Report of the Capacity Building Workshop for Consumer Organisations Held at NLSIU, Bangalore on 1 & 2 May, 2009

Organizers:

CREAT, Chair on Consumer Law & Practice, NLSIU and Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, GOK

Background

Historically the state of Karnataka is a pioneer in consumer protection. It was the first state to constitute the State Consumer Protection Board, even before the country could think of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). However the movement gathered momentum with the enactment of the CPA in 1986. In the last two decades over 130 voluntary consumer groups have emerged in the State, each one of them doing a bit for the cause of the consumers. Yet the movement could not grow as in other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. Even today the consumer movement in Karnataka cannot be considered as powerful.

However the zeal, enthusiasm and commitment of consumer activists and consumer groups cannot be ignored. With little or no support from the Government or external funding agencies consumer organisations have been doing their best to promote consumer activism in the state. It has been observed that with some additional support by way of information and capacity building trainings, these consumer groups can be motivated to work effectively. It is in this background CREAT made a proposal to the Karnataka State Consumer Welfare Fund seeking financial assistance for organizing capacity building workshops for consumer activists and organisations.

The Consumer Welfare Fund was kind enough to consider our proposal and provided financial assistance. While doing so the fund suggested that importance be given to the working of Public Distribution System and issues related to food distribution as part of the program. CREAT modified the workshop/training contents accordingly and included PDS/FPS under the Right to Food title. A separate topic on Citizens' Charter was also included. The project was cleared by the Department.

According to the project, CREAT will organize a two day capacity building workshop at Bangalore and outreach programs in all but four districts of Karnataka. Programs in the four districts left out by CREAT will be organized by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. The names of the four districts are yet to be decided. The outreach programs at the district level will focus on working of PDS, FPS etc.

 

Contents

The two day state level capacity building workshop was held on 1 & 2 May 2009 at the National Law School of India University campus. Consumer activists, organisations and other voluntary organisations involved in social work were identified and invited for the workshop. The list of participants is enclosed (Annexure-1). The object of the workshop was to inform, educate and empower consumer activists on various issues related to consumer protection. During the last decade a host of issues have been included as part of consumer movement. The process of economic liberalization, globalization and the emergence of regulatory bodies has influenced consumers. All these issues were included in the workshop. The workshop focused on issues like CPA, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Weights and Measures Act, Right to Food, Citizens Charters, Running a Consumer Organisation, Advocacy skills, Ombudsman schemes, Right to Information, Telecom and Electricity Regulatory process etc. Experts from respective fields were invited to train the participants.

The presentation on CPA was made by Dr.Ashok Patil, Associate Professor of NLSIU, who is also in charge of the Chair on Consumer Law and Practice. Shri.Gundu Rao, President of the Karnataka State Pharmacy Council, dealt with the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Objectionable Advertisements rules. Shri. Mohamad Anwar, Assistant Controller of the Legal Metrology Department, GoK, Hassan, explained the various aspects of Weights and Measures Act and the Standards of Packaged Commodities Rules. Prof. Kempegowda, Principal of the Vivekananda Law College, who chaired the session, summarized the presentations and facilitated the discussions.

The second session was chaired by Mr.Gouri Sathyanarayana, consumer activist and journalist from Mysore. Mr.Vasant Kumar Parigi, the well known consumer activist from Andhra Pradesh (now settled in Bangalore) explained some of the issues that can be taken up by consumer groups. He explained how a complaints cell is to be run and take up administrative advocacy. Mr.Parigi highlighted the role of peoples' representatives in solving consumer grievances. He called upon the participants to make them accountable by having regular interaction with the politicians. Mr.Parigi said that consumer groups should collect information about various schemes of the government and spread it among the masses. He said a simple black board near public places will be most effective. He emphasized the drawbacks in distribution of keresone and said that over 70 per cent of keresone meant for BPL families is diverted to the open market. He wanted consumer groups to take steps in stopping this menace.

The third session focused on Consumer Education and the methodology for running school consumer clubs. Mr.Ravindranath Guru, of Consumer Care Society, Bangalore, made a presentation on the experiences he gained in running over 20 consumer clubs. He explained the topics that are to be taught and the need for training one or two nodal teachers. He said that consumer education should not be restricted to consumer laws and legislations but should also include topics like misleading advertisements, junk food, health aspects, budgeting pocket money, TV watching etc.

This was followed by a presentation on using Right to Information (RTI) with reference to Public Distribution System. The presentation was made by Dr.Balasubramaniam of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. He explained how they have used RTI Act to strengthen the PDS and working of FPS. He said consumer groups need to target the poor sections of the community and gain their support. He advised consumer activists to file applications under the RTI Act and ensure delivery of the service. Dr.Balasubramaniam said that RTI Act can be used to obtain information about the stock of food grains, supplies made, number of ration cards etc. and a social audit conducted.

The second day's deliberation commenced with introductory remarks by Dr.V.Vijaykumar, Professor of Law, NLSIU. He deliberated upon the RTI Act and the Consumer Protection Act with special reference to Class Action Suit. He called upon consumer activists and organisations to make use of the CPA for the benefit of the society as a whole. He said that there are number of cases where the consumer forums have given relief to the general public. He cited the example of H.D.Shourie and his Common Cause in Delhi. Dr.Vijayakumar called upon the participants to identify social issues and take it before the consumer forums.

