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Wednesday, October 14, 1998
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50 years on indian independence



A real power struggle
WITH its eyes firmly closed, NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) waded into a payments controversy with West Bengal and Bihar and promptly got egg on its face.

Black buck controversy
IT is unfortunate that the reported killing of two black buck and a chinkara in the protected area near Jodhpur allegedly by actor Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan is sought to be converted into a political controversy...

Well worth emulating
MR Sahib Singh Verma, who was the Chief Minister of Delhi till the BJP decided that it would be better off going into next month’s elections under the leadership of Mrs Sushma Swaraj, has this uncanny knack of what makes headline news.

Key role of standards in consumers’ life
by D.R. Kohli

IN this dynamic world of industrialisation, the operative world is standardisation. Man’s continuous striving for perfection, the basis of all scientific and industrial development, is reflected in the very structure of standards which consistently seek to incorporate the latest advances in a particular field.

75 Years Ago

Bengal flood-affected area
ATRAI: Dr P.C. Roy is touring in the flood-affected area for the last three days. Now most of the centres are cut off from the base by land route. The river and water communications are just beginning to be opened.

India's image is not the issue, interest is: Gujral
The post-Pokhran scenario, India's stand on the CTBT and our neighbours' attitude towards us in the present global setting were reasons enough for Hari Jaisingh to seek an interview with former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and record his views on these issues. As was expected, Mr Gujral was candid in all matters.

The Tribune Library

A real power struggle

WITH its eyes firmly closed, NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) waded into a payments controversy with West Bengal and Bihar and promptly got egg on its face. The first state, irritated at the short notice to “pay up or else”, opted for “or else” and directed its own plants to step up generation and narrow the demand-supply gap. Since Saturday night, there has been an electricity shortfall of about 150 MW at peak hour and a mild disruption in supply. Even this would be overcome when three small gas-fired units (100 MW) and a new power station (another 210 MW) go on steam. This is only part of the secret of West Bengal’s strategy. It also realises that NTPC cannot easily find another customer for the power it produces in its Farakka Super Thermal Power Plant; all its transmission lines lead into the state. Anyway it owes only Rs 715 crore and has to collect slightly more than this amount as arrears from power users in the state. Only during the past decade or so have the Bengalis enjoyed year-round power-full days and nights, and hence should ride out a limited power cut without a loud complaint. Bihar, the bad boy of public finance management, has gone for a twin-track policy. It has agreed to pay Rs 50 crore immediately and a big instalment by the month-end. Simultaneously, it has put several Central industrial undertakings, including Coal India, on short notice to clear their pending bills of about Rs 700 crore “or else”. Orissa pulled off a mighty trick. It dumped on NTPC bonds for a face value of Rs 200 crore and marginally hiked the assured monthly payment and got off unscathed. Bonds are an IOU by governments and will spell cash only on their maturity.

NTPC and its political masters have not done their homework before singling out the three eastern non-BJP-ruled states for the big stick treatment. As things stand now, it has to seek a compromise with West Bengal and hand it a political issue to beat the Centre with. Bihar is poised to prove that non-payment of electricity dues is a national malaise and the various Central ministries are equally prone to it. Orissa has exchanged paper for power, exposing NTPC’s basic weakness: it is keen to exercise its punitive power and not collect hard cash. More seriously, NTPC feels powerless before the BJP-ruled states of UP and Delhi which have toted up a much higher arrear of payment. Its alibi that action is triggered when arrears mount beyond a threshold of so many months – namely, 12 and 15 months in the case of the eastern states as against about 10 in the northern states. This pro-BJP tilt is blatant since Delhi owes in all Rs 7710 crore to the Centre (this despite unbearable power cuts?) with slender hope of early clearance. NTPC is playing politics with power, which can well be a short fuse for political tripping.


