About Safety Watch | Mission | Objectives | Milestones | Activities | Events | Publication | Press Release
Participation in Seminars/Workshops | Information Dissemination and Outreach

ABOUT SAFETY WATCH

Safety is a fundamental right and an essential condition for sustainable development of society. The right to safety is important for safe and secure living. The right to safety means the right to be protected against products, services and technology, which are hazardous to health or life. Without any effective regulatory mechanisms, consumers suffer the most in terms of safety.

As a consumer protection organisation, CUTS is closely involved with issues related to consumer safety and actively working on that. Feeling the need for more focused action in the area of consumer safety, in 1993, CUTS established “Safety Watch” as an independent programme at its Calcutta Centre with the mission “to achieve the citizen's right to be protected against unsafe goods, services and environment, and to promote sustainable consumption and production and provoke questioning and action.” The stimulus behind the launch of Safety Watch was the Public Liability Insurance Act, which was enacted in 1989 to provide for compulsory liability insurance by hazardous industries. Added to this was the 1993 amendment to the Consumer Protection Act 1986, empowering consumers to file complaints against hazardous goods and seek their ban or withdrawal from the market.

Mission

To achieve the citizens’ right to be protected against unsafe goods, services and technology.

Objectives

CUTS Safety Watch aims to work on safety issues to achieve the following objectives:

  • To inform and educate consumers about their safety related rights through formal as well as non-formal education systems, so that they might push for improved legislations, standards and implementation on safety related matters.
  • To enhance the adoption of national as well as international standards for the safety and quality of goods, services and technology.
  • To encourage and build capacity of consumer organisations to carry out testing of essential consumer goods and dissemination of information. 
  • A survey in 1985 on the cheating of consumers under the garb of “Local Taxes Extra” was mentioned in the editorials of two leading newspapers. Subsequently, the Government changed the law, mandating manufacturers to print a maximum consumer price on packaged goods.
  • It is responsible for the enactment and strengthening of the dynamic Consumer Protection Act 1986 (COPRA), likes of which are not seen anywhere in the world.
  • It obtained an unprecedented compensation of Rs. 50,000 from Otis Elevator Co. for a lift accident victim without going to court in 1987. It was mentioned in the Limca Book of Records as the highest lift accident compensation ever paid in India.
  • In 1988, CUTS inaugurated National Commission, Rajasthan and West Bengal State Commissions, set up under COPRA not by cutting ribbons, but by filling the first complaints before each of these bodies.
  • A unique honour was bestowed when it was the only group in the country to serve on the Central, Rajasthan and West Bengal State Consumer Protection Councils during 1987-90.
  • By a class-action petition under COPRA, it ensured the legal and human rights of nearly 800 poor victims of adulteration in edible oil in Calcutta in 1988-90, commonly referred to as the “Behala oil Tragedy.”
  • A CUTS study on road safety in 1990 became the basis for the National Road Safety Policy adopted by the Government of India in 1993. It was nominated to the National Road Safety Council twice and to its first high-level Ministerial Committee, which was established to formulate the National Road Safety Policy.
  • CUTS succeeded in getting a toxic additive, Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), banned for use in soft drinks in 1990. This led to widespread consumer awareness on health and safety issues. The BVO episode triggered an amendment in the Consumer Protection Act in 1993, empowering the consumer courts to stop the sale of and/or order the withdrawal of any unsafe or hazardous goods from being sold in the market under the Right to Safety.
  • Pursuant to an appeal in 1995 on medical negligence by CUTS, the Supreme Court of India ruled that all government employees, even if they or their families get free medical treatment, would be entitled for coverage under COPRA. The landmark judgement settled the controversy of medical negligence being covered under COPRA.

Press Release

Imported chocolates: a little caution could go a long way
23 December 2004
CUTS calls for strict watch over the safety of joyrides during Pujas
14 October 04, Dainik Vishwamitra, Kolkata
CUTS calls for strict watch over the safety of joyrides during Pujas

13 October 04, Press Release, Kolkata
CUTS calls for aid road accident victims first, formalities later
06 September 04, Press Release Kolkata
Playing With Toys or Life?

