Open the day’s newspapers , and all you see are scary reports  -- about viral fevers, dengue, people thronging to clinics for medication, waterlogged layouts. A judgment under the Consumer Protection Act, handed out in Chennai  will be of interest to citizens in Bengaluru who would like to do something about the sorry state of civic amenities and cleanliness in the metropolis,  but knew also that the municipality could not be sued under the Act because of a  ruling that citizens were “not consumers” of municipal services under the law.

A citizens' group filed a complaint with the Tamilnadu Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission against the municipal contractor, for “inexcusable indifference” in clearing the city’s rubbish. The commission held the municipal corporation responsible, and also ordered it to pay monetary compensation, since overseeing the work of the contractor was the its responsibility.

The municipal corporation itself may escape accountability under the fine print of the Consumer Protection Act, but the contractor to whom cleaning and garbage removal services have been outsourced, is fully accountable for proper discharge of duties, since he gets paid for the work.

A judgment has come from the Tamil Nadu State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission following a complaint filed by a registered Trust known as the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group which alleged “inexcusable indifference” in clearing the city’s rubbish. The Trust pointed out that the municipal corporation was statutorily obliged to ensure that the city was kept clean and safe through regular removal of garbage, for which it had entered into a contract. As the contractor had not cleared garbage properly, the city had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, endangering public health.

Chalta Hai” attitude

The State Commission looked into this complaint, saw photographs, and in its verdict held the corporation responsible, and also ordered monetary compensation to be paid by the municipal corporation, since overseeing the work of the contractor was the responsibility of the city corporation. Since a precedent has been set, the TN commission's order can be used all over the country under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Quoting the details of this case and order, the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) of Ahmedabad, which has spearheaded many path-breaking  initiatives through courts, comments ( in its magazine Insight) that a “Chalta Hai” attitude on the part of municipalities  is unacceptable.

This is exactly what some citizens of Bengaluru have also been saying. As of this writing, there is a signature campaign on, in south Bengaluru,  to bring the deteriorating garbage clearance situation in our own ooru, to the attention of the higher authorities, since several letters and phone calls to health officers, and even a report in Citizen Matters, have brought no action.

Rally round, citizens of Bengaluru, now that you have a precedent-setting order from a State Commission,  lest more of us come down with the dreaded chikungunya (already I hear of hundreds of cases around the city, even among the affluent, thanks to the garbage pile up and consequent mosquito menace...)

The same issue of Insight also carries an item that might interest those concerned about the akrama-sakrama issue. The Supreme Court has said, in a case that went from the district forum to the National Commission and thereafter to the apex court, that the builder is responsible for unauthorised deviations from the sanctioned plan, even if he has handed over possession to the buyer, pocketed the money and pushed off. “The arms of the law must stretch to catch unscrupulous builders” the judgment says. Complying with building laws is the responsibility of the builder, and if there is a threat of demolition, it is the builder who has to face the music, the court said.

Corrupt officials

But what about the corrupt officials with whose collusion, such unauthorised deviations take place? Or officials whose job it is to ensure that there is no deviation but fail to take action when rules are seen to be broken (just look around the city, and notice how many new buildings, including some being put up by so-called VIPs, openly flout the law about setbacks etc.)?

But wait a moment – NGOs  do not sprout out of the earth, they are made up of individuals. So folks, how about joining hands and gathering strength from numbers, so that corrupt officials do not make money from deviations and law-breaking?

From another NGO, the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) of Mumbai (the oldest consumer protection organisation in the country, now nearly four decades old, and a member of the world body known as Consumers International) comes another piece of information about telecom  services  -- under the guidelines formulated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) complaints pertaining to service disruption  are to be attended to within three days . I must tell that to the mobile service provider who has taken 23 days to “verify my address” and cut off call making facilities till someone feels he is in a mood to verify my address and allow me to make calls (that does not mean that they did not bill me for those 23 days, of course...)

I have statistics on how many donkeys there are in India, and how many cattle and buffaloes (97,00,00,  20,45,33,000  and  8,34,99,000 respectively – no kidding! I have it on good authority) but if we are all made “bakras” like this, paying up and not getting services in return, perhaps we should update those numbers.  ⊕