Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
CONSUMER : October 31, 1999
A unique co-operative experiment
M. S. Panajkar
The author is Secretary of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.
The co-operative movement started in our country as early as 1904. The movement which flourished in Maharashtra paid more emphasis on fair distribution of available consumer goods than on the protection of the consumer. The co-operative stores worked well when supplies of commodities were scare. The shortage of consumer goods, either real or artificial, invariably led to increase in prices in the market place. This phenomena occurred every year just before the festival season. In order to protect consumer interest, an agitation was organised in Pune in 1974 resulting in the consumer movement. Its philosophy was shaped by Bindu Madhav Joshi who had the valuable support of the singer and music composer, Sudhir Phadke who started the movement in Mumbai in 1975.
Initially the movement's focus was on fair distribution of consumer goods. The system of distribution flourished well in Mumbai and is unique in our country. The movement started its work in the name of Janata Grahak Mahasangh. However, for the purpose of distribution work a society was formed and registered in the name of Janata Madhyavarti Grahak Sahakari Sangh Ltd., in 1978. The other activities of the movement started slowly and for that purpose registration was obtained under the Societies Registration Act 1960 and Public Trust Act 1950 in the name of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.
The distribution system started with the organisation of consumers into buying groups (Grahak Sangh) of a minimum of eleven families in the neighbourhood. Buying groups are supplied with about 65 household items of necessity once a month. The goods are delivered at the doorstep of the Grahak Sangh. The experience over the years has shown that the Grahak Sangh works as one family. As of date over 17,000 families in Mumbai and nearby districts participate in this system through 1,200 buying groups and the turnover of the society has crossed sales of Rs. 18 crores for the year ended March 31, 1999.
The special features of the distribution system are:
As the distribution system was established, the activists of MGP turned their attention to other spheres of consumer welfare. MGP was fortunate enough to have a bank of dedicated workers and in 25 years, the MGP has now emerged as a mass based consumer body unique in India.
MGP aims at bringing the consumers to the centre-stage of the economic activity and aims at making the society consumer-oriented.
Its objects are:
The MGP has six functional wings viz. 1) administration, 2) organisation, 3) consumer education, 4) consumer protection, 5) constructive activities and 6) study and research.
1975: Inauguration of the distribution system, under tbe banner of Janata Grahak Mahasangh. Two distinct wings of the organisation to undertake:
1981: The organisation gets registered, under the Society's Registration Act 1960 and under the Public Trusts Act 1950 as Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.
1989: Becomes member of International Organisation of Consumer Union I.O.C.U.
1992: National Award for Consumer protection.
1997: Full Membership of CI (Consumer International).
IMPORTANT COURT CASES
1. Historic judgment in the Lohia Machines case.
2. MGP's complaint to MRTP Commission forced soft drinks manufacturers to stop use of harmful brominated vegetable oil in soft drinks.
3. Consumer Court Writ Petition: Owing to apathy and neglect of the State Government, 27 out of 34 District Consumer Courts have come to a standstill, for want of appointments of presidents and members. The MGP filed public interest writ petition in the Bombay High Court due to which the consumer courts started functioning.
4. Glaxo humbled: The pharmaceutical giant Glaxo India was caught recycling its rejected Betnesol and other drugs in the open market. The MGP pursued the matter with the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), when all Glaxo factories were asked to close down for 10 days.
5. LPG Accident Case: The MGP filed a case against Bharat Petroleum Corporation and its dealer under the CPA for causing death of a housewife due to defective LPG cylinder. The Consumer Court directed Bharath Petroleum to pay a compensation of Rs. 2,97,000 to the legal heirs of the woman.
Looking back, the MGP can rightly be proud of its track record. However, to realise the dream of an economy free of exploitation and governed by the dictum "Consumer is King" is a gigantic task, demanding co-operation from one and all. We are not alone and with the help of the work being done by like minded consumer organisations in the country we should see the dream come true in the early years of twenty first century.
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