Frederick Noronha on Tue, 3 Aug 1999 08:46:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> News feature: Phones-weapon

by Frederick Noronha 

SALIGAO (Goa): Hapless consumers who have long been denied of their rights
and now looking to a new 'weapon' to help them claim their due -- the

Consumer Cells, which are active in some villages in the Goan taluk of
Bardez including this one, are finding the telephone as a useful ally in
their campaigns to get a better deal. 

In the last couple of years, the phone network in Goa has spread
considerably. For instance, in just one year ending 1998, over twelve
thousand additional phone lines were added by the Goa Telecom, according
to Goa Telecom general manager N Chenchaiah. 

This fast expansion of the phone network has the potential of changing the
situation for the villager too. From once feeling isolated, the phone now
helps him to keep in touch with the information that makes a real
difference to daily life. 

"As a citizen and consumer you have the right to information. Use your
telephone as an effective weapon to obtain it," says a letter circulated
by the Saligao Consumer Cell, one of the active bodies working on consumer

Village-based bodies like the Saligao Cell have realised the potential of
the simple phone. They are currently using it to help their members sort
their problems, get information or help, and registering complaints

"We have been able to get quite a few things corrected in this manner,"
said Mario Mascarenhas, of the Saligao Cell. 

Volunteers in the village have also taken up specific consumer issues
affecting a large number of citizens -- for problems linked to
electricity, rations, LPG cooking gas, and telephones too. 

Each day, between 7 and 8 pm, these volunteers give an hour's time to
helping villagers "fight for their rights and claims for deficiency in

In this time, they are available on their personal telephones, to answer
questions and offer assistance over telephone rebate claims, instrument
faults, ration complaints, street lighting woes, or deficiencies with the
services of the gas dealer. 

In another pamphlet addressed to villagers, the Consumer Cell has also
widely circulated important telephone numbers that can make a difference
in the villager's daily life. 

Right from the local panchayat, to the MLA, phone numbers are listed.
Likewise, the villager is told whom to complain to in cases of noise
pollution, power problems at the sub-station, or ration-related problems. 

"Use these numbers to get prompt action. Dial now," exhorts the Saligao
Cell. It also gives the residence numbers of officials who are responsible
to do various jobs, but whom one may need to complain to when the task is
left undone. 

Some other villages in the Northern Goa taluka of Bardez -- including
Moira, Siolim and Aldona -- also have their own consumer cells which have
been taking up various issues. 

As the phone network expands villagers are realising that their once
strong-felt isolation could become a thing of the past, if this instrument
is adequately used. 

Such efforts are however somewhat hampered by the lack of sufficient
public-call booths in Goa's villages. One other problem is the lack of
cheap coin-collection box type phones, and also the inflated rates charged
by many PCOs (public call offices) even for local calls within the state.

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