Black buck controversy

IT is unfortunate that the reported killing of two black buck and a chinkara in the protected area near Jodhpur allegedly by actor Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan is sought to be converted into a political controversy with an eye on the Assembly elections in Rajasthan. There should be no doubt whatsoever that as far as members of the Bishnoi community are concerned protection of all forms of life is an article of faith. The reprehensible incident occurred in their territory and their demand for action against the culprits is justified. But the noises being made by the members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress are evidently part of an effort to derive political mileage. Even before Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat made the public statement that the “guilty shall be punished” the authorities concerned were busy collecting the necessary evidence to book the two actors for having violated the provisions of the Wild Life Protection Act. On the advice of partymen close to her, Congress President Sonia Gandhi also issued a statement condemning the incident. There is another aspect which too needs to be investigated. There are those who believe that Saif was successful in getting his bail application accepted because he happens to be the son of former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi. Salman Khan’s lawyers have now decided to move the Rajasthan High Court for securing his release on bail. (He has been remanded in the Forest Department’s custody till October 16.) There is no disagreement among conservationists and other sections of society that Salman, Saif and the three actresses who were detained for interrogation in connection with the incident should be punished if found guilty by the court. However, exemplary punishment to one Salman Khan or Saif Ali Khan may not be enough to ensure the survival of certain endangered species of wildlife. There are any number of Salman Khans who earn their livelihood by killing protected animals.

What is more disturbing is the fact that the entire political class has seldom shown the necessary will to ensure that no provision of the Wild Protection Act is ever violated by bounty hunters. Elephants are trapped and killed in the most gruesome manner for their tusk. The one-horned rhino is a threatened species because its horn is presumed to contain rejuvenating properties. If India is serious about preserving its vast bio-diversity it should take note of the latest findings of the World Wide Fund for Nature which shows a 30 per cent depletion in “natural resources” — including plant and animal life — over the past 25 years. It has introduced a Living Planet Index which it hopes would be accepted as a universal parameter for measuring the state of environment health across the globe. The picture it paints of the state of environmental health of India is far from satisfactory. The reasons are not far to seek. The same Rajasthan which is up in arms against the film stars for having killed two black bucks — which are on the protected list across the country because they are hunted for extracting “kasturi” used for making perfume — had played host to a party of Arab Sheikhs who had come years ago with their trained falcons to kill the Great Indian Bustard, on the endangered list of global conservationists. The current incident has been turned into a major controversy because of the Assembly elections in Rajasthan and because those involved in the despicable episode have “star appeal”. It is pointless to demand the heads of Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan alone for the Jodhpur incidents so long as the voices of concern of the conservationists are not heard by the powers that be. Among the several reasons given by Mr Sunderlal Bahuguna and Ms Medha Patkar for their opposition to the construction of big dams is that such projects cause irreparable damage to the fast depleting bio-diversity of the country.


Well worth emulating

MR Sahib Singh Verma, who was the Chief Minister of Delhi till the BJP decided that it would be better off going into next month’s elections under the leadership of Mrs Sushma Swaraj, has this uncanny knack of what makes headline news. When he was to get a ticket for driving a two-wheeler without helmet, he would get it in the presence of reporters. If he went out to inaugurate a swimming pool, he would dutifully jump into it. If such an inauguration was not on his schedule, he would ride a cycle to his office, with a photograph guaranteed in next day’s newspapers. But what he has done on being stripped of his Chief Ministerial post is well worth emulating. He vacated the huge official bungalow at 9 Sham Nath Marg the very day that Mrs Sushma Swaraj was sworn in as his successor. This stands in sharp contrast to the attempt of many former ministers and MLAs to stick to their official houses for years if not for life. What happened after he vacated the bungalow was even more remarkable. He went back home in a DTC bus. He not only bought his own ticket but also those of the people accompanying him. One does not recall any other similar incident anywhere in the country. Even if this was done only in protest against the “shabby treatment” that he received at the hands of the BJP leadership, he has set a healthy precedent. It has been a fabulous gesture no doubt.

Interestingly, he moved over to his modest flat at Shalimar Bagh. Actually, it is a LIG (lower income group) flat. Again, there are not very many former Chief Ministers who have only an LIG flat in their name. On the contrary, most of them are owners of huge mansions generally constructed during their Chief Ministership. Even those who had very limited means before they were anointed had sons and daughters who were so brilliant that they turned into super-successful businessmen over-night to be able to afford palatial houses where the former Chief Ministers could retire to. Mr Sahib Singh Verma is a slur on the face of such successful Chief Ministers. If he and his family members do not have bigger and better houses tucked away elsewhere in the country, he is indeed a man to whom one must doff one’s hat.


