Calling the widely publicised helpline 155333 can cost you anywhere between Rs. 1 to Rs. 2 per minute

Next time it rains heavily and the locality is plunged into uncertain blackout; or when there is a conductor snap and you want to be the Good Samaritan to inform the authorities concerned; think twice before frantically ringing the Central Power Distribution Company Limited’s (CPDCL) 24-hour emergency helpline.

For, what looks like an innocuous toll-free number is, in fact, not one! Your call to the widely publicised helpline 155333 could cost you anywhere between Rs. 1 to Rs. 2 per minute! One might even have to shell out more than what one pays for ordinary calls to other mobiles.

What’s more, some connections don’t even recognise the helpline as valid number! While the CPDCL has never claimed that the number was toll-free, the same has been the general assumption since most such numbers used by public utilities are not priced.

“I had been assuming that it was a toll-free number as long as I made the calls from my landline. There was a time when my landline was dead, and I had to call from my mobile. The call was not even received, but my Airtel connection showed that my balance was down by Rs.2 for the call,” said Swapna, a consumer from Kothapet.

This was much more than it would have cost her had she called the local fuse-off call centre, since she was on a package that charged only 30 paise per call to a mobile connection.

The price varies from connection to connection, as the calls to the Emergency Control Room (ECR) are charged on a par with the calls to the landlines.

Pricing is, however, for connections that can access the helpline in the first place. A few mobile connections such as Aircel and Tata Docomo do not even identify the number as a valid one. Calling from the Tata landline, too, would yield a blank.

“Whenever I tried from my Tata Docomo number, I would hear a voice message saying that the number was invalid, forcing me to presume that the number worked only from landlines. But the result was the same even when I tried from my office which had a Tata landline,” said M. Srinivasa Rao, another consumer.

Officials have no clue

Interestingly, most CPDCL officials have no clue about the issue. When contacted, General Manager (IT) V. Sivaji, who looks after the modernisation of the Emergency Control Room, said he was not aware of the number’s inaccessibility to a few connections.

Even SCADA officials said they had received no complaint about the problem.

“Perhaps, BSNL which provided us the number had issues with Tata and Aircel, hence the problem in connectivity. But this is not in our purview,” a divisional level official brushed off.

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