CUTS IN Media
14 April 2004, The Hindu
Are international organizations adapting themselves to the issues being advocated by the Third World countries for development to be holistic? This was the question posed by the Planning Commission Member, N.K. Singh, at the inauguration of the afro-Asian Civil Society Seminar organized by CUTS International that began here on Wednesday. The definition of sovereignty, Mr. Singh said, would undergo a significant change in the near future and countries need to reposition themselves in this new era of globalization.
More than 150 representatives from over 40 countries are participating in the three-days event which is regarded as the preparation for the World Summit on Trade and Development to be held at Sao Palo this July.
According to Magda Shahin, Egypt’s Ambassador to Greece, “increased awareness of non-government organizations on issues confronting the international trading system is indeed helping developing countries in manifesting their concerns of development in a better way.”
Ms. Shahin added that Cancun was a new beginning in so far as developing countries’ participation in the international trading system. In this context, she highlighted the importance of the various groups of developing countries showing their readiness to work together.
Speaking on the occasion, the Director-General of World Trade Organisation, K.A. Azad Rana, stressed the need to develop the capacity of developing land least developed countries ;engaging in trade negotiations. He also pointed to supply-side constraints that many of these countries are facing and said unless these problems are addressed, poor countries would not be able to enjoy market access opportunities to the fullest extent possible even if they were available.
The Director of UNCTAD, Lakshmi Puri, said the eleventh session of the United Nations body to be held in June this year would help develop the capacity of the developing and the least developed countries on both trade policy and trade promotion.
Chairing the inaugural session, leading economist Arjun Sengupta, argued that civil society has a larger role to play today than ever before, especially in the light of changes taking place in the international trading system.
The title of the first plenary session was “Assuring development gains from the international trading system and trade negotiations”. Delivering the keynote address. Prof. Anwar Ul Hoda of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said trade was not the end-all and be-all of development. “The bedrock of any development process is social and political stability and sound macro-economic management.”
Concern over Anaemic Women
13 April 2004, Hindustan Times
Expressing concern over the higher number of anaemic women in India, Chittorgarh collector R S Gathala emphasised on the importance of promoting blood donation to save women in labour.
He was speaking at a conference on safe motherhood organized on Monday in Chittorgarh by Consumer unity and Trust Society — Centre for Human Development (CUTS-CHD).
The National Family Health Survey (2000) had found nearly 48.5 percent of the women in Rajasthan to be anaemic.
It was also revealed at the conference that around Rs. 3.45 lakh allotted to 69 Gram Panchayats in the area and they had no idea how to use the funds meant for referral care of pregnant women. Many spent them on construction.
District United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) coordinator Sudhir Tailang said that the UNFPA was interested in working in the local area on reducing the maternal mortality rate.
08 April 2004, Hindustan Times
DEMANDS WERE made on Wednesday to include road safety in the school syllabi right from the primary level. More such issues related to road safety came up at a seminar on “Road safety is no accident” organised by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) and the MN Tandon Memorial Charitable Trust (MNTM-CT) on the occasion of World Health Day, which was dedicated to road safety.
The seminar was attended by AK Jain, the IG Police, PK Chakravarty, the Chief General Manager of Corridor Management with the National Highway Authority of India, and Malini Agarwal, the Traffic SP, among others.
Those attending the seminar felt that teaching children about road safety would make them more sensitive to driving rules at a later stage. Other demands made included better health facilities, like nursing homes at regular intervals along the highways. The government was called upon to involve itself more actively in this field.
The participants also said that doctors should be less bothered about the legal paperwork when it comes to accident victims. They added that the first priority should be to save lives. The issue of LPG cylinders being used to fuel cars and overloading of jeeps also came up at the seminar. The government was asked to strictly control the two. Deepak Saxena, a programme coordinator with CUTS, said that these proposals would be elaborated further and a concrete report would be presented to the government in another week’s time.
Beware! Toys Can Be Injurious To Health
30 March 2004, Hindustan Times
Kolkata:Not always are toys your child’s best friend. At times they can be dangerous, causing choking, allergies and stomach disorders among children. A recent survey conducted by the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) revealed that most toy manufacturers do not follow certain safety standards.
