Posts Tagged 'Awareness'

New Champions of Consumer Rights

With great pleasure I take this opportunity to announce the new champions of consumer rights. 🙂

Pepsi Bottling Plant Fined

Ankit Jain, a lawyer who takes on Pepsi. Ankit had ordered two crates of Pepsi, when he noticed that some of the bottles were only partly filled. That is when he filed a complaint with the consumer court, the Pepsi bottling amount at Noida has been fined. The point as made by Ankit’s petition is: “With the kind of shortage being there in one bottle, the bottling plants must be causing total shortage of lakh litres each day. Considering that the plant fills 10,000 bottles per minute and runs for almost 8-10 hour per day, they must be making lakhs of rupees per day as unlawful gains and causing a corresponding unlawful loss to the consumer.” You can read the interesting accounts of Ankit’s exploits here. It is notable that this lawyer has taken Nirulas (the restaurant chain at Delhi) and State Bank of India to consumer court. May we have more lawyers like him.

ICICI bank fined for Rs. 85,0000-

The second hero of the week is Lt. Col Rajesh Yadav who had a savings account with Delhi branch of ICICI bank. He was erroneously billed by the bank for an amount of Rs 45,623 on a “renewed card” that was never issued to him!! Sounds familiar? Well, consumer panel fined ICICI bank for an amount of Rs. 85, 000/- on grounds of mental agony. Did I hear you muttering, “Serves them right!” 😀

It is true Pepsi and ICICI may not become exemplary companies overnight due to these paltry fines levied on them by consumer court. But I am sure they would think twice and reconsider when faced with another Ankit Jain and Lt. Col. Rajesh Yadav.

P.S: I was really sad when no one responded to my questions in my post Consumer Awareness II. But these two pieces of news cheered me up. It means the voice of consumer is not dead. There is still some hope. Amen! 🙂

Consumer Rights-5 Random Facts

Without a preamble, I will launch into 5 random facts about consumer issues: 🙂

1. Ever thought campaigning against banks that overcharge you in name of penalty charges, watch this interesting video called The Whistle Blowers:

2. Okay, so you have read about several children falling off in main holes, some being killed due to heavy iron gates of colonies falling on them. It is chargeable under consumer courts as negligence of civic authorities and resident welfares since it is their responsibility to maintain main holes and gates. True, you can not bring a child back by filing a case but you can save other children by making these civic bodies sit up.

3. Did you know that you are entitled to refund or change even if the bill for the defective product you purchased has “No guarantee” written over it. The consumer court rules that writing “no guarantee” on bill does not mean anything because bill is provided after a purchase is made. Rather, the seller should make the defect implicitly clear to the purchaser before the latter decides to buy it.

4. How well do you read the fine print when buying a credit card or do you know what to look for in a label while buying a cloth? Even the sales guys at fabric stores are not well aware about the products they are selling. You could start with this awareness.

5. Recent Nokia recall of BL-5C battery is perhaps the first recall that Indian has recognized on such a large scale. In other countries, such recalls are common place. People refer to them when buying a product, first-hand or second-hand. In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) works with the industry to ensure the safety of consumer products. It has toll free numbers where consumers call to report product-related accidents and injuries. CPSC makes it mandatory for the manufactures to report any complaint or information in its knowledge that could jeopardise consumer safety. Failure to do so invites legal action. On the basis of these reports and investigations, CPSC asks the manufacturers to recall the product. In India, we do not have any such body. There is no such product liability law. Can’t we do with them?

Consumer Rights Awareness II

My last post about consumer rights invited a lot of debate and criticism. Some of it justified, it is these justified thoughts I will handle in this post.

The last post was only a build up on consumer rights awareness, I had given an example of an experience that we all face with credit cards. I gave a possible solution that, possibly, we are not aware of. Think of it, we are privileged in the sense we have access to useful information something that is not as easy to someone who lives in rural areas. Most of them are not aware of their consumer rights. (Yes, Right to Information Act has not penetrated yet.)

Let’s take a rural example I read in The Telegraph. India is supposedly agriculture-based countries, yet we witnessed a sad phase of farmer suicides in the recent past. Farmers rarely file cases in consumer courts for their defective seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides, but when they do, it is on priority as it is about their livelihood. Justice was delivered to them by consumer courts in 14 long years! No prizes for guessing that they must have withered away long before justice arrived at their doorstep.

Imagine if Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was well known and well exercised, it would have been implemented as a fast and inexpensive method just as it was envisioned, and then it would have made a hell lot of difference to these farmers. The consumer courts have huge backlogs. Recently Supreme Court ordered the consumer court to award 10, 000/- to each complainant to whom justice was not delivered in the stipulated time of 90 days. (To be honest, I don’t think it worked.) I think it is also not working because people who choose to exercise this right are very few. Very few voices are raised and heard on the issue.

