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 telephone.

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 issues.

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 effectively.

"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 service".

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 m.l.a., 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 pco|s (public call offices) even for local calls within the state.

"rural consumers find a new ally in the telephone"
by frederick noronha
nettime, august 1999