Though the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has set standards for toy safety related to their mechanical and physical forms, and toxicity, manufacturers are not obliged to adhere to the BIS guidelines unless they export toys.
“We found out that choking was a common hazard among children and numerous incidents were recorded of babies choking on small balls and marbles, or of loose toy parts getting into their noses,” said Soumi Roy of CUTS. Parents also complained of how merchandisers often overlooked the sharp edges of some toys.
NO CHILD’S PLAY
“Even toys that shoot objects are very dangerous,” added Roy.
The research specified how low quality fibres and materials were used to make such toys. This leads to stomach disorders and other related ailments in kids who have a tendency to suck toys. Allergies caused by toys are also quite common among children.
“Carcinogenic colours are used to give a bright look to toys but there is every chance of the paint peeling off and the child swallowing it, causing stomach disorders,” said Roy. “Apart from some reputed manufacturers, others do not use food-grade colouring material for toys meant for kids.”
“Putting things into the mouth is part of a child’s development,” said Dr. Apurva Ghosh, Director, Institute of Child Health. “Hence, ideally, toys should be made larger in size so that children cannot put them into their mouths.”
29 March 2004, Business Standard
Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) has launched a campaign to alert buyers to identify toy producers whose products do not conform to safety standards.
Indian manufacturers were not bound to follow safety standards while making toys, unless it was being exported. This placed children at risk, consumer protection group CUTS has warned.
The group would like parents and doctors to inform CUTS about any child injured by a dangerous or defective toy. Its research on the issue had identified choking as the most common hazard, caused by small balls, marbles or loose parts in toys.
Some toys had sharp edges as well as Indian laws were silent on this. Another hazard was injury or even death from long strings or cords attached to toys, as they often got wrapped around a child’s neck.
Very noisy toys interfered with children’s learning abilities, CUTS added. In addition, electricity-powered toys had caused burns from their heating element or could deliver shocks.
CUTS said some producers used low quality fibres and materials to make toys. Since infants often sucked toys, this could cause disorders like allergies, absorption of carcinogenic colours or poisoning.
Most toys in the Indian market ignored safety standards laid down by the Bureau of Indian standards (BIS) on toy safety related to mechanical and physical forms as well as toxicity as manufacturers were not obliged to adhere to BIS guidelines unless they were exporting. Enforcement of guidelines was not mandatory.
28 March 2004, Times of India
Kolkata: Seven–year-old Roshni put a rubber ball in her ears while playing. She had to be taken to an ENT specialist immediately. The doctor had to put her under general anaesthesia to get the ball out. If she had not been rushed to the clinic on time, she would have damaged her hearing for life.
Five-year-old Rohit had been playing with a harmless teddy bear. However, what no one noticed was that the plastic eyes of the toy were loosely fitted. One came out while Rohit was playing with it and he put it in his mouth and almost choked on it.
Toys may be a child’s best friend but they are fast turning out to be the biggest danger as well. Choking on toys is a leading cause of death among children. Pediatrician Soma Sen alone attends to atleast two to three choking cases a week.
Apart from a few well-known companies, majority of the toys come without a quality check or age demarcations. Children are often given toys, which might harm them for life through a lack of awareness on the part of the parents as well as the manufacturers.
It seems shocking but the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) regulations for ensuring toy safety are not mandatory for manufacturers unless they are exporting.
“Toys are essential for a child’s wholesome development. Thus, it is very important to ensure they are safe,” said Sen.
“Toys mainly result in choking incidents in children, while colouring agents often lead to stomach and skin diseases,” confirmed pediatrician Amit Deb.
Even toy manufacturers are not disagreeing to the hazards associated with toys. Director of Sahayata, a soft toy manufacturer says “Our consciousness regarding the hazards a toy can cause is not enough.”
