Ajay Kumar
Vice President (Communications)
Tata Industries Ltd., India

My first interaction with CUTS took place about the same time as it was established, in my previous avatar as a journalist. Pradeep Mehta approached me with pre-election opinion poll surveys done in Rajasthan during the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Parliament) elections in 1984, when I was at The Telegraph at Calcutta. I was quite impressed, especially seeing the forecast close to the actual results, and asked them to keep in touch with me at The Times of India, to where I moved. Pradeep too moved to Calcutta, and continued working in the narrow area of consumer activism. He would keep me acquainted with its activities, no doubt with an eye on access to the columns of the journal I used to work for! One major breakthrough, which I witnessed as a senior assistant editor at the Times, was their successful and tenacious campaign against the use of the unsafe food additive: BVO used in aerated soft drinks.

Awareness about the growing activities of CUTS was through sporadic interactions with Pradeep, physically and through being a recipient of CUTS’ mailings and, of course, through the writings that Pradeep and other CUTS staffers increasingly did in the media. I was particularly impressed with Pradeep’s weekly column: Caveat Emptor in The Economic Times on Sunday, which covered consumer abuses and their solutions. By that time, I had moved from the Times to the Economic Times as the Executive Editor.

Once he came to me for financial assistance to attend the International Organisation of Consumer Union’s World Congress in July 1991. I spoke to my then editor: T N Ninan, who readily agreed to support the case, a first for a non-staffer. His reporting from the Congress on the unfolding Uruguay Round of the GATT was also very good.

It has been a very instructive case of an organisation that has grown through organically pursuing areas of inquiry and activism in one concentric circle after another.

As far as future challenges are concerned, CUTS could try for:

1) Further improvements in its networking with similar organisations over the world so that the insights/solutions are real time;

2) More active involvement with the interested State Governments in India to improve Governance and to exhort others to improve Governance; and

3) More active involvement with the whole class of political executives to inform them of the developments in the world economy with only one slogan in mind: Good Economics is Good Politics. I imagine the biggest challenge that CUTS will face is of quality, human talent, of generating an endless and adequate supply of apostles of change. An organisation like CUTS will live and die by the quality of the passion it inspires and this passion will depend, entirely, on the quality of leadership it has at every rung. There is an unending task ahead; what is required are nimble, keen, modern and open minds, endless energy and integrity. And, of course, a basic education-manured intelligence. Too often, the growth of such institutions is dwarfed by it becoming the extension of an individual’s ego and other agendas; that tendency needs to be guarded against if the passion that must drive CUTS has to be shared widely and deeply.

Here is wishing CUTS all the very best.