Granted farmers are not going to read this blog, but we can perhaps campaign online about speedy priority-based trials on free web sites such as petition online. There have been some individuals who have raised a voice and set a precedent. Someone won a court case that gave way to the judgment that mental agony faced by the consumer needs to be compensated as well. Thank that individual who laid that precedent for others to reap the benefits. We need more such individuals who set such precedents. Complaining/suing may not stop a company to swindle its consumers but they will think twice to do it next time.

For me, awareness about consumer rights is the first step. There will always be need for new laws, but if we don not exercise the existing ones, we would not be sure what we want in new laws to make them succeed. If we complain we are too busy to campaign, I do not think any new law can help and protect our rights as a consumer.

Jaago Grahak Jaago

Jaago Grahak Jaago

Last but not least, my friend Ramesh, who being a management graduate has a business perspective in mind, shared his candid perspective on the issue. He argues that awareness about consumer rights could be first step in cure of the consumer maladies but where is the protection to these maladies? Why do companies swindle their consumers in the first place—is it money or resource crunch, or our government policies toward these companies? Click Consumer Issues-Other Perspective to read more about what he wrote.

Though the vocal consumer in me did not agree with his viewpoint, but I was forced to think about it. Perhaps he has a point. Few government rebates to companies that meet consumer satisfaction may result in better consumer service.

But then I read about this documentary called The Whistle Blowers at Hindu. It raised a point as said by the documenatry makers: “Our stand is when they can provide zero-pesticide drinks in Europe, why can’t they do it in India when they have the resources.” I refuse to believe that if these companies would provide pesticide-free water in our country, they would cease to make profits.

Accountability to Consumers

Accountability to Consumers?

What do you think? Is it possible to expect accounbtability of the corporates to the consumers?

We Need A Big Change-Consumer Rights

I am back with “We Need a Big Change” series. This time it is, as title suggest, about consumer rights. I will start with a personal grievance.

I was applying for admission in a university for Masters in mass communication and journalism. The envelope that was provided by university, to send my demand draft, was little strange. Instead of having “To” address in the centre of envelope as it usually is, it was on the right while the center place was reserved for writing “From” address that was to be mine. There were only two days to go, I paid for a speed post hoping my application will reach on time. What happened next was something I will never forget. Two days later, to my horror, I discovered that my application had been delivered back by Indian Post to my home address! Welcome to India!

I agree that “From” and “To” column were unusually placed on that envelope, but I expect people employed at postal department to be literate. You can imagine how I would have felt about my application not reaching on time. I added a demand draft for 500/- as late fees (thank god, for that option) and resent.

I was enraged, I went about to ask where I could complain about the negligence of the postal department. After a lot of asking around, I got to know there actually was a division in the postal department to registered complaints. I smugly filed that complaint hoping to get this issue noticed. I thought perhaps I can claim my late fees. That was about four years ago, I have never heard from postal department about it. How naïve I was to expect championing of consumer rights in my motherland! 😦

That was first time I thought there should be a forum for consumers. Good news is, guys, we have such forums—National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and also a respective State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Bad news? Only 43% Indians know about it, only 24% of them know how to use it. 😦

Let’s take an example to prove my point. You get a new credit card, you use it to the fullest. You realize you haven’t yet got the bill. You call the customer care, wait in queue for 30 minutes, remember you are paying for the call. Believe me, I am not exaggerating, I waited for 45 minutes in SBI credit card customer helpline number Some service they have!

After you get in the call with customer care executive, you are told you will be sent your duplicate bill. Yet you don’t get it and finally you have reached your due date. You are asked to pay your late fees, for no fault of your own. What do you do?

  1. You pay up.
  2. You hem and haw and then pay up.
  3. You try to file a complaint with consumer court with insufficient evidence, nothing happens and you pay up . Very rare people file complaint though…
  4. You bargain and den some nice executive waives it off only to find same thing has repeated again next month. This time executive would not waive off your late fees no what how you explain. You pay up to get rid of the hassle.

Did you know that you could have gone to the banking ombudsman appointed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under Banking Ombudsman Scheme 2006 for grievance redressal? I know, like me, you didn’t know about it. You could have done it simply by writing on a plain paper or filing online complaint or by sending an email to the ombudsman.

The credit card companies till date have collected more than Rs 6,000 crore in a decade from customers in India by way of fines and late fee. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has ordered a probe into the fees levied by them. (Information Courtsey, Times of India).

Think of number of people who could benefit by this information about ombudsman. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs did their best to promote awareness by “Jaago Grahak Jaago” campaigns but there is more we citizens collectively can do about it.

Do you have a strategy in mind how to handle at individual level? Do you have some experiences where you could do with advice on consumer rights? Feel free to add them here. It’s time we made sure that consumer is not king only till they buy the product rather their rights should be preserved after they have got the product.

It’s late in the night now but I have a strategy forming in my mind. I would like to share it with you. I will come back with more on this.

Media Campaigning for Development

Media campaigning is one of the reasons that made me want to join media. (I didn’t though, because I had learnt hard way that my body wasn’t able to cope with irregular work hours.)

Few months back, I read this news item in Hindustan Ttimes that said a local NGO had undertaken an initiative to educate villagers. The women who carried cow dung cakes were provided laptops so that they could teach their fellow villagers. I was impressed, I thought it was a beginning. I wanted to be a part of it, I wrote to the reporter whose email address was given at the end of the new copy to learn more about the NGO. But reply never came. 😦

That was the birth of my grouse with media that when they report something good-going, like a ray of light in development, there is not enough information for the reader to pursue and support it. Adding required information such as contact details of the NGO adds authenticity to the news report, this is more so important in the wake of era where case like Uma Khurana are booming aplenty.

I decided to find more such news that is reported in the news and add it on my blog. Here is a brief list:

1. Bal Vikas Bank: A bank that is managed, operated, and utilized by only street children. If you saw the movie Traffic Signal, you would realize how street children are made to part with their hard-earned money by bullies. This bank provides them an safe-keeping option for their money, which of course is not a huge amount yet all they own in the world. And the children who manahe it and keep the accounts should the responsibility with great aplomb. Working children all over the country want to be part of this programme, if you are interested you could contact this NGO here.

2. Salaam Balak Trust (SBT): Organizing walks for various reasons is a rage in the city. You can walk with Pradip Kishen to watch trees of Delhi, you could walk to watch monuments of Delhi in a group, and you can walk with Javed and Salim to watch how street children on New Delhi railwy station survive. Yes it’s true, there is such a walk. Javed and Salim who conduct this walk were street children before they were rescued years ago. The proceeds from it goes to educate the street child, an initiative by SBT. Ashwin Kumar’s internationally aclaimed short movie Little Terrorist’s hero was kid who was rehabilitated by this NGO. You can visit this site here and read more about case studies. Spending 250/- bucks for this walk is also considered good enough by this organization.

3. Sponser an Elderly: There are NGOs where you can pay for the monthly or yearly expenses of an elderly. The amount, as given in the news report, ranged from 7000/- to 24000/- a year. But for the elderly individual, his/her yearly expenses have been taken care of. The newspaper account said that most young were doing this, and the elderly who were sponsered bless them. There were some youngsters who took out time to spend with these elderly citizens to provide them emotional support. I searched and came up with two such organizations, click here and here. Contributing to these organizations also gets you tax rebate. 🙂

4. The Hunger Site/Breast Cancer/Child Health/Lieracy Site/Rain Forest/Animal Rescue: I have known this web site since I was in college. How it works is simple, you just need to click for each of these causes daily, and the sponser of the site will provide a cup of food/book/mammogram per click. So click this link daily. I had learnt of this site from a US news paper when several food packages were distributed in Somalia.

I read about success and case studies of each of these NGOs/organizations in newspapers and magazine. There are more, yet to be tapped. But it is late, I have got to sleep. I will be back with more, I promise.

Hope together we can make a difference!

A Slice of Reservation Pie

My last post about being helpless citizen was about several issues including recent increase in OBC quota. Many who responded to the posts through comments, emails, and phone calls happily ignored rest of the issues (like sex education, religious discrimination at temples, restrictions at workplace) and shared their own opinion on the issue of reservations. Reservation certainly seems to be an issue that struck a firm chord with most of us.

And why would it not be? One of the best colleges of the country, St Stephens reserves 60% seats for various ‘backward’ sections of the society! Sachar Committee submits its report recommending reservations for a ‘minority’ religion. The entire religious community, in turn, marches to Nauchandi Ground of Meerut to strategize how to demand their ‘reservation’ rights! An entire state is victim of bloodshed and brought to standstill because a particular community wanted to be given a backward class status.

Gujjar Protest 1

This forced me to explore this issue in detail.

It seems our politicians are firmest believers to explore the boon of reservations. After 60 years of independence, when we have retained reservations all along, backward classes still remain backward. It would be then safe to conclude that actual benefits and implementation of caste or religion-based reservation policy is debatable.

