Two thousand and four can well be the year of the consumer, if consumers play their cards well. The year has already begun well, with the finance ministerís tax cuts making several goods, including life saving drugs and air travel too, cheaper. Things can only get better, provided consumers demand and get what they want.
All citizens are consumers of goods and services, but politicians in India somehow never recognised this fact, as was apparent in the election manifestos of political parties.
The recent elections to the four state assemblies have shown that finally consumers in India are flexing their muscles and are becoming assertive. As a result, this time, the elections were fought on issues that directly affected consumers, such as the quality of public utility services and infrastructure development.
What should be the wish list of consumers ' Well, in addition to quality power supply, better civic amenities, good health care, potable water supply, safe roads, efficient transport and communication services, excellent educational institutions in both urban and rural areas, consumers should demand stringent implementation of laws to ensure safe water, food and medicines for all citizens. Effective social security for the poor, food and clothing to those who cannot afford it and health insurance schemes for all, should be some of the other demands.
Consumers should also call for consumer representation in all policy making and implementation bodies. All law enforcement agencies should also have consumer or citizen representatives. A more effective consumer justice system, introduction of consumer education at primary and secondary school levels, exclusive courts to deal with investor complaints should be some of the other demands. The government should also initiate a process of continuous and regular review of consumer protection laws so as to improve on the existing ones and also enact new laws where necessary. All public utilities must set up independent lok adalats for quick settlement of consumer disputes.
The government should cut down its expenditure and strive for transparent and corruption-free administration In short, consumer protection and well being should get the highest priority and only those who agree to these demands should get the vote. Of course, proper monitoring of the fulfillment of these promises is also a must. One way of doing this is to assess the performance of the government and the individual elected representatives once a year and bring out a report card. Residents associations or consumer groups can take up this task. Make a list of the promises made, keep copies of the manifestoes of political parties and newspaper clips of what individuals and parties have said during the election rallies. Compare this with their performance and make it public. This would certainly keep the government and the MPs on their toes.
So go ahead and become assertive this election year.