17 March 04
CUTS Safety Watch urges National Building Code to be made mandatory
29 July 04

Safety Watch in Media

Safety leash for pandal rides, drivers
18 October 04, The Telegraph, Kolkata
Book Rack

18 September 04, Deccan Herald, Kolkata
Munna Bhai LLB to compaign against chronic 'file-pushers'
14 September 04, Times of India, Kolkata

Call for strict enforcement of National Building Code on schools

05 August 04, Udayavani (Karnataka's Daily)
Book Review: "Is It Really Safe?"-Cutting a swathe
05 August 04, The Hindu
Fire safety not high on buildings' priority list
03 August 04, The Hindu
Book Review: "Is It Really Safe?"-CUTS Safety
02 August 04,  Business Standard
Holistic Fire Safety Call For State School Buildings
02 August 04, Asian Age
Book Review: "Is It Really Safe?"-Creating Safety Awareness
18 July 04, Financial Express
What lies beneath
15 July 04, The Telegraph
Railway safety commission report blames train accidents on human failure
05 July 04, Newind Press
Report blames human errors for train mishaps
05 July 04, NDTV
80% train accidents due to 'human failure': WPS
05 July 04, The Pioneer
Human errors blamed for train mishaps

05 July 04, Central Chronicle
Train accidents due to human failure: report

05 July 04, The Economic Times
Railway reports blame train accidents on ‘human failure’
05 July 04, Indian Express
Railway report blames train accidents on 'human failure'
05 July 04, Daily Excelsior
Railway report blames train accidents on 'human failure'
05 July 04, Hindustan Times
Use mosquito repellants with caution: experts
28 June 04, Deccan Herald
IS IT REALLY SAFE?
28 June 04, Outlook
Book Review: "Is It Really Safe?"
Consuming Trends
15 June 04, Down to Earth
Beware! Toys Can Be Injurious To Health
30 March 04, Hindustan Times
Alert On Hazardous Toys

29 March 04, Business Standard
BEWARE OF THE TOY TRAUMA
How Safe Is It To Leave Your Children With Their Best Friends?

28 March 04, Times of India

Advocacy and Policy Dialogues

Behala Oil Tragedy

In 1987, more than 1600 people had fallen ill seriously and 18 died after consuming food cooked in rapeseed oil sold by a ration shop in Calcutta’s Behala area. The poison responsible for this tragedy was triorthocresyl phosphate (TCP), which is used as a plasticiser in the plastic industry. TCP was mixed with the oil to give it the flavour of mustard oil.

A “Class Action” petition filed by CUTS, under the Consumer Protection Act, before the National Commission, succeeded partially. The petition was filed against the West Bengal Food and Supplies Department and Health Department and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The ration shop owners received life imprisonment.

National Road Safety Policy

India has one of the highest accident rates in the world. A CUTS study on road safety in 1990 became the basis for the National Road Safety Policy adopted by the Government of India in 1993. CUTS was nominated to the National Road Safety Council twice, and to its first high level Ministerial Committee, which was established to formulate the National Road Safety Policy. 

Campaign on BVO

The Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) scandal is a story of how CUTS fought against all possible odds to achieve for consumers their Right to Safety. BVO is an additive, which is used in artificial citrus flavoured aerated drinks to give it the cloudy look, so that consumers are fooled into believing that it is the real thing.  India banned BVO legally, formally and technically in 1988. But the powerful soft drink lobby managed to scuttle the ban. Some vague relaxations were given even without government permission.

When CUTS saw the attitude of the Government in this matter, it decided to take up the issue. After all efforts with the government having failed, in 1989 CUTS filed a complaint with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) under the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA). CUTS prayed that the ban on BVO should be enforced. The NCDRC showed its incapability to injunct or stop the use of BVO, and said it could only offer compensation to the consumer who suffers harm due to the consumption of the soft drinks containing BVO. Fortunately, it closed the complaint on the plea by the Ministry of Health that it will appoint an Expert Commission, to look into the matter within three months. 

CUTS collected evidence from all over the world and placed it before the Expert Commission. The Commission recommended to the government positively, which finally decided to ban the use of BVO in all the soft drinks. As a result of this, COPRA, 1986 was amended giving the consumer courts the powers to ban marketing of any hazardous goods and also to ask for its withdrawal from the market. This enabled the consumers to take action against hazardous goods under the Right to Safety. No such law existed in India before this amendment.

Challenging Drug Misprescriptions

A rational drug policy is an integral part of the health policy. Unfortunately, India has never ever had a comprehensive rational drug policy. The Drug Policy of 1995 did not pay attention to the consumer, it was totally industry oriented. It is also a known fact that pharmaceutical companies influence doctors to prescribe their medicines, with the result irrational generation of prescriptions by doctors. In return, the doctors used to get some benefits from the pharmaceutical companies for prescribing their brand.

A nation wide survey by CUTS on the misprescprition by doctors in 1995 led to a campaign for advocacy of prescription audit system. Consumer and health organisations in India warned doctors to prescribe drugs rationally or prepare to get sued in consumer court for medical negligence. 

Chemical Additive in LPG Harmful

In January 2002, due to a technical fault, mercaptan, a sulphur based chemical additive, which is used to detect the leakage of LPG had been added in excess. Though Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) insisted that the chemical has no negative health implications, medical practitioners contradicted their view. Ethyl mercaptan has been enlisted as a hazardous and toxic chemical under the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning Preparedness and Response) Rules of 1996. Even short term exposure to it ‘may cause effects on the central nervous system, resulting in convulsions and respiratory failure.’

As a consumer activist group CUTS Safety Watch tried to find out the actions taken by IOC to protect their consumers from such hazardous chemical. Talking to few IOC senior officials disclosed IOC’s total disregard for consumer protection. It immediately made a press release on this and sent to all the newspaper houses. Times of India carried a news article on this. Letter was sent to IOC with the press release asking them for their response whose copy was marked to Hon’ble Minister, Dept. of Health & Family Welfare and Hon’ble Minister, Consumer Affairs and Fair Business Practices and to all major consumer groups of India

Seminars/Workshops/Campaigns

Consumers Today: Where they Stand

For the last many years Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) is working actively to protect consumer interests in various ways viz., by organising training seminars/workshops for generating awareness among consumers, documenting relevant legal provisions and case studies to provoke consumers to fight for their rights.

In this endeavour, some of the important initiatives taken have culminated in the following studies published by CUTS.

The study “State of the Indian Consumer” stresses the need for awareness about consumer rights among the people and an involvement of the community in matters related consumer rights and protection. The study discusses the present status of consumer rights in India with respect to the eight consumer rights as enunciated in the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection 1985 and makes recommendations to overcome the lacunae. 

The book “Is It Really Safe?”, the second in the series of publications on the theme of Caveat Emptor, meaning “Buyers Beware”, is a compilation of articles on different safety aspects of various products and services. The aim of the book is to make consumers aware about their safety-related rights so that they could push for improved legislations, standards and their implementation. 

The Consumer Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal, are also intimately concerned with these issue for the people of West Bengal and had felt the need to give wide publicity to these issues and generate awareness.<<For more click here>>

World Health Day

Every year the World Health Organisation (WHO) hosts an event, usually on April 7 to celebrate the anniversary of its founding in 1946. Each year the event focuses on one health issue. It promotes awareness, understanding, discussion and debate about the issue and mobilises action to address the issues, through prevention or treatment.

World Health Day 2004 focuses on road traffic injuries and measures to prevent them. This year the slogan for the day is “Road Safety is No Accident.” Road safety does not happen accidentally, but requires deliberate effort by multi-stakeholders to make this world a safer place to live in.

There is an urgent need to address issues, such as, speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol, promoting the use of helmet, seat belts and other restraints, improving the design of roads and vehicles, enforcing road safety regulations, improving emergency medical services and other related issues. 

