Of Consumer Affairs!

The whole system seems to be paralyzed…

Erstwhile food and supplies department, now Consumer’s Affairs & Public Distribution Department (CAPD) has proved disastrous in providing assistance and protection to consumers; particularly in Kashmir valley it has failed miserably. In accordance to its job chart the departments is responsible for distribution of essential commodities to the consumers and supposed to provide all possible assistance in protecting the rights of the consumers. Distribution of essential commodities apart, presently this organization is unable to protect the basic rights of the consumers as enshrined in the legal structure of the state. Be it the LPG crisis, black-marketing or unlawful price rise, the department has failed on all fronts.
In case of recent LPG crisis the department was unable to invoke its statutory powers well in time in restraining the oil companies and their rogue dealers from exploiting the consumers. The top brass of the administration and all other officials down below failed to assert themselves and deliver at the time of crisis.
Undoubtedly, it was a unique situation where central government’s policy decision was to be implemented in a hurry through a rickety distribution system but during such circumstances CAPD system should have assisted the consumers, but left them at the mercy of scheming LPG dealers. The powerful lobby of LPG dealers implemented (rather over implemented) the KYC—Know Your Customer scheme on their own terms and conditions having no regard for set norms devised by the ministry of oil and natural gases Government of India. As custodians and facilitators of consumer rights CAPD department could have assisted the consumers in understanding the scheme in its right perspective and facilitated them through its vast network of officials and outlets. Services of print and electronic media could have easily and effectively been utilized to facilitate the gullible consumers. Unfortunately! The whole government machinery in general and the organization of CAPD in particular failed to foresee the crisis and immense hardships in store for the consumers and kept beating the domain drum throughout the crisis.
Checking black-marketing and price rise is the exclusive domain of CAPD department; organization is vested with legal authority not only to discourage unfair trade practices but to curb it with iron hand. Earlier, market checking, raids and initiation of legal proceedings against violators was a routine with CAPD and were much effective deterrents in curbing consumer rights violations. Few decades’ earlier hoarders, black-marketers and exploiters were scared of food and supplies checking squads but presently it seems these shameless violators have domesticated them and brazenly continue with their unlawful profiteering under their nose. Take the case of meat sellers. They sell meat at much higher rates than the rates notified by the department of CAPD. Openly! They challenge the CAPD authorities with their self proclaimed rate structure and the whole administration is helpless. Chicken dealers also mock at the official rate format of the administration. You name the service providing sector, the failure of consumer affairs department is visible and consumer rights violations galore. CAPD squads and teams exist nowhere in the field, only at the time of festivals their vehicles fitted with public address systems make rounds of busy markets just to show their presence. May be during market checking some offenses are compounded with fines, but such hopeless efforts in no way can be termed as effective deterrents in curbing the black-marketing menace.
It is not fair we brand the whole organization incompetent and corrupt. However, right now hopelessness in implement the rule of law and failure in protecting the rights of the consumers is visible in every activity and action of this once prestigious department. There are other reasons of inefficiency particularly on account of consumer rights implementation. Overburdened public distribution activity within the department is one such reason. To streamline the department and make sure its effectiveness, government should seriously consider reorganizing the CAPD department by segregating consumer affairs segment from congested public distribution system and create two different organizations, one for flawless public distribution of essential commodities and another one for effective management of consumer affairs and safeguarding their rights.