Friday, April 29, 2011


You really have to forgive me my cynicism, but as I see the euphoria over the Jan Lokpal Bill begin to wane, I just can't help recollect that old truism – the more things change, the more they remain the same! I am utterly convinced that even if the so called drafting committee is allowed to meet and debate sincerely; and even if by some miracle people like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Pranab Mukherjee do agree to what civil society activists want, the law that politicians and bureaucrats will finally pass will inevitably make that law an ass from day one. My cynicism is because our rotten system ensures that even the best of intentions and great and progressive looking laws become a farce.

Let me take you back to 25 years ago when a pre-Bofors Rajiv Gandhi regime was trying hard to reform our rotten system where the few always gained at the expense of the many. One of the laws passed during those days was the Consumer Protection Act. I still remember the hype and hoopla raised over the law in those days. Optimists crowed about how the law will enable ordinary consumers like you and me to punish companies peddling bad products and services. It was said that the consumer courts would be truly user friendly, would deliver speedy justice and work in a manner that lawyers won't be required at all. On paper, that tantalising promise made by the law still holds. In reality, millions of aggrieved consumers in India will tell you how that promise is a farce. Did you say no lawyers? Ask consumers who filed substantive complaints and they will tell you how companies often use batteries of expensive lawyers to browbeat them. Did you say swift and speedy disposal of cases? The sad truth is, pending cases in consumer courts have already exceeded unmanageable levels. Do you still dream about mythical David versus Goliath fights and the outcome? Well, dream on.

The same companies who would quake with fear at the power of consumer rights and punitive laws in developed markets treat Indian consumers like rubbish. Take any product or service category and – despite so called competition – companies in India get away with anything and the consumer gets nothing.

I will remind you of another progressive law passed in those heady Rajiv Gandhi days. It is the now notorious Section 498 A against dowry. You really think it has helped Indian women?


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