Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela
Consumer protection is a luxuryB.Vaidyanathan
The bitter truth about the consumer movement in this country is that the government, managed by its clueless bureaucracy and headed by uncommitted politicians is definitely not what it should have been, after all the initiatives that were taken during the 80s, 90s and the beginning of this century. One of the major reason is the consumer groups themselves, who are by and large happy with being some office-bearer or having the access to the government or its goodies. In spite of this, a visionary like late P.V.Narasimha Rao, who was instrumental in liberalising the Indian economy and introducing an apolitical Manmohan Singh to the Indian political leadership, had the time and commitment to participate in one of the Central Consumer Protection Council meetings in 1990 (“The success of the economy depended on the consumer movement.” – P.V.Narasimha Rao, at the inauguration of the X CCPC Meeting), at New Delhi and yet another consumer conclave, organised at his clearance, yet again in New Delhi, in 1994 (“It is not the job of the government to sustain the consumer movement – movements will have to be sustained by the people.”– P.V.Narasimha Rao).
It is seven decades since we are governing ourselves. But why our country resembles a banana republic quite often? Those in power never seem to realise that they are accountable to the people – the tax payer, because of whose contribution the country is kept alive and kicking. Otherwise, how anyone can justify the total inaction and indifference when the Consumer Protection Rules were amended in 2006, to castrate the consumer movement, which was already on its crutches. It is understood that the then Union Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection, felt embarrassed that ordinary consumer activists were questioning the government actions/inactions and hence wanted to put an end to the elaborate Central Consumer Protection Council meetings. Thus, without any consultation or deliberation with the consumer groups, the Rules were amended without much publicity. This instance amply demonstrates how well the bureaucracy can dance to the tunes of the political class without any inhibition, thereby even subverting the purpose for which the Department exists, at the cost of the taxpayers’ contribution.
In a banana republic, powerful corporates, military and the rich are supposed to call the shots, thereby making the life of the underprivileged all the more difficult and challenging.
Is it not something similar happening in our country? Is it not those with the muscle power (In Feb. 16, jat quota protests in Haryana, not only crippled that State, but affected the national capital as well.), manpower (During Jan.-Feb. 16, the entire state administration of Tamilnadu, went into a tailspin, as the well paid government employees went on strike, demanding more and more.), or financial power (Well catered Bank employees resort to strikes and arm twisting tactics, at the drop of the hat.), resort to such blackmailing and domination so as to get done what they want?
Though the country is performing well in various fields of scientific, industrial and economic growth, the major area of concern is the near indifference of the political class and their lack of accountability. Ironically, in our country, the accountability appear to stop with the ruling party politicians alone. Whereas, in a multiparty democracy, there are umpteen parties outside than the ones which is entrusted with the governance. As long as this anomaly is not addressed, those in the opposition benches are likely to go scot free after contributing successfully to obstacles for better governance. When you super impose this on the clueless bureaucracy, many of whom are hardly equipped to tackle the issues thrown at them with sincerity, what results is disaster of humungous proportions. To add to all these is their high-handed behaviour, as though they are from the heaven and are incapable of doing anything wrong! This tragedy is sustained due to the tolerant and ‘sub chalta hai’ attitude of majority of our people who are totally ingrained with ‘dharma, ahimsa, bhagwan dekhega’ attitude.
These days, Consumer Protection, as an issue is hardly discussed, though highlighting of individual consumer issues/resident problems are regularly seen in the print and electronic media. The biggest saviour of the common man is technology, especially the Information Technology, because of which right from railway reservation to payment of municipal taxes, have become more transparent and the middle man has been eliminated. The online shopping, ever increasing competition have all come to the rescue of the consumer, in spite of the mindless bureaucracy and an indifferent political class. Anyhow, the electronic media, though without much expertise, have been able to highlight consumer problems, and many a times the indifferent government is being induced into action, as a fire fighting department will do. Systemic initiatives getting substituted by TRP driven media. What a colossal injustice? After all, consumers and consumer activists should not expect anything better in an administration which is more tuned to crisis management, and whose sensitivities are dictated by muscle, man and financial power.
(The author is the Chief Mentor, Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela)