Sucheta Dalal :India’s oldest consumer body faces a loss of credibility
Sucheta Dalal

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India’s oldest consumer body faces a loss of credibility  

May 11, 2010

The Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI), India’s oldest consumer body, continues to be roiled by controversies, this time over its decision on 16th April to terminate its association with Consumers International (CI), a global federation of consumer organisations.

CGSI is the only Indian consumer organisation which has been a council member of CI for 25 years. Unfortunately, this association has now ceased due to issues pertaining to Dr Manohar Kamath, CGSI’s general secretary (who has been in the saddle for four years). CI’s regulations forbid its members from accepting monetary help from private organisations except government bodies for their activities. This is to avoid allegations about bias or influence by sponsors and advertisers.

Things came to a head when Dr Kamath decided to start accepting advertisements in ‘Keemat’, a monthly magazine produced by CGSI for consumers. Some CGSI life members filed a complaint with CI, following which Joost Martens, director general, CI, wrote to CGSI on 3 March 2010 regarding breach of CI membership rules. The formal review of the complaint was done by the Membership Rules Committee of CI.

Members of CGSI have been raising objections since 2006, saying that Dr Kamath violates CGSI’s articles of association and rules and regulations. Dr Kamath has been fighting cases on behalf of insurance companies against consumers, whom he is supposed to protect by virtue of his position. The South Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in August 2006 had prohibited Dr Kamath from appearing before it after receiving a confirmation that he was using his appearance before the forum as his profession. Vijay Chheda was the complainant and his lawyer brought forward a statement made on oath by Dr Kamath. “I am on the panel of Opposite Party’s Insurance Company. I am being remunerated by (the) insurance company on being on its panel for (the) past three-four years. I have given opinions approximately in five-six matters to the opposite part per month. I am practicing as a family physician and also as a Medico-legal Consultant having completed Master-in-Law. I am remunerated in those matters where I appear on behalf of this opposite party.”

CGSI chairman, professor NM Rajadhyaksha, replied to CI’s complaint on 23 March 2010 denying all charges levied against CGSI and Dr Kamath’s activities. Anticipating ouster from the membership of Consumers International, CGSI’s letter converged ‘withdrawal’ of CGSI from CI’s membership.

Indrani Malkani, a CGSI life member and an activist, told Moneylife, “Since the time Dr Kamath has been associated with CGSI, there have been many controversies. Two years ago, Keemat started accepting advertisements and corporate sponsorships for its seminars and public meetings in contravention of the rules of CI. Hence it was their (CGSI’s) fault.” Dr Kamath explains that CGSI had to accept advertisements for the payment of outstanding rent, “We are sure you will accept that as part of Corporate Social Responsibility and keeping in mind the fact that grants from government organisations are acceptable, this activity should not violate any norms of ethics and/or morality of consumer organisations.”

Krishna Basrur, CGSI’s senior-most member and former president, wrote a letter of appeal on 5 May 2010 to all CGSI members to ensure that every member is informed about CGSI’s problems. The letter of appeal from Mrs Basrur informed CGSI members about two modifications in the pipeline. “The Managing Committee is proposing to delete the rule in our constitution which makes businessmen ineligible for election to the Committee. The second amendment proposed is that the Board of Trustees should be dropped.” However, the Charity Commissioner has issued a stay order on the same.

Dr Kamath denies that CGSI’s Managing Committee was considering deleting the rule which makes businessmen ineligible for election to the committee. “The removal of Trustees from the constitution was to correct an anomaly and get rid of the decorative post which played no role in the development or management of the Society.” Ashpreet Sethi

-- Sucheta Dalal