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Friday, July 13, 2007

Infighting hits oldest consumer body

The Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) is caught in a row that threatens to jeopardise the very purpose of one of the country’s oldest consumer protection bodies. Five leading members of the organisation in a notice to the Charity Commissioner have complained of serious irregularities and illegalities in the society’s functioning. In fact, the concerned members have even asked the charity commissioner to take over the organisation, as they allege the managing committee (MC) members, including the honorary general secretary M S Kamath, are working against consumers’ interests.
According to the members, “it is completely in conflict of consumer interest” that Kamath, who has been on the panel of various insurance companies, should regularly appear for them in the various consumer forums against the aggrieved consumer themselves.

“So, we want the charity commissioner to act suo motu under Section 41 (D) of the Bombay Public Trust Act and take over the CGSI management and all its records,” said Indrani Malkani, a member.

Another managing committee member and the former chairman of the trust, AR Shenoy, was also found to be the proprietor of a small business firm by the name M/s S S Labs, which makes him ineligible to be an MC member.

“Although Shenoy has resigned as chairman, he continues to be on the MC. Both Kamath and Shenoy have behaved against the CGSI’s constitution. When our resolutions against the two were constantly ignored, we had no option but to approach the charity commissioner,” said Krishna Basrur, another member.

Incidentally, Shenoy, who had co-opted Kamath into CGSI in 2004 against the wishes of the many members, is himself calling for the latter’s head after the two fell out. “We could not take action against Kamath in the past since there was no evidence against him. But now, a Right to Information plea filed with the State Consumer Redressal Commission shows that he has represented service providers against consumers in at least 24 cases,” said Shenoy.

The notice to the charity commissioner also points out the arbitrary functioning of the CGSI in which Kamath and A R Shenoy recruited 150 members on the eve of MC elections last year without proper scrutiny of papers and allowed to vote and ensure Kamath’s victory.

This, while many members wanted the polls postponed. E Chandran, the former CGSI vice-chairman who chaired the annual general body meeting, said, “From the hooligan behaviour of the crowd it was evident that the election conducted was not for an NGO with a cause but for vested interests.” Soon after Kamath’s win, the MC passed a resolution supporting his work of aligning with the service providers.

However, a defiant Kamath told DNA that a motivated campaign against him was being waged by a section of advocates who, thanks to him, had lost cases in the consumer forum.

“This cartel of advocates by not appearing in court has led to a huge backlog of cases. I stand only for insurance cases where my opinion is sought as a medico-legal expert. Is weeding out bogus claims anti-consumerism?” he asked. Claiming having abdicated all legal briefs after assuming the general secretary office, Kamath said he was, in fact, cleaning up the CGSI by taking people who work rather than ‘socialise’.

The CGSI’s trustees on their part feel that too much damage has already been caused to a great institution. “I sincerely hope the charity commissioner intervenes to save an important organisation of the country,” said J B D’Souza, trustee and former municipal commissioner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Consumer Guidance Society has continuously been in a mess with various groups vying for its control, obviously for vested interests. This has happened around 1994 onwards, a few years after the Consumer Protection Act was implemented in Maharashtra. First the briefless advocates lobby took control of the organization and now it is the doctor's lobby. It is sad that a so-called voluntary consumer organization is being torn apart due to in-fighing; but such fighting is necessary to clear up the organization. The organization is supreme and must continue, even though the individuals may change over the years.