In response to this growing concern about road traffic injuries, the WHO Director General has for the first time in the history of WHO devoted a WHD specifically to road safety. <<For more click here>>

Voluntary Consumer Action Network (V-CAN)

The Voluntary Consumer Action Network (V-CAN) has resulted from the series of Training Workshops for Young Consumer Leaders (TWYCL) organised by CUTS and Consumer International (CI) to impart skills and create a second line leadership in the consumer movement in India. The workshops were organised in 1994-1996 at Calcutta, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bangalore.

The organisers felt that while activists have the required information, they often lack the appropriate skills of advocacy and campaigning to strategies and bring about the crucial change.  Four workshops were held on different aspects: campaigning; advocacy and media; strategic planning and stocktaking.  V-CAN articulated its vision statement as 'Affordable and sustainable health for all', and its mission as ‘Equipping activists to empower people to achieve their right to health'.

Seminar on Medical Negligence

Although Consumer Protection Act is quite old but very few people have a clear idea about it. Also there is a misconception regarding the difference between mistake by a doctor and medical negligence. On March 15, 2002, Safety Watch organised a seminar titled “Medical Negligence and its Remedy in the light of Consumer Protection Act” to provide the common people a better idea about medical negligence and its remedies through Consumer Protection Act.

The objective of the programme was to generate awareness amongst the consumers about their rights and responsibilities and to motivate them about their rights so that they do not hesitate in seeking redressal wherever required. City-based experts on consumer rights issue, advocates, lawyers, medical practitioners, representatives from government bodies, consumer organisations, academicians, media and common people attended the seminar.

Management of Surface Water in West Bengal

The looming water crisis is one of the most critical challenges facing the world today. On World Water Day, March 22, 2002, Safety Watch organised a panel discussion at Calcutta Press Club titled “Management of Surface Water in West Bengal.” The objective of the discussion was to sensitise media on the above issue and to focus on the success and failures of management of surface water and the problems with underground water in West Bengal. Journalists from various media and NGOs working on environmental issues and academia participated in the above discussion.

According to state irrigation department, the per capita availability of water in West Bengal has gone down from 5,608 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,839 cubic metres in 2001. Arsenic contamination, a major problem in West Bengal, has been fuelled by declining levels of ground water. Recent soil tests in arsenic-affected blocks of North 24 Parganas have shown that around 6.4 tonnes of arsenic is being deposited in the farmlands in these areas. As a result, crops that are being grown here have shown a dangerous level of arsenic contamination in them. These facts were the main findings of the seminar.

Participation in Seminars/Workshops/Campaigns

Training Workshop on Food Safety

Safety Watch participated in a training workshop on “Food Safety and Its Effective Implementation” on February 21, 2002 held at Calcutta. This workshop was jointly organised by Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE) and Confederation of Indian Food, Trade and Industry (CIFTI) in collaboration with Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

The objective of the workshop was to sensitise retailers and consumers on the existing laws on food safety, building a public participation on the implementation of the national laws, strengthening the Government mechanisms and protect the rights of consumers.

After a brainstorming session on Prevention on Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and the current Indian scenario, the participants from different NGOs, hotels, food inspectors, businessmen were divided into groups to find out some recommendations and action plan. CUTS Safety Watch was asked to represent its group and present the recommendations. PFA rules to be made reader friendly, introduction of safety symbol on packaged food, introduction of health and hygiene as a subject in school were some of the major recommendations.

Safety and Hygiene of Street Foods

CUTS Safety Watch participated in “Awareness Programme on Sanitation & Hygiene of Street Foods” at Auditorium of Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers on October 4, 2002. The seminar was organised by Association of Food Scientist Technology (AFST).

The objective of the seminar was awareness generation on the safety of street foods. Distinguished panelists presented at the seminar cited various examples of safety and hygiene of street foods and tried to find out ways to improve this.  To give consumers a choice, certification of model shops by World Health Organisation were proposed.

Medical Safety

CUTS Safety Watch participated in a discussion on “Medical negligence and its remedy” organised by Drug Action Forum, a reputed voluntary organisation based at Calcutta working on safety of patients. A larger convention in association with other consumer organisations working on this area has been planned in near future.