Rupa Mehta, director of Sasha Exports said they adhere to the BIS guidelines both for their domestic as well as export products. “There should be cells not only at the Centre but also regional and local levels, which can ensure the minimal safety measures keeping in mind the local circumstances, capacity and availability,” she said.
-While purchasing toys, one should ensure that all parts of the toys are larger than the child’s mouth, so that no part of it is accidentally swallowed.
-The Child Safety Protection Act in the US increased the size of banned small balls permitted in toys because of the choking hazards associated with round objects.
-In the EU, the European Commission for Standardisation is responsible for safety standards in toys, while in the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the safety of toys.
However, despite the urgency of the situation, the government has not taken any concrete steps, feels the Consumer unity Trust and Society (CUTS). “Both the government and the BIS have the power to make a standard mandatory, if the issue is related to health and safety. In the case of toys, the issue is more sensitive, because it is associated with children,” said Soumi Home Roy from CUTS (Kolkata). CUTS have launched a nationwide campaign to move the BIS for the formation of a central toy cell, “which could test toys and order recall.”
BIS sources also admit having a nodal agency for monitoring the quality of toys is of paramount importance.
Organisations Join Hand to Solve Water Woes
24 March 2004, Hindustan Times
REALISING THE limitations of the government, the consumer and voluntary organisations working around the State have decided to create a network to work on the strategies for water distribution and contribution in the State.
of consumer organisations, NGOs and water experts took this decision during
a one-day workshop on Sustainable Water Management and Distribution Sensitising
Consumers. It was jointly organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS)
and Water Sanitation Programme South Asia here on Saturday. They suggested that
a different pricing mechanism should be created for the consumers, which should
be based on the use of water.
Stress on Removing Consumer Apathy
13 March 2004, The Hindu
NEW DELHI, MARCH 12. Lauding the exemplary role of non-government organisations in inculcating consumer awareness and proposing to augment the consumer grievance redressal machinery, the Secretary in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MOCA), Navin Chawla, today assured an active government involvement in espousing consumer causes and called for a mass movement to help remove consumer apathy.
Releasing a book titled “Is it really safe?” at a function organised by CUTS, a premier consumer rights organisation in the backdrop of World Consumers Day on March 15, Mr. Chawla told the audience comprising leading consumer activists and safety experts that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs would act as a “catalyst in hastening the process of consumer welfare and would endeavour to involve various schools, colleges and universities to meet this noble objective.”
Citing the example of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Mr. Chawla said, “The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has received a deluge of applications from hundreds of schools in these states seeking help in setting up consumer clubs. Steps are being taken to ensure that this enthusiasm is spread all over India.” He invited CUTS and other NGOs to help the Ministry in this regard and appreciated their efforts in the dissemination of consumer-friendly information.
“Is it really safe?” is a compendium of articles on the safety of commonly used products and services and is aimed at the middle and lower middle class consumers.
Hailing the efforts
of CUTS in generating awareness on consumer safety issues, noted Transport safety
expert and Henry Ford Professor for Transportation Safety at IIT, Dinesh Mohan,
called for the need of evolving “efficient designing and engineering as a tool
to guide human behaviour rather merely sermonising on safety issues”. He buttressed
the point by citing the example of IIT where a speed breaker was provided at
every 80 metres to control the rate of accidents when all other efforts in that
direction had failed.
Consumer Body Finds Faults With Small Enterprise Bill
08 March 2004, The Hindu
NEW DELHI, MARCH 7. While describing the "Small Enterprises Bill - 2003'' as showcasing progressive intent to streamline and ease off the regulatory pressure on the small enterprises and introducing some long wanted provisions, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) has described it as "a piece of loose drafting missing out on certain important aspects forming the very core of the small enterprise''.
The Bill, proposed to be tabled in the next session of the Parliament after the new Government comes to power at the Centre, signals prima facie a legislative desire to reduce the regulatory burden of the small scale enterprises. It harps on the provisions to modify various regulatory laws, seeking to minimise the role of various labour and taxation agencies, thus, providing sufficient breathing space to small entrepreneurs and allowing them to concentrate more business.
