hypothetical rates for ease of calculation):

  • Rs 5 per unit until you reach 100 units
  • Rs 10 per unit until you reach 200 units
  • Rs 15 per unit until you reach 300 units

 

Method 1 – Meter reading performed each month separately

Unit * Cost

100 * 5 = 500 Rs
50 * 10 = 500 Rs

For 2 months (with separate readings), total = 2000 Rs (1000 * 2)

 

Method 2 – Meter reading performed combined for 2 months

Unit * Cost

100 * 5 = 500
100 * 10 = 1000
100 * 15 = 1500

For 2 months (with single combined reading), total = 3000 Rs

As you can see above, the same 300 units consumed have a different bill when calculated separately versus when calculated combined. The second method resulted in a 50% hike in the bill.

And that is how I decoded the mystery behind the astronomical electricity bills during lockdown.

Mother Nature at her Best

We are seeing numerous articles these days about how Mother Nature is healing amidst the lockdown. The air is cleaner, the birds are chirping louder and many animals are out and about wandering curiously. It is wonderful to see that the Holy Ganga has self cleaned itself faster and better than what we humans have tried for years.

A little birdie has made a beautiful nest in one of our flower plants. I just figured out that the bird is a Bulbul. It is amazing to see how these little birds build such safe and cozy homes for their little ones.

 

And then there are these bees who have been living on the Curry Patta tree for months now. Initially I used to be afraid to go near them and was looking at ways to drive them away. But over time I realized that they were harmless. The pollution and urbanization in cities is threatening the bees, so the least I could do is to let them stay.

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My love for nature can be attributed to my upbringing. I grew up in a jungle-like green campus with tall dense trees, with monkeys and deers for company. While I always admired greenery, I barely made any contribution to it previously.

My mother has played a big part in transforming me here. For 10 years in Silicon Valley, my mornings started and ended with my laptop. When I moved back to India, watering all the plants in our big garden everyday seemed like a chore.

Then my mother showed me little treasures hidden in the garden. And along with learning to love working in the garden, I learnt an important management lesson on how to motivate your employees.

Here are some hidden treasures from our garden:

Bramha kamal – A flower that blooms in the night only once a year

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A single 5 petaled flower among all 4 petaled ones, can you find it below?

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Here are some of the beautiful flowers from our garden

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Slowly as time passed, I got hooked to this magical green wonderland. Today I love spending time in the garden and doing my little bit towards conserving nature. The happiness I feel is immense. I have realized that when you give a little to nature, you receive joy many times over.

Women’s Safety – The Daily Struggles

caution

I have spent almost half of my life living on my own, away from home. During college years, in a hostel and during work life in 4 different countries. Safety was always an important concern all along. As a woman, I did face my share of troubles and problems. I dealt with them either by learning to live with them or addressing them head on. In hindsight, I wish I had been more bold and dealt with more problems head on. Here is one unique challenge I am facing at the moment and want to know how you would deal with it.

The back door of our house faces a public road. We leave it open sometimes for cross ventilation. There is a compound wall 4 feet high between the road and our house. From the outside, anyone on the road can see our kitchen. About hundred people pass by everyday but nobody bothers looking.

One evening, I had tea with my mother and realized that someone was peeping into our kitchen. Initially, I ignored but after a while I realized that this person was still there looking inside for about five minutes. This person is a man who walks his dog and passes by our house multiple times a day. This peeping activity continued for a few days and began irritating me.

One morning, I was furious when I saw this person loitering around home and peeping inside. I began recording his activity on phone.

He looked at me and commented, “Kitna Gussa”

So I spoke directly to him and asked, “What are you seeing inside our house?”

“No, no madam. I am not that kind of a person. Everyone knows me here”, he said and continued with “I live very close by. I am just walking my dog.”

I said, “I know, I have seen you walk your dog for the past two years now. But I saw you standing in front of our door and peeping into our house”

“No madam, I am not that type. I help out in the neighborhood. I have been living here since many years”

I simply said “Okay” and didn’t extend our conversation. For the next few days, this person stopped loitering around home.

But a few more days later, everything was back to square one. It was obvious that this person on the pretext of walking his dog, spent time peeping inside other’s homes.

Mom and I do feel bothered, but she chooses to ignore such things. Her philosophy is that there are many dogs barking on the street, don’t we ignore them. So I did learn to ignore too for a few months. But when one walks the dog five times a day and loudly screams “chee-chee” on purpose, it becomes a little difficult to ignore.

