After what has been a couple of weeks mired with controversy, Ringing Bells, can't seem to catch a break. If you have been living under a rock during this time, the company announced the Freedom 251 3G smartphone priced at just Rs. 251 at a gala event in New Delhi presided over by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and other government officials.
Freedom 251 - Cash on Delivery?
While most feared that the company would simply run away with the money and others that its a ponzi scheme, Ringing Bells today has cleared atleast one doubt. They are not asking for money outright. Now, the Freedom 251 will be available through Cash on Delivery. So only if you get a device delivered to your doorstep, you would've to pay for it. The amount remaining the same at Rs. 251 + Rs. 40 shipping charges.
But not all of the nearly 7 crore people are getting the Freedom 251. In the initial batch of registrations, 50 lakh orders will be processed as the company had declared earlier. All those registered orders, based on first-come-first-serve basis will be notified of the shipment.
The first 30,000 orders, already been paid for by the customers amounting to over Rs. 80 lacs, has been parked with the payment gateway in an escrow account and will only be withdrawn when the company can show proof of delivery, was also confirmed.
Moreover, the company has also begun refunding orders for their cheapest 4G LTE capable smartphone, the Smart 101 which costs Rs. 2999. In a mail sent across to buyers, the company has now said that the payment gateway will now refund the amount to the original payment method and the phone will be delivered via cash on delivery method, just like the Freedom 251.
Of Controversies and Rebuttals
The controversy surrounding the Freedom 251 smartphone has mostly been about how would the company manage to keep costs down to such level. Ringing Bells has talked about Economies of Scale, partnerships with App Developers (for pre-loaded apps) and other services to keep the cost down as well as support from the "Make In India" and "Digital India" initiatives.
The launch was presided over by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, even Minister of Defense, Manohar Parrikar was supposed to join him, but couldn't due to the cabinet being in session at the time. The presence of these officials lead many to believe that there would be some government subsidy to help keep the costs down. But that was not the case.
At the launch event, Ashok Chaddha - President, Ringing Bells - had said that the company would be setting up two plants by May 2016 to cater the initial batch of devices. As it turns out, the company now will setup plants within the next 6-8 months with the initial 50 lakh units being imported from Taiwan.
So, instead of getting a 13.8-percent rebate under the "Make In India" initiative, the company would now have to pay 13.5-percent extra per unit as import duty. Making the dream of a Rs. 251 smartphone even more implausible.
Recently we also came to know about another case of fraud registered against Ringing Bells raised by BPO Cyfuture on non-payment of dues. But those reports were quickly quashed by Ashok Chadda saying:
We completely disagree with the facts shared by Cyfuture BPO. Ringing bells were receiving 1000s of complaints directly from the consumers that lot of people were not able to get through the helpline number.We had outsourced this job to Cyfuture BPO. Telecom companies confirmed that the helpline was receiving a volume of approx 12 lakh calls per hour. It came to our knowledge that the BPO company were not able to handle the traffic. We are looking into the situation to serve our customers better
Of all the things going against the company since the announcement of Freedom 251, the worst has been the lack of consistency in communication with the media and public in general. They have gone back on every word, making everyone feel a bit skeptical about the brand and its leadership. These controversies would have far reaching implications, not just for Ringing Bells but for brand India.
With all the money being spent to promote "Make In India", "Digital India" initiatives, the back and forth by the company, then their association with these initiatives being brought into question, are just tarnishing our reputation. If the Freedom 251 never sees the light of day, it wouldn't be a monetary loss to customers but a mockery of our production capabilities, leadership, just like with the Aakash Tablet project.
Update (07/07/2016): Final Retail variant of Freedom 251
Via: The Hindu