But, a cursory look at the third schedule relating to the inspection of small enterprises, says CUTS, makes it clear that instead of eliminating inspector-raj, which should have been the natural objective of the Bill, the same has been sustained to the detriment of small entrepreneurs.
"Subjecting the small enterprise to the whims and fancies of inspector-raj in an era of liberalisation is an anomaly of the first order. The gross potential abuse of the system that lurks in these seemingly innocuous provisions will deter any entrepreneur to go full steam with his business and instead will always keep him in the lingering fear of raids and seizures. The vicious circle of bribery, unfair trade practices and never-ending litigation that it can unleash goes against the very spirit of the legislation,'' says the CUTS analysis.
Also, there is an immediate need, says the frontline consumer advocacy organisation, to incorporate transparent insolvency and bankruptcy laws in this bill itself. "The sickness in the SSI sector is a global phenomenon but nowhere it is punished as hardly as it is in India. In fact, the system in the U.S. allows one to fail and restart without punishing him for failure,'' says CUTS. "It is indeed unfortunate to have such a regressive system in India where failed entrepreneurs are sent to jail, their properties are confiscated and they spend the rest of their life facing litigation and ignominy."
"The system which leaves no scope for correcting and learning from mistakes ultimately becomes a black hole from which nothing creative can emerge. No entrepreneurship can survive under such threatening circumstances,'' it says.
Furthering Gandhi's Vision On Village Republics
23 February 2004, The Hindu
At a time when no newspaper used to reach remote villages of any State in the country, Pradeep Mehta started publishing a poster-sized newspaper from Jaipur called "Gram Gadar" (Village Revolution), Soon, this wall-newspaper became very popular in rural areas of Rajasthan and seeing the growing demand of "Gram Gadar". Mr. Mehta established Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS).
While the publication of "Gram Gadar" was discontinued for a while, CUTS relaunched this popular wall newspaper in January 1994 with support from the Ford Foundation. "The main objectives of Gram Gadar has been to increase the awareness of the poor people of the village and weaker sections of society, especially the oppressed classes like the tribals, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes," says Mr. Metha, adding it also aims to awaken and educate the rural women about their legal and constitutional rights and encourage them ot fight for it by providing legal information to them. For this purpose, "Gram Gadar" has two sections – "Consumer Decisions" and "Legal Rights".
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, "Gram Gadar" – which has inspired many other wall newspapers and alternate magazines in the rural areas of the country – publishes the general problems of the rural people in the from of the changing times and awaken them. It also informs villagers about the rural development schemes of the Government; analyses these schemes; encourages them to work together by coalescing them; draws their attention towards the health and health-related problems of the village; educate and sensitise them about the basic needs and draw the attention of the local administration to these issues.
"Gram Gadar" is sent every month to people in the rural areas of Chittorgarh, Ajmer, Bundi, Bhilwara, Udaipur and Koto districts in Rajastahn. And without doubt, the adage "Information is Power" has been proved right through this wall-newspaper. Rural people are now better informed about their rights and they find consumer court decisions and other legal information published in different editions of "Gram Gadar" very interesting.
Also, the arrival of "Gram Gadar" in various rural areas and questions raised under the 'Nigrani' section has led to an increased activity in the working of the Government departments. Where mere announcements of various schemes were made, now the bureaucrats are busy in implementing them. And yes, readers of "Gram Gadar" now strongly believe that this would help in removing the inertia of the Government departments and undertakings. Truly, "Gram Gadar" has in its own way furthered Mahatma Gandhi's vision of village republics.
Britain Is Not Against Outsourcing: Envoy
18 February 2004, Times of India
JAIPUR, FEB 18: Britain on Monday refuted suggestions that its was trying to be protectionist on the issue of business process outsourcing and favoured dismantling all barriers to free trade.
Delivering a lecture on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the state Institute of Public Administration here, British High Commissioner Michael Arthur said: “It is our experience that 75 per cent of British workers rendered jobless due to outsourcing find jobs within six months.”