India's image is not the issue, interest is: Gujral

For Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, foreign affairs has always been a favourite subject. Whether he is in office or out of it, his interest in foreign relations has invariably been keen. The well-known Gujral doctrine has become a landmark in India's relations with the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. At the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee perhaps had this doctrine in mind when he decided not to take notice of the anti-India tirade of Mr Nawaz Sharif.

The post-Pokhran scenario, India's stand on the CTBT and our neighbours' attitude towards us in the present global setting were all the reasons enough for Hari Jaisingh to seek an interview with the former Prime Minister and record his views on these issues. As was expected, Mr Gujral was candid in all matters.

On Indo-Pak relations, he holds the view that with both countries being in possession of the nuclear deterrent, an armed conflict is ruled out. The only way out is that of cooperation. While economic cooperation is the best route available, we should also be sure of security, he maintains. India's future depends on how we maintain our relations with our neighbours. And in this context, reciprocity is not important, friendship is. So SAARC must be strengthened. It should move quickly towards a free trade zone.

Mr Gujral finds US tilt towards Pakistan natural. The USA has always emphasised that Pakistan is its ally. This has caused hiccups in India's relations with the USA. The end of the Cold War could have given a different turn to Indo-US relations. But other issues came up, including the nuclear tests. India's interests do not tally with those of the USA. So , areas of cooperation have to be explored without worrying about what the Americans tell us.

He finds Sino-Indian relations moving on a strong base. Periodical meetings have always been held between experts; trade has increased; and diplomatic relations have improved. There was a hiccup after the nuclear tests. But we showed that we would get over it quickly. He recalls that when President Jiang went to Islamabad from here, he advised Pakistan to put the Kashmir issue on the backburner.

Mr Gujral says that the CTBT is neither comprehensive nor does it ban all tests. The world is full of nuclear weapons and the question is if we are moving towards denuclearisation of the world. If we are sure of this, we can think of signing the CTBT or any other agreement which promises to make the world more peaceful.

What is India's image? He does not think that there is any such thing as an image. India is attractive in today's global setting because it has a large middle class and it has averted a South-East Asia type of crisis. India's image is not the issue, its interest is.

Here are excerpts from the interview which bring into sharp focus certain vital issues in the context of the Indo-Pak talks commencing tomorrow (October 15):

Q: How do you look at the complexities of Indo-Pakistan relations. In New York, Mr Nawaz Sharif spoke in two voices — one reflected in the joint statement issued with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and the other seen in his anti-India stance while addressing the UN Assembly. For us Indians this is baffling. How do you look at the subcontinental scene, especially the Pakistani mindset?

A: Indo-Pakistan relations must be seen in the background of history. Three wars have been fought. Pakistani memory still attaches importance to its defeat in 1971. To an extent the Pakistan's worldview is quite myopic. They are sometimes unable to look at things very clearly. We have accepted Pakistan as a separate nation and chosen the path of friendship. What happened this time at New York was nothing new. Last year, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had spoken in a similar vein. My speech, if you recall, as well as Mr Vajpayee's address this time. I think, for good reasons, both of us chose not to react to what Pakistan was saying. Top

Q: Fine. But the problem is: how do we institutionalise our relations with Pakistan?

A: Two things have happened in the meantime. One is that SAARC is gaining momentum. Economic compulsions and the end of the Cold War are compelling the subcontinent to look at itself as part of a cooperative region. Regional cooperation has acquired eminence. Pakistan has been cooperating within SAARC. And then the nuclear tests have come.

We in India have known that Pakistan's nuclear technology is a transferred technology. We have been drawing attention of the world to this fact. In any case, now that both India and Pakistan have acquired the nuclear deterrent, they should not think of any armed conflict. We should now try to explore areas of cooperation.

Q: Would you spell out these areas of cooperation?

A: They have been spelt out. For instance, both India and Pakistan are cooperating in SAPTA. A free trade zone is in the interest of every nation in this region. It will also carry with it the prospects of more travel and the easing of the rules. The world has seen that economic cooperation is the best route to healthy relations.

Q: Fine. But what about Pakistan's militant Islamic postures?

A: Let me divide this question. The new factor of fundamentalism and the Taliban factor in Afghanistan. The latter threatens the stability of almost all countries in the region. For example Algeria is an Islamic State. Yet, Algerian terrorism has been working against the people and the government there for the past five years.

