Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | December 29, 2014 | 2.30 pm IST “Naan aanaiyittaal adhu nadandhu vittaal, ingu yaezhaigal vaedhanaip padamaattaar” croons one of Tamil Nadu’s most famous actor-politician MG Ramachandran from a loudspeaker installed in a scooter as it makes its way amidst the small lanes of 19 villages in Coimbatore district. As the scooter plays this and other such yesteryear melodies in sequence, people gather around the man riding the scooter. “People need to know that I have come. So I play these old Tamil songs,” says K. Durairaj, 56, who provides an innovative service - a mobile electricity bill payment facility in Coimbatore. Over the years, bill payments have become simplified through online access. However, in rural districts where internet access still remains a luxurious use, Durairaj coupled his service idea with his experience of having worked in a lathe workshop for over 40 years to make a mobile, online electricity bill payment facility. Fitting simple extra wooden boxes to house a laptop, a printer and a music player, Durairaj has converted his TVS Excel scooter into a “mobile electricity bill payment utility.” Hopping on this modified scooter he goes around every street of four villages located in the Coimbatore district and pays bills of people using his debit card, taking from them the bill amount and also Rs. 10 extra as service charge. “Internet cafes charge Rs. 20 for this. I charge only half that amount,” Durairaj says. The only other option for customers is to endure long hours standing at the Electricity Board(EB) office to make their payments. The receipt of the cash is immediately acknowledged by a bill that comes from the EB website itself. Durairaj prints the receipt and gives it to the people on the spot. “I lost my mother when was a year old and my father re-married and left me. My mother’s sisters took care of me." A school dropout, at a young age he began working in workshops. “All these years I haven’t been able to find a place for myself in the society. My responsibilities reduced when I got my son and daughter married. It is then that I decided to do something innovative which will be of help to the people.” Paying bills online and printing bills didn’t come naturally for Durairaj who initially didn’t know how to use a laptop. He only got the hang of it after assistance from a friend’s son, working as a college lecturer. “It was very difficult initially; people did not have faith to give money despite issuance of receipt,” said Durairaj about his initial days of struggle in providing this service. If convincing people of his integrity weren’t sufficient enough work, the Electricity Board (EB) made it harder for him when it put out a newspaper report warning people not to pay their bills through middlemen. “I do not know what problem the EB had, but the news item reduced my clients by 20%. It took me some time to get back their confidence.” Even police attempted to threaten Durairaj but since they could not find anything illegal with what he was doing, there was nothing much they could do. Usually, after a bill is issued, people have 20 days to pay it. Durairaj ensured that he spanned out all bill payments throughout the 20 days by visiting customers on the fifth, twelfth and eighteenth day for collection. But considering the mammoth task it involves visiting each house, he would be out on the streets almost every day for four hours each morning and evening. To ensure no payment is missed, he maintains every record scrupulously in his notebook which acts like his database. For someone who initially found it hard initially to convince people, Durairaj now handles payments for around 4,000 power connections out of the total 19,000 connections coming under the four EB offices in the district. His aim is to make sure he covers all the people in the area he covers. Edited by Sameera Ahmed. Tweet   Follow @thenewsminute Read- A man who ferries stranded passengers for free at night in this rural Kerala district A bio-tech engineer from Coimbatore who decided his life's calling was to become a Chocolatier