Citizens' Issues
Public Interest Exclusive
On World Consumer Rights Day, activists say “Jago Sarkar Jago”

Consumer forums, which are the first step of grievance redressal, are under tremendous pressure. On one side they have lot of cases to deal, while on the other hand there inadequate resources. State governments should address these issues immediately

Inflated electricity bills, difficulty in getting an LPG connection, fleeced by insurance, agents, are few of the many issues faced by consumers in India. While the government seems to be little concerned, activists and consumer organisations continue the fight for consumer rights. Today, 15th March, is celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day. This year the theme is Our Money, Our Rights. Moneylife, which itself advocates financial literacy through Moneylife Foundation, brings you the overall issues concerning the consumer protection and what activists demand from the government and the regulators.

Pritee Shah, chief general manger, Consumer Education and Research Centre  (CERC) and Editor of Insight , a consumer magazine, says, “We are fighting for a separate legislation to protect consumers of financial products and services. Many a times these products/service have fine prints, which are either not understandable or confusing, thus giving companies a free hand to escape liability. A separate law will take care of such things. Misleading financial advertisement is a least supervised area. There are ads endorsed by celebrities to buy insurance policies in ten minutes. This is pure misleading.”

She adds, “To address the overall issues of consumer protection, a National Consumer Protection Policy is required.”

Experts demand that class action should be used to wake up the sleeping regulators.   
“We want to address the “class action” that affects a large number of consumers and bring about proper systems that would ensure that these are tackled. There are enough laws but enforcement is a big problem. Unless we have effective action, the confidence of the consumer is lost,” says Somasekhar VK, founder patron of Coordinated Action of Consumer & Voluntary Organizations of Karnataka and managing trustee, Grahak Shakti.

Talking specifically on consumer rights in the financial sector, he says, “In the financial sector, banking, financial services and investor protection are pedestrian and consumers have major problems. At present the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as a monolith regulator is unable to do much for the consumer, though the establishment of an ombudsman was thought to be a good idea but unfortunately the people posted being from the banking sector as an opportunity for retired officials rehabilitation is affecting the functioning and has not gone well to address real grievances in a systematic way.”

According to Mr Somasekhar, to effectively resolve complaints of the Public Distribution System (PDS), the consumer affairs department should be separated from the food civil supplies department as it already overloaded and is unable to concentrate and give proper attention. He also wants changes in the 30-day time clause for goods & services as it lacks clarity, unfair trade practices should be expanded and made a cognizable offence and the recruitment at the consumer forums should also be streamlined.

Rajyalakshmi Rao, former president of National Consumer Dispute Regulation Commission, stresses upon the need to improve the budgetary allocation for consumer forums and inclusion of telecom complaints. “Class action has helped in many cases. Today, the biggest apathy is the attitude of the government. Consumer forums, which are the first step of grievance redressal, are under tremendous pressure. On one side they have lot of cases to deal, while on the other hand there inadequate resources. They work on low salaries. The state governments should address these issues immediately. Contrary to popular opinion, consumer forums have an impeccable record of 90.55% disposal of cases.”

She adds that, “A Supreme Court ruling has excluded telecom complaints from the ambit of Consumer Protection Act. It serves against the interest of consumer, especially from two and three tier cities. The Act should be amended accordingly to deal with such cases.”

Achintya Mukherjee, secretary, Bombay Telephone Users’ Association (BTUA), says that the biggest problem is to get different consumer organisations together to attack broader issues. “The general apathy of citizens and consumers is due to the lack of mobilisation of consumer organisations and poor participation of the consumers. They work with a limited view that does not go by the action which will make a major impact. Consumers approach organisations only when they have a problem. Once it is solved, they are not even bothered to help these voluntary organisations struggling for funds.”

Mr Mukherjee, referring his personal experience of participating in policy decision, explains, “Often in policy making, public opinion in asked through floating of a consultation paper. This process is itself questionable. For instance, TRAI’s papers are often dressed up in such a language that it fails to address the real consumer issue and is limited up to want the regulator wants. They are confusing. Many a times they do not bother to include a counter view or views which are critical.”

BTUA wants a concrete grievance redressal mechanism, transparency in consultation paper and its process, a telecom ombudsman with a counsel supervising its works and more benches of Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in metros like Mumbai and Bangalore.

The list of demand would be endless. Considering this, it would be better to say “Jago Sarkar Jago” instead of “Jago Grahak Jago”.


Fix a per litre diesel subsidy to reduce bill says Economic Survey

The pre-Budget Economic Survey said for diesel a possible intermediate step is to fix a per litre subsidy from the government

New Delhi: Advocating raising fuel price with rise in input cost, the pre-Budget Economic Survey has asked the government to pay a fixed amount per litre as diesel subsidy so as to cut subsidy outgo, reports PTI.

"For diesel, where even the rudimentary first step for freeing prices has not yet occurred, a possible intermediate step is to fix a per litre subsidy from the government," said the Survey that sets context for the Budget to be presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Friday.

"In other words, for every litre of diesel sold by an oil-marketing company, the government will give a fixed subsidy of a certain number of rupees," it said.

The Survey advocated shifting the burden of higher international oil prices to consumers to not just limit government's subsidy bill but also curb diesel consumption.

Currently, the finance ministry meets about half of the revenue that state-owned oil firms lose on selling diesel, domestic LPG and kerosene at government-controlled rates. It provided Rs41,000 crore fuel subsidy in 2010-11. This fiscal, the oil firms are projected to lose over Rs1.37 lakh crore in revenue.

"If the price of crude rises, with the subsidy per litre fixed, the consumer's price will rise and so the signal to save on the use of diesel will be transmitted," it said.

The Survey said it was possible to make this system more sophisticated by requiring that the per-litre subsidy be raised if the price rises too high, in order to cushion the consumer.

"What is important is that the subsidy should be pre-specified so that, thereafter, government stays fully out of the picture.


Economic Survey calls for ruthless crackdown on corruption

Amidst civil society seeking an anti-graft ombudsman in Lokpal, the pre-Budget Economic Survey has warned that the fear of a large and cumbersome anti-corruption bureaucracy can be detrimental to risk taking and may hamper legitimate activities in public institutions

New Delhi: Calling for ruthless crackdown on corruption, the government's pre-Budget Economic Survey however warned that a large and cumbersome anti-corruption bureaucracy could impact decision-making process, reports PTI.

"While we need to ruthlessly crack down on corruption, it must, at the same time, be recognised that the fear of a large and cumbersome anti-corruption bureaucracy can be detrimental to risk taking and may hamper legitimate activities in public institutions," said the Economic Survey 2011-12, which was tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

Citing a research paper by A Banerjee, S Cole and E Duflo on the Indian banking sector, it noted that the fear of prosecution for corruption resulted in reduced lending in an affected branch of a public sector banks as well as in neighbouring branches for around two years.

"In essence, smart policy design needs to be distinguished from mere procedural tightening and bureaucratic expansion, since the latter, if not properly thought out, can increase inefficiencies and wastage in public expenditure and service delivery," the document said.

The observation comes amidst civil society seeking an anti-graft ombudsman, Lokpal, covering all central and state government employees, judiciary and having investigating and prosecution powers.

The Congress-led UPA government had been against a single body idea as it feels it would need a huge workforce.

Again citing a research paper by O Bandiera and A Prat titled 'Active and Passive Waste in Government Spending: Evidence from Policy Experiment', the survey said that corruption and poor governance have been major problems in many countries.


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