He suggested free trade by abolishing all barriers by adopting the WTO regime and sought faster pace for efforts to go in for further rounds of talks leaving behind the failure of the Cancun talks.
Although the momentum for further talks had definitely been seen again agriculture was still a stumbling block, he admitted.
However, he warned that a second Cancun-type failure would be “devastating” and all should go forward progressively.
Supporting an “asymmetrical liberalization” in the agriculture sector to tackle the concerns of countries like India, Arther said it should be transitional and not structural.
Talking about India and Mexico leading the G-25 nations at the WTO talks, Arthur said it was a healthy reflection of reality.
“However, don’t waste time and despite hurdles, regenerate the momentum for the breakthrough at the ministerial-level meeting in the current year itself,” the high commissioner added.
WTO Talks Should Protect Interest Of Poor
17 February 2004, The Hindu
FEB 17: The British High Commissioner to India, Michael Arthur, has said the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations should seek to protect the interest
of developing countries and promote foreign direct investments in accordance
with their needs.
Delivering a public lecture on WTO here on Monday, Sir Michael felt that though the political consensus in the talks remained elusive, the flexibility in approach and transparency of policies could lead to a better understanding between the economic powers and developing countries.
The lecture was organised by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) and the Harish Chandra Mathur State Institute of Public Administration.
The British envoy touched a number of topics relating to WTO and the future of trade talks as well as their implications for the major players in global economy.
He referred to the controversy about the business process outsourcing while affirming that Britain was not trying to impose protectionist measures to stop outsourcing, even though a large number of British workers were being rendered unemployed by it. About 75 percent of workers rendered unemployed find re-employment within six months'', he said.
Pointing to the Indo-British trade relations, Sir Michael said Britain was the third largest investor, after the U.S. and Malaysia, in India. The trade between the two countries was currently of the order of 10 billion dollars, he added.
The noted economist and Member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, V.S. Vyas, said the perceived lack of reciprocity by the developed countries in the speed of liberalisation called for measures in the WTO to check the misuse of its policies.
former Indian Ambassador to BATT, B.K. Zutshi, said though the manufacturers
would look to the Government for their protection, there was no scope for slowing
down the process of globalisation in the country.
Quality Investment Can Ensure Economic Growth: CUTS Study
02 February 2004, The Financial Express
GENEVA, FEB 01: Developing countries needed to re-think their national development strategies and restructure foreign direct investment (FDI) strategies to facilitate “quality” investment flow, a study carried out on FDI trends, policies and perceptions in select developing countries has suggested.
The investment for development (IFD) project launched by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) to study the foreign investment scenario in seven developing nations including India, Bangladesh and Brazil, has concluded that although the countries studied had adopted liberal investment policies to facilitate higher FDI in 1990’s, not all of them had been successful in doing so.
The IFD report released at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) conference in Geneva by CUTS, pointed out that FDI inflows did not ensure higher economic growth and development.
It proposed that countries needed to re-orient their development strategies to take account of changing international economic factors like growth in new kinds of FDI, effect of technological change on the information, communication & technology (ICT) sector, growth of global production networks and change in attractiveness of certain investment locations to foreign investors.
The other countries covered in the report include Hungary, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
Speaking at a seminar on FDI policies and regulations, Peter Nunnenkamp from the Kiel Institute of World Economics, Germany, said that policy makers should be aware that attracting FDI is no guarantee for reaping benefits from FDI. It is much more difficult to benefit from FDI than to attract FDI, he said.
Dr Nunnepkamp added that the current preoccupation of policymakers, with promoting high-tech FDI, appears to be out of proportion, once it is taken into account what many developing countries can reasonably expect from FDI in technology intensive industries.
He suggested that policymakers should spend scarce public resources on improving local capabilities, rather than encouraging inflows of high-tech FDI. In a comparative analysis of FDI inflow in the 1990’s in Brazil, South Africa and India, Mr. Rajeev Mathur from CUTS pointed out that Brazil received relatively high FDI mainly in services industries that did not have a favourable impact on economic growth. South Africa experienced very little inward FDI and domestic investment but was the biggest foreign direct investor in Africa.
India lagged behind other economies of its size due to poor implementation of policy and regulatory measures. Mr. Mathur concluded that governments should improve regulatory framework for FDI, facilitate business and improve economic determinants.
Citing an interesting case of FDI decline, Milkos Szanyi from the Budapest University of Economics and Public Administration pointed out that the inflow of FDI in Hungary during the turn of the century started to decrease and transfer of profits abroad started.
Reforms Gainful In Competition Regime Only, Says UNCTAD
02 February 2004, The Financial Express
GENEVA, FEB 01: The gains of liberalisation can be experienced only if there is a suitable competition regime in place, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) chief of competition and consumer policy division Philippe Brusick has said.
According to Mr. Brusick, competition policy without suitable competition law and a powerful competition authority cannot achieve much.
Speaking at a conference of the international network of civil society organisations on competition (INCSOC), organised by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in Geneva, Mr. Brusick said often consumers experienced sharp increase in prices of products after the opening up of sectors.
He said it was not due to the ills of liberalisation but due to the absence of a proper competition regime to check monopolies.
To gain public acceptability, Mr. Brusick advised that countries should adopt a step by step approach for introduction of competition law. Suggesting measures for creating a pro-competition culture, Mr. Brusick said that promotional advertisements in serials and television programmes could be introduced.
Education of consumers as well as judges who would need to handle cases was also very important, he said, adding that a specialised press should be created which could write educated pieces on the topic.
Stressing on the role of civil society, Mr. Brusick said consumers should be helped by non-government organisations in realising that a competition policy would go in their favour.
He added that the goal of UNCTAD was to defend consumer interests by ensuring that applying competition rules results in lower prices of goods and services, better quality and choice and accelerated process of innovation.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Lamy Should Make Doha Agenda His First Priority
12 February 2004, The Financial Times
From Prof Jean-Pierre Lehmann.*
Sir, The latest idea from Pascal Lamy, the European Union trade commissioner, is not only a red herring, as your editorial suggests ("Lamy's big idea", February 10). It is also a quite unwarranted dispersal of energy and concentration. There is one - and only one - trade policy priority at this moment and that is achieving a successful completion of the Doha development agenda.
It is urgent for many reasons, not least among them (as the eloquent letter by Mr Pradeep S. Mehta on the same page vividly illustrates) because of the effects expected in poverty reduction and in achieving the millennium development goals. The Doha negotiations are stalled, the negotiators are failing to fulfil their task.
Though the responsibility for this state of affairs is not exclusively that of the EU, it is nevertheless one of the more obstructionist parties and could, instead, provide a great deal of leadership by taking the initiative, especially in agriculture. The fact that the Commission believes Europeans should "indulge" themselves in enjoying the luxuries of "collective social preferences" when 40 per cent of humanity live on less than $2 a day is insensitive and irresponsible.
It can only widen the chasm between the rich and poor countries, something we should all be doing as much as possible to narrow.
I last saw and heard Commissioner Lamy in Dhaka, where he said that modalities should be in place for moving ahead on the Doha negotiations by March this year. For many issues, this implies being behind deadlines for many months. The trade commissioner should stick to his knitting and stick to the agenda. Once the work at hand has been completed, then we can go off and think up wild ideas. Not before!
*Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Founding Director, The Evian Group, 1001-Lausanne, Switzerland
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Government Action All Too Rare In Face Of Labour Exploitation
11 February 2004, The Financial Times
From Mr Guy Ryder.*
Sir, The international trade union movement recognises Mr Pradeep S. Mehta's assertion (Letters, February 10) that child labour and poverty are strongly connected. However, it is too simple to see the issue of child labour as solely being the consequence of poverty - it is also a significant cause of poverty, often locking families into a cycle of penury.
Getting children out of work and into school is an essential foundation stone for economic and social development. There are numerous concrete examples of this being the case, some indeed within Mr Mehta's native India, where investing in children's education and removing them from work has been done successfully. Equally important is ensuring that adults have access to decent employment, where labour standards are respected and thus workers can negotiate a fair wage.