Fundamentalism as an approach does not remain confined to religious matters. It is an aggressive form of terrorism that works for various motivations. I do not see this in terms of Islam and non-Islam. I look at this phenomenon in terms of a stable democratic society. You will notice that drugs and narcotics come from Pakistan.

Well, all this has to be kept in mind. However, as a policy we should continue to extend the hand of friendship and cooperation to Pakistan. Of course, we should be sure of our own security. At the same time, our policy of friendship will bear fruit in the long run if we are patient.

Q: In certain areas of foreign affairs, we seem to have gone astray. We don't seem to have a policy on Afghanistan. There was a time when we pursued definite goals and targets in Afghanistan. What is your perception in this regard?

A: The history of Afghanistan has passed through various phases. When the Soviet rulers decided to enter Afghanistan, I was the Ambassador of India in Moscow. India persistently told the Soviet Union, on the quiet of course, to get out of Afghanistan. I was personally present at that meeting. In fact, Mr Swaran Singh was later sent to Islamabad to see if India and Pakistan could follow a shared policy. To cut the story short, that phase is over.

Our policy towards Pakistan has been very clear. We have been saying at various fora, including the UN, that leave Pakistan alone. Similarly, the people of Afghanistan should decide what they want. But Pakistan’s intervention has always been there. You will recall that I had gone to Iran to sign a tripartite agreement — among Afghanistan, Iran and ourselves. I think the present Government of India should be more active on that line.Top

Q: But we seem to have lost the initiative in the case of Afghanistan?

A: Well, I do not want to apportion blame for this. There are powers working for the exclusion of India. Who these powers are is known. But we have to pursue our interests. Our diplomacy must also monitor the American line in this area.

Q: How do you explain the American attitude? Hasn't it become critical?

A: Our relations with the USA have always been subjected to hiccups. Now we see a new hiccup. That is, our nuclear tests. I do not know what is the outcome of the negotiations between India and America. Mr Jaswant Singh met his counterpart five times. Mr Talbott had come here. He also met me and other leaders of the Opposition. The Government of India has not taken us into confidence about the outcome of these negotiations. I think we should discuss in totality our relations with America. It is wrong to discuss only a particular issue.

Indo-American relations have to be viewed and reviewed and strengthened. As for the quality of relationship between India and America, the people in power need to spell it out to us.

Last year, I had a very useful and important meeting with President Clinton in Washington. I told President Clinton that India was interested in having good and friendly relations with America but it must appreciate India’s sensitivities. The response was positive. In fact, the US side hailed this meeting as the beginning of strategic negotiations between India and America. Subsequently, Secretary of State Albright came here and met me. She wrote back to me after returning to Washington that "an era of cooperation and strategic discussions has begun."

Q: What you are saying has not got reflected in public. Whatever may be the Americans' desire, going by their attitude, it seems that the new era in Indo-American relations has not taken off. If anything, things have gone from bad to worse.

A: India has a role to play, particularly in Asia. The Indian economy has improved. The future of the Indian market is of interest to the entire world. India enjoys a key position vis-a-vis South-East Asia on one side and, Asia Pacific on the other. India has been acting as a hub to generate new relationships. Our relationship with neighbours is part of this strategy. This position is not being looked at favourably by some powerful countries. But we have to pursue our core objectives.

We are a country of over 970 million people. We have all the assets, including a technological base. We have got scientific manpower. We are the most vibrant nation in the Third World. So, we have a place of our own. Still, we are not arrogant by temperament. At the same time, we must understand our strengths. And I am sure the current American attitude towards this country is a temporary phase. The Americans are not so unwise as not to see the strength of India.

Q: Looking at the working of Indian diplomacy, it seems that our political leadership is not clear about our foreign policy goals and objectives.

A: I do not want to enter into polemics about the present government. I am neither criticising nor supporting it. But I must say one thing: India’s inherent strength must be appreciated by any negotiator. From our side, Pakistan should not be treated as a central point in our foreign policy. Keeping these objectives in view, I was able to reshape our attitude towards Pakistan.

During my days as Foreign Minister, I felt that 70 per cent of the energy of our Foreign Office was being wasted in polemical wars with Pakistan. I stopped that. Let's take discussions and negotiations with Pakistan in their stride. Let us be positive, and helpful but we should never let our mind be occupied by Pakistan’s eccentricities.

