05 August 2004, The Hindu

HOW MANY times have you bought a substandard product and felt cheated that you could do nothing to redeem your wasted money and time? How many times has your heart sunk at the news of innocent citizens maimed or killed due to the negligence of the building authorities? Or gnashed your teeth in vain at the carelessness of doctors or the chemist who happily prescribes potentially dangerous medicines to ill-educated patients who think they are consulting a doctor? The common refrain is, in India, everything goes. Arre, sab chalta hai. The ignorant get fleeced and the smart ones get away with it. Fortunately, we need not take such a pessimistic view of life, since there are numerous individuals and organisations working for the safety and rights of consumers. This concept, strong in the western hemisphere, cannot be called weak in India either. Take the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS). Recently, the CUTS unit of Kolkata came out with a compilation of informative essays under the title “Is it Safe?”

Authored by Soumi Home Roy, a researcher with CUTS, “Is it Safe?” deals with a range of issues relating to consumer rights and includes in its purview both products and services. “Our aim,” says the author, “is to introduce consumer awareness on safety issues of various products.” In this pursuit, she and her colleagues at CUTS have published newspaper articles in the past. Some of these have been included in the present collection, says the author, after appropriate additions and revisions, she explains, since newspapers columns can’t always include a great deal of detail. The consumer movement in India, laments this activist author, is hampered because “India has laws, but it is sadly lacking in implementation.”

The recent Kumbakonam school tragedy she points out, is a case in point. The Bureau of Indian Standards has a national building code, but “no one is following it because it is not mandatory.” Having recently spoken to a BIS official, she says CUTS is in the process of framing awareness on this issue too.

“Also, there should be a consumer safety commission which should be able to test products and empowered to recall them if they are not up to standard,” she says.

“We are also working on road and rail safety issues,” informs the author who says CUTS’ writings are translated into several Indian languages by consumer organisations like Consumer Voice, Common Cause and others. Also on the anvil is a publication documenting case studies where businesses have placed profit over consumer safety.