Today evening, I heard him and saw him again peeping inside our house for a few minutes. I lost my temper. I went to collect the dried clothes from outside and spoke out loud enough for him to hear, “How indecent can a person be. In the pretext of walking ones dog, one just wants to trouble others”

My mother asked me not to waste my energy on such people. “Don’t argue with such uncivilized people. You are just wasting your energy. Such uneducated people think they are perfect and will never understand what you are saying. Don’t give them any importance. He will say that it is a public road and he is not doing anything wrong”

I realize where my mother is coming from and transforming some stranger is not my intention. But when someone keeps peeping into our house everyday, it feels annoying and unsafe. I have often wondered how he would feel if I passed by his house 5 times a day and kept peeping inside his house.

How would you have dealt with such daily annoyance? Let me know.

PIN Code issues in Indian Passport Application

The Indian Passport Office has come up with numerous improvements over the years. I remember the first time my passport was issued in Chennai in the year 2000. The paperwork and processing took humongous amount of time and effort for my father and me. The renewal came up ten years later in 2010, when I was in California. The process was relatively simpler. All I had to do was upload a few documents and take a day off work to visit the Consulate in San Francisco, which was about 40 miles away. My renewed passport was sent home in a few days. After my parents shifted to Belgaum permanently, they had to visit Hubli to get their passport renewed. I was happy when I heard the news that Belgaum was getting it’s own passport service centre. My passport is due for renewal now in 2020. I looked up the process on the website and it seemed pretty straight forward. I assumed that the renewal would be done in a jiffy, but little did I anticipate the surprise in store.

I have been struggling with the PIN code entry in my online application. The PIN code for my address in Nanawadi, Belgaum is 590009.  It has always been so, for the past 25 years and I have the same PIN code on all my IDs – Aadhar card, PAN card, Voter ID and my old Passport too. Now all of a sudden, the passport application software just wont accept 590009 as my pin code for my passport renewal. The error below shows up.

PPError

 

As a Software Engineer, it is obvious to me that the PIN code in the Passport Application software is tied to the Police station for Police verification. This particular validation check I assume is written so that the application is automatically assigned the appropriate Police Station. My assumption is further validated from the report here: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/Passport-software-tweaked-to-match-police-station-with-applicant/articleshow/46256925.cms. So far, so good.

But then, the software needs to include all the PIN codes that come under the jurisdiction of a particular Police station and not just a subset. In my case, the software only takes 590006 as a valid PIN code and does not allow 590009. And while I could use an incorrect PIN code to get my passport application through, I will have to bear the incorrect PIN on my passport for the next 10 years. Passport is the only ID proof accepted internationally, especially when we travel abroad. PIN code is an important part of our address. In the US, I remember using PIN code for banking transactions, at the Gas stations, for credit cards and for various documents requiring Address authentication. So entering an incorrect PIN code is just not right nor acceptable to me.

So here is what I did about it:

  • I first raised a Grievance explaining the entire issue via the Grievance/ Feedback form on the Passport Seva website.
    Response Received: Please contact call centre 1800 258 1800 / visit our website for documents requirement

From their response it seemed like they had not even read my issue. Calling 1800-258-1800, yielded no response.

  • Then, I raised another grievance via pgportal MEAPD/E/2019/04342
    Response Received: As informed by the Service Provider the PIN code 590009 can be entered. However, you can bring it to the notice of the respective PSK/POPSK in writing to make necessary changes on the date of your application.

This is not true, 590009 cannot be entered. So again, they had not even bothered to read about my problem.

  • I then escalated and sent an email to jscpo@mea.gov.in and rpo.bangalore@mea.gov.in
    Response Received: Applicant may contact to the customer care Toll Free No. 1800-258-1800

Escalation wasn’t useful at all as even they did not bother to read my email. Calling 1800-258-1800, again yielded no response.

  • I finally went to the Passport office in Belgaum and asked the staff there.
    Response Received: Enter 590006(which is not my PIN code). When I told that it wasn’t the right PIN code, I was told it doesn’t matter.

On further Googling this error, I realized that many people are affected by the incorrect PIN code problem in the Passport software. Here are a select few online discussions I found:

Wondering if the tweak in software to improve processing time for Police verification is causing other side effects resulting in passports with incorrect PIN codes? Incorrect PIN code mismatch can cause serious issues to the future of many people, including visa issues.

This post is written with the only hope that someone in the MEA department in Government of India understands the root cause of the issue and takes the right action of fixing the Passport Application Software.

Multi City Web Platform

When we developed belgauminfo.com, we realized that such a platform if available for other cities, would be beneficial for them as well.

The Government of India has identified 100 cities to be developed under the Smart City program. While some cities have more dedicated resources focused on the city development, there are smaller cities in the list(Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities) that need additional help.

We have generated a software that simply automates the process of replicating the city web platform for multiple cities. The advantage of this is drastic reduction in time, effort and cost. In addition, the web platform provides automatic hosting, support for multilingual content as well as chatbot support.

Take a look at the demo here: