Metaphysical analysis of the treatment people of Kashmir as a nation receives apart from political dispensation for their alleged follies needs a truthful appraisal. People exist in physical form and they may survive economic challenges but in an emancipated world they also look for dignity. What is their status as citizens? What is evident in the days they spend in contact with powers that rule them is a devastating meltdown of faith in their relationship and demeaning posturing of institutions.
The world over in some places ordinary peoples receive humiliation from corporate skullduggery and mistreatment. Kashmir is the worst to suffer. They become gambits in the theatre of exploitation and corruption. The utility providers have free license to impose fines at their sweet will and not one remedial case has succeeded in the District Forums of the Consumer Protection Act 1968 (the Indian CPA is not applicable in J&K ). We are looking at drudgery of paying bills like the telephone bills, electricity, water, internet usage, bank repayments and taxations. It is the mechanics of billing the consumer and the modalities of receiving payments from them that poses a big question mark on the democratic governance. You are made to stand for many hours in a queue in blistering whether outside a designated bank in order to pay your bill. Your day from work and home and recreation is expended in pursuit of paying a bill. This practice is singular to this part of the world.
Contracts drawn up with consumers are ultra-vires because they have one sided clauses. For example a meter is installed and estimated usage is written and charges are made either as on meter or as estimated. No where does the contract stipulate that the service may be withdrawn for inordinate length of time as power cuts and pointblank shut offs. In this one example apart from peremptory dictates upon citizens, victims of domination as human chattel, there are blatant violations of customary laws. A contract is null and void if one party defaults by not providing the service, un-interrupted and as stipulated or in default of payment by the other party. Likewise BSNL clerks make people stand in queues for hours trying to accept money for telephone charges? This is a despicable violation of the rights of citizens, unknown in any part of the civilized world, if we count J&K a part thereof.
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 1986 was designed for better protection of the interests of consumers is applicable in all parts of India except this State. CPA s.2 (g) does not permit a provider of a service like for example water to act with a ‘deficiency’ or any fault, imperfection, or inadequacy which is required to be maintained by law. CPA s. 19 (r) describes ‘unfair trade practice’ provides a service by adopting unfair methods. The service has to be of a particular standard, quality and grade. None of the service providers in Kashmir ever give any warranty of their performance, efficiency or length of life of that service. A household in Brein Nishat was without water for a week. The problem was a blockage somewhere in the main road and was corrected after great tribulation and a charge of Rs 6000 for which no receipt was forthcoming. How does that match with the provision [s. 19, (vii)] CPA . Clause (19 : viii) that stipulates a promise to replace , maintain or repair or to repeat or continue a service until it has achieved a specified result.
Electricity lines are hanging loose or tied to the branches of trees. The hazards in this service are numerous and it will only be a matter of a surge of strong winds and there will be a blackout for days and someone may be electrocuted. The consumer still has to pay for the hours spent in darkness in standing charges. These are basic services and every citizen has a right to expect a fair deal in the purchase of all utilities. The high handed approach has now been adopted by mobile phone mobster organizations. They telephone you to wait at home because someone is bringing a bill to you and if you have taken time off work and attend their shops, they offer you a token to wait in a line, even if there are employees looking agape doing nothing. Where is the cliché ‘Customer comes first ‘. There is need to enforce working practices where respect for the consumer becomes a priority.
India was the second country in the world where postal services were introduced and acclaimed. Why do these services not get used to post bills? The message must go to all corporations that they provide every facility possible for payment of bills and the bills must be realistic and reflect the actual service provided. It is the mode of payment that is the central theme of this article. Always give people alternatives of their chosen method of payment. A self addressed envelope must accompany every bill and crossed cheques must be accepted. Payments can also be made electronically either by email and credit / debit cards. All ATM machines can be made suitable to receive payments. People not conversant with this technology should be able to pay at any branch of a bank that suits them and not the provider. The most convenient method that works abroad is a direct debit where the provider has control or standing order where the customer has control of paying an average amount all the year through and the last amount is billed as a settlement in full.
Well known dictum of a democracy is to emphasize the primacy of dignity. People say ‘We have done no wrong; wrongs have been done to us’. Why do we suffer peremptory sanctions and assault on our day to day lives. People are determined to abandon hybrid characteristics of acquiescent and mute existence.
Dr Abdul Majid Siraj firstname.lastname@example.org and www.kashmir-caselaw.com