Our policies should not be Pakistan-centric. Our policies are global. Our role is global. We should look at the region in totality and not in terms of Pakistan. There are difficulties with Pakistan. They will get sorted out. We are not against Pakistan. We want to be friendly with Pakistan. But this does not mean that we should react to every statement that Pakistani leaders make publicly.

Q: I personally feel that the American attitude and the support the US Administration extends to Pakistan make all the difference in the postures Islamabad adopts towards New Delhi. Don’t you think a positive American role can help change Pakistan's attitude and stabilise the situation in the region?

A: No, on the contrary. Kindly keep in mind that America has never made a secret of the fact that Pakistan is its ally. In every phase of history it has emphasised this point. That is why India’s relations with the Americans have been full of hiccups. We have had no intention of becoming anybody’s ally. In the post-Cold War era, we were hoping that our relations with the USA would move in a different direction. But in the meantime, new issues have cropped up, including the one relating to the nuclear tests. Our interests do not tally with America’s interests. That is why we are trying to explore areas of cooperation. We should not worry about what America tells us. Top

You will recall that when Mr Clinton went to China, he said that China should take more interest in South Asia. I strongly objected to this statement on the ground that the USA was trying to divide Asia which we will not accept. Subsequently, the Americans tried to explain that Mr Clinton's statement was not meant to convey all that. The question, however, remains. India is a big power. Therefore, we are willing to negotiate with anybody as a friend. But we are not willing to be subservient.

Q: How do you look at the CTBT? Should India sign it? How about lifting of the sanctions?

A: The CTBT is called the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But it is neither comprehensive nor does it ban all types of tests. That is why we decided to stay away from it. At one stage, in Geneva, our Ambassador told the nuclear powers that they should go ahead and sign it among themselves without India. But then they added Article 14 which emphasises that all threshold states must sign it. This is contrary to all practices. You cannot make us sign by force.

Our main ideological approach in the matter remains and we must be assured about de-nuclearisation. Nuclear weapons are in abundance everywhere. Signing the treaty doesn’t mean a thing. The other day the Americans tested again. The point is: are we moving towards de-nuclearisation of the world? We want to be sure. Only then can we think of signing the CTBT or any other agreement which takes us towards making the world more peaceful.

Q: Of late, India seems to be signalling its willingness to sign the CTBT?

A: Well, I do not know. At one stage the media did create that impression. But I now see from the Prime Minister’s speech in the USA that India is not going to sign it.

Q: But this is subject to negotiations?

A: Naturally, subject to negotiations. One thing is very clear. It is not a bilateralised issue. It is a universalised treaty signed by several countries. Universality of it has to be kept in mind. It is not a question between America and India. It is a question whether two of us along with other friends and partners in the nonaligned movement can make this world more peaceful or not. That is the objective which must never be lost sight of. So, it is not a bilateral issue.

Q: But doesn't America give the impression that as the sole super power, its voice alone matters?

A: Whatever America might claim, the world does not always go with it. We know the French attitude as conveyed to the Indian Prime Minister by President Chirac. I had met President Chirac two days before his meeting with Mr Vajpayee. I had a long discussion with him in Paris as well as when he was in New Delhi in January.

Europe is not thinking on the same lines. Certain things are cosmetic. In certain areas our inherent interest lies. Russia today wants the CTBT since it is part of the P-5. However, with the changing situation in Russia, we can have worthwhile discussions with them. We should have already done that. We should take up the nuclear issue with France, Russia and Britain. Britain’s attitude seems to be undergoing a slight change.

We must also see what China wants. China has an interest in this region. It provides nuclear weaponry to Pakistan. Some suspect even to some other countries in our region.

I think Indian diplomacy must always be broadbased. Sometimes we focus only on one country and one issue. We must not make such mistakes. There should be a more diversified approach in Indian diplomacy. We are a major power. Let us behave like a major power. Find out areas of cooperation, and friendship. I see a great deal of understanding among the nation-states about India. We must be very active on all these fronts.

Q: But look at the NAM summit, and South Africa’s attitude. How do you look at these pointers which may not be all that flattering to the post-Pokhran India?

A: I do not want to address myself to the present government. NAM was an assembly of about 114 countries. Their silence on the issue of nuclear tests was very loud. Even when the Nonaligned Bureau met in New York, it discouraged any attempt at criticising India. That is how NAM has to be judged. I see a feeling of cooperation, friendship and comradeship for India. It should be strengthened.