It is easy to understand why politicians are staunch advocates of these religion and cast-based reservation quota. We, despite being the largest democracy in the world, have not been able to rise about caste and religion-based politics. “Minority appeasement” is a cliché yet predominant element of Indian politics. This is a country where a Supreme Court decision can be revised to appease the sentiments of a particular religion. (Remember Shah bano?)

Our fathers of Constitution did not like the term “minority” and they certainly did not see reservations as solution for so-called “inclusive growth.” The reservation, as observed by them, was to end after 10 years of independence. Visit this blog to read more about it.

Sadly, vote bank-centered politics has not seen a single government that would dare to remove reservations; instead they use this as an election promise. Result: Instead of riding above petty caste-based identities, we strictly hold on to them. More castes and religions want to be called backward classes to gain reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Castes are competing with each other and lobbying with politicians to get the coveted Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Classes (OBC) tag. I thought this was the age of ‘India Shining’ with Sensex crossing 15, 000 mark!

If you think I am exaggerating, think again. Week-long gujjar agitation in Rajasthan under Colonel Kirori Singh Bhainsala has already cost not only 30 lives, but also caused a loss of about 12 crores! Gujjars, who already have OBC status were causing a ‘rights movement’ to get the ST status! Why because their arch competitor caste Meenas have ST status thus have an edge over them when it comes to attaining reserved seats in local legislative bodies. It got resolved temporarily after chief minister promised to consider the request.

Loss of Life and Property during Gujjar Protest

I have a hunch they may come back again. The gujjar leader Col Bhainsala admitted that he made a mistake in calling off the agitation on just being granted meeting with the chief minister. You see, it was a slip of the tongue, he explained to Karan Thapar on his show Devil’s Advocate. This time, if these castes clash, it could be harder to contain them.

I have three important points to make:

1. If the fact that only creamy layers have been benefiting from the reservation is evident for years, then why have we not put all the reservations on the hold till we evolve a strategy to extend benefits of the reservations to the actual down-trodden and backward sections of the society? To make sense of my point, I perhaps first need to define what a creamy layer is. Creamy layers are those fortunate generation of backward classes who have already bore the fruits of reservation while securing coveted positions in institutes or learning and later in coveted government positions. Their children again seek to do the same, the benefits of reservation do not extend to other backward sections. Communities classified under Most Backward Castes (MBCs) such as Bhangis, Dhobis and Khatris have remained untouched by reservations.

Read this post about creamy layer to have a better, realistic perspective you can identify with. However, you can get the factual government perspective of creamy layer, actually a bureaucratic term, at the official web site of National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC).

2. I watched in Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate that our leaders had no idea about the exact population of the backward classes in our country. The government figures about them are contradictory. When we do not know how many people from backward classes we have in our country, how can we decide a percentage of reservation for them?

Read these transcripts of Devil’s Advocate interview with Chidambaram, Arjun Singh, and Kamal Nath where Karan Thapar pointed out irregularities in figures about backward classes as laid out by various government organizations such as NSSO or Mandal Commission. Karan Thapar used these facts with relish to trap his quota-favoring politician interviewees. 🙂

3. Poverty knows no caste. I read in Outlook, there are several Brahmins who eke out their living doing tasks as cleaning toilets, pulling rickshaws, etc. Read this yet another lopsided yet truthful reality about backwardness of so-called upper classes today. So if we have to have reservations, it should not be caste or religion based rather be on actual economic and social backwardness. Caste-based and religion-reservations do and will fuel casteism and feelings of communalism. I remember reading interviews of random college-going kids after Arjun Singh’s announcement of increased reservations for OBCs. One of them said: “These reservations are forcing me to hate my SC/ST peers.” Her implied hatred in the words has stayed with me ever since.

I, like my fellow citizens, am not against upliftment of backward classes, like Arun Shourie, I believe there are several better constructive ways to see them rise. Read his thoughts here on Devil’s Advocate interview, I wish Karan Thapar gave more opportunity to his interviewees to speak. 🙂 Argument that certain classes or religions have been exploited by some so-called upper classes for centuries is not a justification to deprive the meritorious and enflame ill-bred casteist feelings in the name of development. Ever wonder why in Bengal, they call SC “Shonar Kathi” meaning “golden wand” and ST “Shonar Tukdo” meaning “a piece of gold!”

My parting shot, in a country where we reservations for almost everybody including muslims in southern states, our politicians at helm have never been able to pass the women reservation bill! Gender appeasement is not-so-necessary, you see. Interesting, isn’t it?

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