The fourth session of the workshop focused on Alternative disputes redressal mechanism. Shri.K.R.Ananda, Banking Ombudsman for Karnataka made a presentation on the Banking Ombudsman Scheme. He explained the main features of the ombudsman scheme and said th Office of the Ombudsman is ready to visit any place in the state to propagate the concept of banking ombudsman. He said the scheme has been amended in February 2008 and it is more cheaper and easier to get relief. He said the ombudsman is also empowered to pay some compensation to the consumers. Shri.Ananda said that a number of disputes coming before the ombudsman relates to credit card transactions and called upon consumer activists to educate consumers about the various terms and conditions of credit card companies.

This was followed by the Grievance redressal machinery in LIC of India with special reference to the Insurance Ombudsman scheme. Smt.A.R.Subbulakshmi, of LIC made a presentation on the various steps taken by LIC to protect the interests of the consumers as well as to redress their grievances. She explained the concept of insurance ombudsman and the procedure for approaching the ombudsman. She also said that consumer groups should come forward to organize programs in district centers so that the concept of ombudsman reaches a larger audience.

Shri.Ramamurthy, from the Public Health Institute, Government of Karnataka, made a presentation on the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. He explained the various provisions of the Act and also the role of consumers in promoting the concept of food safety. He said with the entry of genetically modified foods the concept of food safety has gained importance and consumer organisations have a greater role to play in educating people about the hazards of convenience foods, junk foods and create awareness about the labeling requirements.

Mr.K.N.Venkatagiri Rao, Secretary of the Balakedarara Vedike, Sagar, made presentation about the regulatory bodies with special reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). He highlighted the concept, role, functions and authority of these regulatory bodies. He drew the attention of the participants about the need for consumer groups to participate in the regulatory process. He said both TRAI and KERC have issued a number of regulations relating to telecom and electricity respectively keeping consumer interest in view. He explained the grievance redressal machinery and electricity ombudsman.

Mr.Y.G.Muralidharan, CREAT, make a presentation on Right to Food Campaign with special reference to the Public Distribution System. He explained the circumstances that lead to the launch of the right to food campaign, the PIL filed by PUCL and the various orders issued by the Supreme Court. He also highlighted the appointment of the Vigilance Commissioner to look into the problems of PDS and food security. Mr.Muralidharan explained the concept of Citizens Charters relating to PDS and called upon the participants to launch a massive awareness campaign and tell the PDS beneficiaries about the facilities and entitlements in the fair price shops. He also explained the concept of advocacy skills to be adopted by consumer organisations.

The last session of the workshop was devoted to Strategy Planning. Mr.Y.G.Muralidharan chaired the session and explained the project taken up by CREAT and the financial assistance provided by the Government of Karnataka, Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs. He said that the project is to be implemented in all but four districts of Karnataka. The object of this outreach program is to inform and educate the general public, especially the BPL families, about the (a) working of PDS (b) citizens charters of PDS (c) Entitlements of ration card holders (d) grievance redressal mechanism available in the food department. He said each of the district level programs is to reach at least 100 people.

Mr.Muralidharan said that though CREAT would be the implementing agency, the project will be implemented by nodal organisations in each of the districts. He said this two day capacity building program is to equip nodal organisations with necessary skills, information and expertise in conducting programs at the district level. He said the project will be implemented at the district head quarters, as far a possible. In case suitable organisations are not available, the program could be organized in any one of the taluka of the district. The participants were also briefed about the amount of financial assistance that will be provided. He said depending upon the venue/district etc. a sum of Rs.12000 to Rs.15000 (maximum) will be provided to the nodal organisation.

All the participants were given copies of the terms and conditions for organizing the outreach program at the district level. A template was circulated. Mr.Muralidharan said that nodal organisations are required to submit bills, vouchers etc, for the amount spent. Besides, they were also informed about the topics to be discussed, the resource persons to be invited and the methodology of preparing reports, account statements etc.

The valedictory of the workshop was chaired by Shri.Rajashekar, Joint Director, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department. After hearing the views of the participants, Shri.Rajshekar explained the various functions of the department and the steps taken to improve the functioning of the PDS/FPS. Responding to the queries relating to the project given to CREAT, he said that the State Government, the department and the Consumer Welfare Fund Committee had taken note of the good work done by CREAT and has recognised it as the nodal agency to implement the project. He said nine other organisations which had submitted proposals to the welfare fund have been asked to collaborate with CREAT in this project. (Representatives of the nine organisations were present in the workshop) To a query by the nine organisations, whether their proposals stands cancelled, it was clarified that it will be treated separately by the Consumer Welfare Fund.

The workshop decided that the project entrusted to CREAT will be implemented by the help of other nodal organisations at the district/taluka levels. It was also decided that the project will commence from May 2009 and close by August 2009. Later on the participants expressed their opinions about the capacity building workshop. The suggestions and recommendations were taken note of.

All the participants were provided with a 300 page Training Module and several handouts. The workshop ended with vote of thanks by Mr.Y.G.Muralidharan.

 

 

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