So far as the United Nations is concerned, it is a forum of its own type. Notwithstanding the UN report, the Secretary-General has been playing a very friendly role. Kindly see the positive side of the situation also. We need not get dismayed that those who are not with us are against us. That will be a very big mistake for us. Top

Q: How do you look at Sino-Indian relations?

A: Sino-Indian relations have been moving on a very strong base. In recent times, a major change was visible when President Jiang visited New Delhi. I was Foreign Minister. We had long and worthwhile talks. We have been looking at the old scene in parts. Our first concern, and their first concern, was that our border should be less tense. So, a sizeable presence of the armed forces on both sides has to be reduced. They also seemed to be sitting in the eyeball-to-eyeball position. We both have shifted backwards in our respective areas. Periodical meetings between experts and the groups have been going on. Our trade has increased, our diplomatic relations have improved. There was a hiccup after the tests. I am deliberately using the word “hiccup” because I think we must get over it quickly. You must remember what President Jiang had told Pakistan when he went from here to Islamabad. He advised them to put Kashmir on the backburner.

Q: What should be our priorities in foreign policy?

A: Our priorities in foreign policy cannot be spelt out in terms of first this or first that. Naturally, we are living in a region, that must get our prime attention. India’s future ultimately depends on how we maintain relations with our neighbours. In this region, India must be more accommodating. I have chosen to call this a non-reciprocal arrangement. Reciprocity is not important here, friendship is.

We should try to strengthen SAARC. We should see to it that SAARC moves quickly in the direction of a free trade zone. And all our neighbours should feel comfortable with us. They are feeling comfortable. But we must not sleep on that. At times small incidents do disturb our neighbours. We should be very cautious about such happenings.

Q: In today's overall global setting, how do we boost India’s image?

A: There is no such thing as image. This is a myth which media creates. Nobody is in love with anybody. Nobody hates anybody. India is attractive today primarily because it has the largest middle class in the world. India is attractive because it has been able to tackle the South-East Asian type crisis. We have been cautious about our economic policies. So, India's image is not the issue, its interest is. We have some internal problems. But then we are an open society.


Key role of standards in consumers’ life
by D.R. Kohli

IN this dynamic world of industrialisation, the operative world is standardisation. Man’s continuous striving for perfection, the basis of all scientific and industrial development, is reflected in the very structure of standards which consistently seek to incorporate the latest advances in a particular field.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has come to occupy an important place in the development of the nation and protection of consumers’ interests. The BIS has conclusively demonstrated that it is possible to bring together diverse interests — officials and non-officials, the public and private sector, producers and consumers — and make them work together in nation-building tasks through development of national standards.

Standardisation in every respect is supportive of basic human wants such as better standards of living throughout the world. From the standpoint of consumer protection, it may be said standards ensure better product reliability and performance, lower costs, more efficient services and a healthier and safer world. The consumer is not generally aware of standards although they are affected by standards in all their activities.

The traffic lights convey the same meaning throughout the world, railway lines are at a standard distance, the sizes of cloth are standardised and international dialling access codes are the same. It is because of standardisation that the meaning of various dashboard signals are recognised when buying new vehicles.

The common misconception about standardisation is that it offers benefits primarily to industry. It is true that industry benefits from the use of standards both as a producer and a user of the material and products for which standards have been prepared. But the fact remains that the advantages of standardisation are not limited to one sector alone. They extend right through the whole fabric of the national economy and hence to consumers.

The need of standards of quality is nowhere felt so strongly than by consumers. Standards play an important communication link between the consumer’s needs and the producer’s capability. Standards are important for the exchange of goods. For example, a safety razor blade should fit into the safety razor, no matter where we buy the safety razor or blades; an electric lamp should fit into a holder bought from anywhere, etc. Hence it is imperative that proper standards for products are laid down and adhered to. The BIS has already issued over 17,000 standards in different fields, of which 60 p.c. constitute product standards.

Nearly 2,000 of these have direct relevance to consumers. Some of the items are condensed milk, biscuits, coffee powder, cement, LPG cylinders, custard powder, incandescent lamps, electric appliances, pesticides and durables like refrigerators, pressure cookers, etc.