Consumer Awareness Seminar

CUTS Safety Watch attended a Consumer Awareness Seminar “West Bengal’s Stride towards Consumer Movement” on August 28, 2002 organised by Consumer & Investors’ Guidance Society (CIGS). The seminar was an excellent opportunity to meet other consumer organisations. Awareness is the key to success in consumer movement and no legislation will be effective unless the consumer is ready to bear the ordeal of pressing for his rights, was the main message delivered at the seminar.

National Consumers’ Congress 2003

During 8-9 November 2003, CUTS Safety Watch attended the National Consumers’ Congress 2003 organised by Visakha Consumers’ Council (VCC) to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. CUTS SAFETY watch presented a paper on “Consumer Safety” which was appreciated by the participants. The souvenir of VCC contains one safety article “Be cautious about irrational prescription” by Safety Watch and one write-up on BVO Campaign of CUTS campaigns

Information Dissemination and Outreach

Information dissemination and outreach is one of the strong points of CUTS Safety Watch’s activities.

Safe Drinking Water

CUTS came out with a publication on safe drinking water “How Consumer Friendly are the Water Supply Pipes?” which exposed the negligence of water supply utilities, educated the consumers and provoked people to take action. It also carried a special section on asbestos, as asbestos pipes, though banned in many countries of the world, are still used in India very widely. 

The monograph “Water: What are our Rights to it?” highlighted consumers’ right to safe water.

Articles on Safety

CUTS Safety Watch actively works to educate and empower people. With the aim to make common people aware of the safety issues, a fortnightly column on consumer safety was written regularly in The Times of India. Till now thirteen articles have been published. Issues covered were railway, car, joyride, toy, firecracker, escalator, cosmetic, vitamin, road safety and emergency services, hepatitis B vaccination, chocolate, blood and food.

The purpose of writing such articles was served when the concerned authority took positive step accordingly. Some are given below:

Escalators are safe only when you are cautious: In almost all the metro stations, signboards with the tips of using escalator safely can be found near the escalators.

Clinics cannot deny emergency services: The health department of West Bengal Government has made a regulation that neither government nor private hospital would be allowed to deny emergency cases.

City blood banks need modern gear: Central government in September 2002 clearly spelt out its directives on organising blood donation camps in future. As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, no private blood banks would be allowed to organise blood donation camps. Now onwards, only government blood banks and Red Cross would be allowed to organise such camps.

  • Many consumer organisations have expressed their interest to publish our article in their own newsletter or local newspaper.
  • Consumer Coordination Council in their September03 issue of Consumer Network Magazine have published safety article on milk “Drinking milk or white poison”
  • One article on pesticide in food written in Bengali has been published in a local Bengali newspaper “Nutan Jagat” in Nov-Dec 2003 issue.
  • Consumers’ Association of India expressed their willingness to use our safety articles in their Consumer’s Digest magazine.
  • NCHSE, Bhopal would translate the articles in Hindi and publish the same in local newspaper.

Apart from these, the Consumer Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal have put the safety articles by linking their website with our website.

Publications

Is it Really Safe?

This publication is a compilation of the articles written on the subject from time to time, with the aim of increasing consumers’ awareness on safety aspects of various products and services. The book also contains valuable comments/suggestions received from different consumer organisations on the same. The book, written in a reader-friendly language, also provides a synopsis of Indian rules and regulations on safety issues.

Safety Watch Newsletter

Since its inception in 1983, CUTS has been working on consumer protection, including consumer safety. However, feeling the need for more focused action in the area of consumer safety, in 1993, CUTS established Safety Watch as an independent programme at its Calcutta Resource Centre.
It is our belief that unless consumers are made conscious and demand safety of products and services, they will continue to suffer. Such a demand would come upfront only when consumers are empowered through knowledge and information. Publishing BEWARE, a four page bi-monthly newsletter, is a step towards generating better awareness among consumers on consumer safety related issues. Apart from safety related information the newsletter also carries news on the activities of SAFETY WATCH and as well as activities carried out by our network partners spreading all over India.

1. Beware No.1-04
2. Beware No.2-04
3. Beware No.3-04
4. Beware No.4-04
5. Beware No.5-04
6. Beware No.1-05
7. Beware No.2-05
8. BEWARE No.5/2005

 


 

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