Facing an FIR and defamation suit amid deepening mystery and now senior government officials raising serious questions over "Freedom 251" smartphone, its makers on Friday announced "cash on delivery" (COD) facility for those who have placed the order for the world's cheapest smartphone.
In a statement released here, Ringing Bells president Ashok Chadha announced that the Rs.251 (less than $4) "Freedom 251" smartphone customers will now be required to make payment only when the smartphone is delivered to them.
"The company has decided that we will, henceforth, offer 'cash on delivery' mode of payments for those who have placed an order for the 'Freedom 251' smartphone. This will ensure further transparency and clear any misgivings," Chadha added.
The company plans to give 25 lakh handsets in the first phase before June 30. It received 30,000 orders on the first day and rest of the customers will be selected via first-come-first-serve basis as it received a mammoth over seven crore registrations.
"The rider that there will be one smartphone per unique customer ID is to ensure that the phone reaches all individuals," he added. Earlier on Friday, Congress MP Pramod Tiwari said the scheme of giving smartphones at Rs.251 was the "biggest scam of the millennium" during the BJP regime.
He demanded the money which had been received by the company should be kept secure. Tiwari said in the Rajya Sabha that the government needs to clear the facts about the "fraudulent 'Freedom 251' phones".
The Noida-based startup claimed to have tied up with the payment gateway provider PayUbiz so that it receives payment only on the submission of proof of delivery (POD) to the payment gateway.
"The company's decision to switch to the 'cash on delivery' payment method further obviates any doubts expressed by any quarter regarding the transparency of the company," Chadha pointed out.
Reacting to allegations that Ringing Bells has nothing to do with "Make in India" or "Digital India" initiatives, the official said the firm has clearly developed its business plan in sync with the government initiatives to promote those plans, including the "Startup India" initiative.
"Our humble beginning to provide a high-tech gadget that will benefit all in the hinterlands and bridge the huge gap that clearly exists between the metros and semi-urban/rural areas is in keeping with the government's initiatives," Chadha pointed out.
On the preparedness of Ringing Bells as to whether it can provide a phone for Rs.251 or not or whether it will have the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) certificate, he assured that there will be no breach of trust.
Earlier in the day, set to file an FIR against Ringing Bells, another Noida-based data centre and BPO Cyfuture, met a senior police official and was deliberating on filing a defamation suit too.
According to Anuj Bairathi, Cyfuture founder and CEO, they met Vishwajeet Srivastava, Gautam Budh Nagar Superintendent of Police (crime branch), who looked into the matter and assured them a suitable course of action.
"After deciding to file an FIR for fraud and non-payment of dues, we are now thinking to file a defamation suit against Ringing Bells as their allegation of non-performance has tarnished our image," Bairathi told IANS.
Reacting to this, Chadha said the company categorically disagrees with the facts shared by Cyfuture. "We outsourced our customer care to Cyfuture in the faith that they clearly know this area as it was claimed by them as their expertise.
Ringing Bells began receiving thousands of complaints reporting that they were not able get through to the helpline number," Chadha wrote in the latest statement. "Telecom companies have confirmed that the helpline was receiving a volume of approximately 12 lakh calls per hour," he added.
Bairathi, however, had another version to share. "Just a week before 'Freedom 251' launch this month, we were told that the company is going to do a 'dhamaka' and need 100 people to handle customer calls.
But that they are going to launch a dirt cheap smartphone which will attract an unprecedented response was not conveyed to us at all as this exercise would have had needed at least 2,000 people," he added.
Bairathi, whose BPO has 10 offices across the country with 1,500 employees, agreed to sign the contract after several rounds of discussion and meetings but is now repenting his decision. "I have 100 kids here who were specifically hired to take customer calls for Ringing Bells.
We were assured weekly payment within the contract stating a minimum lock-in period of one year and no termination before a year. What am I going to tell those 100 employees?" he said, talking to IANS.
Taking the world by surprise, Ringing Bells launched "Freedom 251" smartphone that, it said, has been developed "with immense support" from the government.
As the makers of the smartphone went gaga over being part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" and "Digital India" initiatives in last few days, a top government official clarified on Thursday that the government has nothing to do with "Freedom 251" smartphone.
"This is not a government project. 'Make in India' team has nothing to do with this," wrote Amitabh Kant, secretary of department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), in a Twitter post.