Around 700 BIS standards are availed of as complementary standards in various service sectors. Few know how much interest they are being charged when using a credit card. Does the holder know what is on the card and who controls it? Can it be changed? A standard may help in proper control.

A consumer requires the service various times during the day, be it in a shop, a bank, while using the phone, seeing the doctor, purchasing train ticket, renting a house, etc. The list is endless and the consumer notices or avails of the services. It is imperative to protect the rights of consumers for getting the services which fulfil their needs. Service standards may be less useful than product standards and hard to create, but even their use would make life more comfortable in many situations. Standards for various sectors by BIS include transport, air conditioning & refrigeration, hospital & medical care, fire safety, tourism and hotel, food hygiene, and water and sewerage.Top

To reflect the consumers’ viewpoint in various standards formulated by the BIS, consumers are given adequate representation on various technical and advisory committees dealing with products of direct interest to them. While representatives of prominent consumer organisations are already associated in the standards’ formulation work, it is desirable that more and more consumer organisations are associated with these commodities.

For this purpose, consumer organisations have to come forward and provide information on areas in which technological expertise is available to their members. This would ensure that representation would be more broad-based.

The consumer organisations on their part must have a strong desire to have responsible representation on the committees. It is desirable that they organise themselves to develop their workforce, criteria and measuring methods which would equip them to actively participate in the committees and contribute effectively in the formulation of standards.

While standardisation and certification are activities that promote consumer welfare, the BIS has made conscious efforts to project its role of consumer protection with the setting up of a nodal department — the Consumer Affairs Department. This committee has been maintaining close relations with consumers and their associations, on the one hand, and the Central Consumer Protection Council and the Ministry of Food and Consumers Affairs (the apex authorities coordinating the efforts) on the other to provide protection to consumers.

The BIS is making concerted efforts to train and educate various office-bearers of consumer associations about BIS activities. Awareness programmes are being organised through its regional and branch offices. Efforts are also being made to spread awareness about standardisation and the BIS role among school children so as to bring about an understanding about the role of standardisation during their formative years.

The BIS has an all-India network. Its Consumer Affairs Department is there to help consumers, in case they come across any BIS certification product which they deem to be substandard. The use of the standard mark or its imitation is an offence under the Act punishable with imprisonment extending up to one year and a fine of upto Rs 50,000.

The BIS also has the power to search and seize, in case reasonable doubt exists, about any misuse of the standard mark. Consumers are advised to be careful about products carrying the lable “Conforming to ISI” or “Fitted with ISI element” as these markings are spurious and illegal and mislead the consumer. Consumers are advised to be wary of such misrepresentations and bring them to the bureau’s notice.

The consumers feedback would help the BIS tighten the supervisory control over manufacturers and this, in turn, would help the industry concerned to become a trusted and respected enterprise for the common man, thereby making a vital contribution to the improvement of life.

The writer is Deputy Director-General of the Bureau of Indian Standards.


Bengal flood-affected area
From Secretary, Bengal Relief Committee

ATRAI: Dr P.C. Roy is touring in the flood-affected area for the last three days. Now most of the centres are cut off from the base by land route. The river and water communications are just beginning to be opened.

He made village inspections in three centres, each operating in about 30 square miles. He often waded through mud and water, sometimes crossing pools of water in the arms of able-bodied workers.

The stoppage of paddy husking owing to monsoon caused some distress. The widows and orphans are acute sufferers, rarely getting one meal on alternative days. Dr Roy was besieged by applicants, crying for help.

Introduction of Charkha

The people in the affected area taking keenly to spinning. Already 350 charkhas are working and in the course of a month’s training the output from these charkhas has reached a maund and a quarter of 10 to 12 counts yarn per week.

The programme is to distribute 3,000 charkhas in ten centres for the production of 60 mounds of yarn per month. This will be spun locally.

There are several thousands jolahas or hereditary weavers here. No difficulty will be experienced in weaving the entire output of 60 maunds which will find its way in the hands of flood and famine stricken people.

Already 2,000 yards of pure khaddar have been woven by jolahas from our yarn. One striking feature about khaddar production in this area is that only pure khadi is being woven. The weavers have learnt to get over the dread of weaving hand-spun yarns in the course of a few week’s coaching. Arrangements have been made to open dying school for weavers at the Atrai base and do the requisite dying by deshi rung.

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