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Madras Musings wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!                      (ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 17, December 16-31, 2012
Committed to crusading for consumer rights
By R.V. Rajan

From promoter of consumerism
to consumer activist – Part II

(Continued from last fortnight)

CAI trustee R. Desikan seen with secretary general G. Rajan (right), Rajiv Aggarwal, Secretary, Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs and T.T. Srinivasaraghavan (left), managing director, Sundaram Finance Ltd, display the consumer guides of Consumers Association of India, in Chennai. – (Courtesy: The Hindu)

When I asked R. Desikan what made him transform himself from being an active promoter of consumerism in the country to becoming a consumer activist, he narrated these two incidents:

In 1977, when the country was still reeling under Emergency rule and any form of criticism against the Government would earn its wrath and a guaranteed place in jail, he wrote a long letter to Indira Gandhi about the travails of the consumer in India, highlighting the importance of passing the Consumer Protection Act. Not only did Indira Gandhi respond to his letter, but she also gave him an audience to hear his views on the matter! This incident taught him the importance of voicing an opinion when faced with problems, instead of living with them. However, his fight against establishments producing sub-standard products or providing shoddy services can be traced back to a personal episode involving a new Ambassador car which he had bought. When the car gave him serious trouble, even during the warranty period, he went to the car dealer who had sold him the car. The indifferent attitude of the dealer who had the audacity to tell him that he had no choice but to live with the defective vehicle, forced Desikan to take up cudgels and fight for the cause of the consumer. Those were the days of a seller's market, where manufacturers got away with producing poor quality products.

By this time his over-ambitious publishing project ran into a serious financial crunch and he decided to close the unit and sell the title of Mangayar Malar alone to another friend who, in turn, sold it to the Kalki magazine group. However, Desikan continued running a printing press for South Madras News. After trying out a couple of other businesses, he decided to cease all business activities and concentrate fully on consumer activism.

* * *

His experience with the SMN Consumer Protection Council led him to take an active interest in the Federation of Consumer Organisations in Tamil Nadu (FEDCOT). He became Chairman of the organisation and during the six years that he was involved with FEDCOT, he helped the membership grow from 12 organisations to 260 organisations and the turnover increase from a few thousand rupees to Rs. 75 lakhs, through grants and subsidies from donor agencies.

Desikan's work at FEDCOT was noticed by people in Tamil Nadu and he became a name to reckon with in the world of Consumer Activism. He was now keen to play an active role in promoting awareness about consumer rights and responsibilities at the national level. His first foray was Concert (Centre for Education, Research testing and Training) which established the first-ever fuel testing laboratory run by an NGO in Chennai, and has been publishing reports based on comparative testing of products commonly used by consumers. Concert has also developed an adulteration detection kit and trained over 2500 women in Tamil Nadu to use it.

Along with stalwarts like B.S. Raghavan (IAS RTD), K. Ravindran IPS, Dr. S. Krishnaswamy, and N.L. Rajah he started an NGO called The Catalyst Trust with the objective of bridging the gap between grassroots people (aam-aadmi) and government establishments. 'Catalyst' is also active in championing electoral reforms and already has 207 regional Citizen Centres and publishes a monthly journal in the regional languages. 'Catalyst' has been very active in promoting voter awareness in a big way, with aggressive media campaigns. According to Desikan, it helped add 1.2 million new voters during the 2004 election.

The flagship organisation of the group, Consumers Association of India (CAI), was started in 2001, with Desikan, the late Yegnaraman and Krishnakumar as Founder Trustees. Today, the Board of Trustees of CAI includes some well-known names, like N. Gopalaswami, former CEC of India.

During the last eleven years of its existence, CAI has helped over 10,000 consumers get redressal for their problems with Governments or erring corporates; 98 per cent of these cases were resolved without any legal intervention. The persistent efforts of CAI resulted in RBI passing a rule by which banks are now calculating the interest due to Savings Bank account holders on a daily basis instead of the earlier periodicity which had been unfavourable to bank customers. This is helping millions of customers across the country get better earnings. CAI has also been working closely with self-help groups in Tamil Nadu, training them to be more aware of their rights and responsibilities as consumers. A few of them have also become Consumer Activists. In recent years, CAI has been working closely with schools and colleges, trying to sow the seeds of consumer awareness in young minds. CAI has published a number of guides useful to consumers and every member gets a free copy of its bi-monthly called Consumers Digest. With some major projects assigned by the Government to CAI, it has come to be recognised as one of the top two consumer organisations in the country.

* * *

Desikan had a major health crisis in 2006. When doctors had given up hope, he had a miraculous recovery. After spending a couple of months in the hospital and later recouping at home for a couple of more months, Desikan was back in action with greater vigour and energy to do what he is passionate about – fighting for the hapless Indian consumer!

When I asked him why in spite of poor health he continues to push himself beyond his endurance limits, he said, "I feel very happy when people who have benefited from CAI come to thank me. More than any award, it is this spontaneous appreciation from the common people that is keeping me going. I am happy that I am able to make some difference to their lives."

An ad-man, journalist, printer, publisher, a pioneer of ideas, a visionary with tremendous energy and enthusiasm – more than all these descriptions of Desikan, what people will always remember him is for his role as a crusader for consumer rights.


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In this Issue

Confusion reigns over heritage
Chennai lags behind as a liveable city
The State to blame for power shortage
Greater focus on natural and rural heritage needed: INTACH
Safeguarding intangible heritage
The State's Legislative Assembly – 60 years and more
Animal Farm – Version 2
Driving – the Indian way...
From promoter of consumerism to consumer activist – Part II
The Mother of all Music Seasons

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write – Season Special!
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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