Consumer Protection : Who Cares?

Consumer groups wait for netas to find ‘right time’

JEHANGIR B GAI

     India was the first country to enact the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). This historic legislation received the President of India’s assent on December 24, 1986. The enactment will complete 25 years this year.
To celebrate the silver jubilee of this enactment, the department of consumer affairs (DCA), Government of India, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), had announced that a commemorative national seminar would be held for two days on December 22 and 23. The theme of the seminar was “Consumer Protection In India: The Way Forward”.
It was made clear that those consumer activists and voluntary consumer organizations who wished to participate would have to make their own arrangements for travel and stay in Delhi and bear the expenses for attending the seminar. The deadlines for the event were fixed. Registration form for participation would have to be submitted by August 31. Intimation of acceptance of participation would be communicated by September 30.

       Confirmation of participation was communicated via email on October 10. The e-mail stated that the detailed programme of the seminar would be intimated in the first week of November. Several activists across the country made their travel and stay arrangements.

     As no further communication was received, telephonic inquires were made. Activists were informed that the person who would inaugurate the seminar was yet to be finalized and thereafter the detailed programme would be e-mailed. Now, with barely ten days to go for the seminar, consumer activists made frantic calls to the IIPA, only to be told that the DCA is yet to confirm who would inaugurate the seminar. Rajiv Agarwal, secretary in the DCA, when contacted, claimed he was unaware of the details and directed the activists to G N Sreekumaran, joint secretary.

     The facts which emerged were that the President of India had been approached to inaugurate the seminar. She took a month and a half to intimate that she would be unable to do so. The Prime Minster was then approached, who took a month to intimate that he too would not be able to inaugurate the seminar. At present, the finance minister had been approached, who has not responded so far.

       Activists demanded that they must be informed in advance so that they can cancel their reservations, if necessary. “If cancellation is done in advance, we get some refund, but if it is done at the eleventh hour we lose our entire money”. However, Sreekumaran merely stated: “If the finance minister agrees to inaugurate the seminar, it will be held; otherwise it will be postponed, perhaps to January. The minister is busy with Parliament’s winter session and has not had the time to reply. Till we hear either way, we cannot say anything.”

        With activists fuming at the government apathy, towards late afternoon the IIPA sent an email on December 13 stating that the seminar has been postponed due to unavoidable circumstances. Says Achintya Mukherjee, Joint Secretary of Bombay Telephone Users’ Association, “Any private organization or NGO organizing such an event would have cancelled it, or rescheduled it well in time or even gone ahead with the event, bigwig or no bigwig. But for those in the government who survive on sycophancy that apparently was not an option. The net result is that we are forced to cancel our tickets and hotel bookings and suffer the losses.”

     It is sad that our politicians and ministers do not attach any importance to  consumer protection, even though each one of us is a consumer, right from the birth to death.      (The author is a consumer activist andhas won theGovt. of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email address is   jehangir_gai@indiatimes.com)

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