March 31, 2005, Kolkata, Press Release

“Let the poor villagers drink arsenic laden water and live for 20 years instead of closing the only tube well in the village and signing their death warrant now,” thundered Mala Banerjee, President, Federation of Consumer Welfare Associations, West Bengal, in a satirical reference to the ‘top-down’ policies formulated by the powers that be without any idea of the ground realities.

She was speaking at a meeting organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), a premier city-based consumer organisation, on 30 March, with the theme “Crusade Against Adulteration, Counterfeiting and Spurious Products” to observe World Consumer Rights Day 2005. She referred to the severe bacteria count in water at city hospitals and asked whether poor villagers are expected to buy bottled water. Banerjee was critical of the implementation of various laws and the tendency to apply them without giving a thought to the possible effect on the poor. She however lauded such initiatives as the present meeting.

The Dy Commissioner, Enforcement Branch, Kolkata Police, R K Adhikari gave a power point presentation on the various laws related on the above theme and expressed the police’s limitations, as government officers, to prosecute offenders who often took recourse to loopholes in the law. But he assured the audience of their focussed attention to the task at hand and gave impressive statistics about successful prosecutions.

K K Sengupta, former chief chemist of the Kolkata Corporation’s food testing laboratory, demonstrated some simple household tests using reagents available in the house itself (bathroom-cleaning acid, for example) to detect adulteration in food.

The programme was moderated very constructively by Dr Jayanta Basu, eminent media personality and environmentalist. In his concluding remarks he urged the organisers to organise more such elaborate programmes so that more issues could be brought to light including awareness generation for the lay consumer.