Breaking the cycle of poverty and child labour requires action on many fronts. The International Labour Organisation's important study shows the real cost of inaction for current and future generations and sets out effective steps that can be taken. Unfortunately too many governments are still prepared to let things be, spending a fortune on their military and a pittance on education and job creation, while allowing widespread exploitation of adult and child workers alike.
*Guy Ryder, General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 1210 Brussels, Belgium
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Added Urgency Sought In Child Labour Struggle
10 February 2004, The Financial Times
From Mr Pradeep S. Mehta.
Sir, The international community should take note of the fact that the benefits of eliminating child labour outweigh its costs by a huge margin ("Economic case made for ending child labour", February 4). All credit to the International Labour Organisation for bringing striking cost-benefit figures to the attention of the global community, while arguing for the elimination of child labour. However, it should be noted that any programme for eliminating child labour should be based on the principle of "saving" the child.
A study by CUTS on child labour in the handmade carpet-producing areas around Jaipur, India, showed that the decision to send children to work is driven by survival. In all cases we found that a child is sent to work only to earn the extra money needed to feed and clothe him. If the child did not work for wages, his survival would be at stake.
It simply confirms the fact that it is poverty that forces children to work. Development is the answer to ending child labour and the UN's millennium development goals need to be accelerated by the international community to this end.
UNCTAD-CUTS Reports Calls for Restructuring of FDI Strategies
30 January 2004, PTI
JAN 30: Notwithstanding the euphoria over rising foreign exchange reserves,
at present over 100 billion dollars, it was today cautioned here that higher
FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows do not necessarily result in higher
economic growth and development.
In a comprehensive report released here as part of an UNCTAD conclave by India-based think-tank and NGO Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), developing countries have been asked to rethink their national development strategies and re-orient or restructure FDI strategies to facilitate "quality FDI".
Our IFD (Investment for Development) project shows that not all of the developing countries have been successful in facilitating higher FDI, growth and development through liberal investment policies", CUTS Chief, Pradeep S Mehta said here.
He said countries need to re-orient their development plans to take into account changing international economic factors like growth of new kinds of FDI, effect of technological change on the information, communication and technology sector and growth of global production networks.
The report, "Strategising Investment for Development", prepared in association with UNCTAD points towards the low fructification rate of approved FDI. In India, only about 20 per cent of FDI approvals translate into actual investment.
Analysis of determinants of FDI in India shows that there is a relationship between the rate of fructification and the size of the firm. The probability of contract failure declines with a decline in size, but large firms might reduce FDI fructification rate, it said.
Mehta said India received lower FDI as a percentage of GDP than some other developing countries of similar size like China and Brazil. "While policy changes and regulatory clarity can lead to higher FDI inflows into India especially through the privatisation route, policies to enhance growth are also critical", he added.
In another report, also released during the conclave, "Synergising Investment with Development", CUTS said there is really no case for the contention that FDI, per se, can solve the problem of investment though FDI shares of least developed countries (LDCs), as a whole, have gone up in the previous decade.
The report which also covered countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Hungary, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia said most importantly, the fluctuations in private capital flows need to be recognised. Countries with smaller volumes of FDI have experienced larger fluctuations in FDI inflows.
In many of the project countries, fiscal stability seemed to have been achieved at the expense of compressing public expenditure, at a time when public services are either deteriorating or not rowing rapidly enough.
The "Strategising" report said one of the reasons for the low fructification rate of FDI in India is bureaucratic hassles and red tape though the procedural route has been simplified and made non-discriminatory in the last decade.
It said as per investors' feedback, environmental clearances and legal work in the country are the most time consuming. There are three stages of a project approval, general approval, clearance and implementation. It was the second which the investors found the most oppressive.
Consumer Body Submits Demands on CAS
19 January 2004, The Hindu
NEW DELHI, JAN 18: Stating that the freezing of cable television rates to the December 2003 level was not enough to protect the interest of lakhs of consumers affected by the CAS decision, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) has submitted a seven-point charter of demands to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Based on consumer research conducted over past 14 months by the consumer-rights non-governmental organisation, the charter of demands provides in clear and concise terms the expectations of consumers from the much controversial Conditional Access System (CAS).
