Maggi row: Scant regard for consumers

The TV news channels have thought it fit to discuss the Maggi bogey for days together and hour after hour. Does it indicate the degenerating standards of electronic media in reporting news in order of priority?

Not many in our country pay any great attention to the bogey on Maggi because we never worry about the long term effects and are only concerned about today. This will take centuries to change. That’s why we see thousands of accidents on our roads, supply of adulterated water by our own government agencies, polluted rivers, unhygienic   food consumed by thousands of people on road side stalls, filthy vegetable markets, bad roads, the list can go on.

Our government agencies cannot supply even river water duly purified. So, when one listens about the plans to supply treated potable water out of recycled water, one can only laugh at such day dreams.

The ill-effects of MSG (Mono-sodium-glutamate) are still debated. Some claim that it can cause chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heart beat, burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms etc. As per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the addition of MSG to foods is ‘generally recognised as safe’ (GRAS).

High lead in adults may cause digestive problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pains, high BP, fertility problems etc. The bogey on Maggi has its predecessors like previous cases of Cadbury chocolates having worms, soft drinks with residue of pesticides more than the permitted levels  but nothing has changed dramatically thereafter in our system of government administration of food products.

If a large global company like Nestle is charged with such lapses, one can imagine the fate of thousands of medium and small companies in India supplying packaged food products  without any worthwhile monitoring and reporting by the government authorities concerned.

How many buyers in India look at the date of manufacture, expiry date, contents, MRP on the package? It is very minuscule even in case of medicines. That is why the manufacturers take the consumers for a ride by printing the information in a clumsy manner and non-readable format.

Particularly, the information printed on plastic strips of pills are totally consumer unfriendly and the government must act on this. No one is sure whether what is printed on the package is correct, including the marking on a product whether it is vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

The information printed on the products is consumer unfriendly and the government must act on this. No one is sure as to what is printed on the package is correct.  In the absence of effective monitoring and dissemination of information to the public by the government authorities concerned and prosecution of the erring entities by the government agencies, the entities give a go by to the statutory standards.

The delays in judiciary, more importantly, even the consumer courts which are established to help the consumers in distress, cause more distress to the litigants by indefinite delay in disposing of cases. The multinational companies are inspired by the weaknesses in our system of governance and it therefore, ticks off the statutory requirements.

One wonders what prevents the Supreme Court or High Courts to suo motu take up the cause of abnormal delays in the disposal of cases due to lack of appointment of judges, establishment of courts or infrastructure and order the government authorities concerned to establish as many courts that are necessary with proper infrastructure on a time bound manner to avoid judicial delays.

Product ads

Another area of severe concern is product advertisement. Claims are often superfluous. Detergent brands claiming removal of all stains, bacteria, liquid soap brands claiming to cleanse hands in 10 seconds, water purifiers claiming to eliminate all bacteria, are some of the hundreds that go unchallenged by the consumers, government agencies or the NGOs.
The fallout of such a scenario gives place to manipulative advertisement tactics like mileage claims by vehicle manufacturers. Many times we wonder how a celebrity makes a statement on the product as if he is a regular user of the product.

The statement by a celebrity without having used the product and having ascertained to his/her satisfaction independently that the statements made are factual, the star is legally liable for civil breach of trust with the consumers. On the other hand, if there is gross negligence in checking the facts or such a celebrity makes statements knowingly false, he can be prosecuted even for criminal breach of trust, cheating and fraud.

Of course, in India corruption is all pervasive and the multinationals know this, much more than we do. Perhaps, this is one reason why many state governments are jumping into the fray and ordering testing of the Maggi product or imposing a temporary ban.
After the dust settles down, the erring companies may play the normal tricks of the trade with the authorities and politicians of the day who matter and it would fade into history. Don’t we know what happened to the erring company when thousands died in Bhopal gas tragedy in December, 1984?

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