Arguing that CAS had the potential to be consumer-friendly, the NGO demanded that for this, safeguards have to be set in place which must precede or be simultaneous with the implementation of the new system. Demanding that the total household monthly outlay must not exceed the pre-CAS expenditure, CUTS argued that most households never watched more than 15 channels. Thus the consumer would not mind a reduction in the number of channels from the present, it said.
Strongly opposing the "bouquet pricing'' being enforced by broadcasters on the consumers, the NGO demanded that viewers should not indirectly be forced to pay for channels not watched by them. "One way to do this would be to have all broadcasters set a standard price for each of their channels, regardless of the popularity of the channel. Popularity gets rewarded by increased advertising revenue, not by increased viewer rentals,'' argued Rajan R. Gandhi of the CUTS.
Referring to the standard practice adopted by cable operators worldwide with regard to set-top boxes (STBs), the charter of demands opposed the insistence on the part of the cable operators here that the STBs should be purchased by the consumers. "The STBs must be installed by the service provider as part of the installation process. This is the standard practice overseas: the STB is the property of the service provider who is also responsible for its service, repair or replacement. The cost is amortised over the STB's expected life and built into the monthly rental.''
Alleging that thus far, consumers were on the whims and fancies of the cable operators, who increased the monthly rentals every now and then, and that too without providing any rationale, Mr. Gandhi demanded that steps needed to be taken which ensured that the monthly rentals were not hiked arbitrarily. Increases should be uniform, transparent and applicable to all viewers. Rentals must be based on cost-plus principles not on opportunistic market-limiting (i.e. the highest the market can bear) principles, the charter demanded.
With joint families very much being part of Indian lifestyles and a number of households having more than one television set, a substantial discount should be offered in such cases, CUTS said.
CAS: Stakeholders Readying Responses to TRAI Note
17 January 2004, The Hindu Business Line
NEW DELHI, JAN 16: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) consultation note on the conditional access system (CAS) has set the ball rolling with various stakeholders - broadcasters, cable service providers and the broadcasters - working out their responses to protect their turf.
The broadcasters are expected to put up a united front under the aegis of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF).
"We will discuss the various issues among ourselves first and will then meet the TRAI under the IBF banner," said a pay broadcaster.
Issues regarding transparency in declaration, pay channel rates and advertising cap on pay channels are matters of concern for pay broadcasters. The cable industry, on its part, is concerned about broadcasters bullying them to declare and pay for higher connectivity.
"Also the revenue share arrangement between the broadcaster, multi-system operator (MSO) and last mile operator (LMO) need to be sorted out," said a cable industry source. The cable industry has in particular also referred to ESPN-Star Sports, which raised its subscription fee to Rs 40 in the month of December.
Consumer groups have also started responding to the TRAI paper. In order to make CAS consumer friendly, the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) has sent a seven-point charter of demands.
The suggestions include that the total monthly outlay must not exceed the pre-CAS expenditure and that viewers should not be forced to pay for channels not watched by them. Moreover, monthly rentals should not be hiked arbitrarily and there should be an efficient complaint redressal mechanism, the society has said.
TRAI had yesterday also notified that cable rates be frozen at those existing on December 26, 2003.
This had led to confusion as CAS has been implemented in Chennai and South Delhi, but has not taken off in the other metros.
Cable operators today said that in CAS zones, the CAS rates would be applicable (Rs 72 plus taxes for free-to-air channels plus the rates circulated for pay channels), while in non-CAS areas the prevailing monthly subscription rates would be charged.
The Consultation note will look into various issues such as rates of pay channels, bundling of channels, terms and conditions for set top boxes (STBs), revenue sharing agreements between broadcasters and service providers and advertising on pay channels.
D–217, Bhaskar Marg, Bani Park,
Jaipur 302 016, India,
Hosted by: www.fullestop.com