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Unpalatable truths

india Updated: Nov 17, 2008 19:53 IST
Hindustan Times
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Going Dutch now has a different connotation with the recent experience of two hapless tourists from the Netherlands in Bihar. Instead of paying Rs 2.50, they had to fork out Rs 2,500 per samosa while attending a local cattle fair. Having wolfed down four of them, the rip-off amounted to a whopping Rs 10,000, or $204, or 161 euros. Fortunately, this episode had a happy ending with the police forcing the shopkeeper to refund Rs 9,990 to these tourists. The moral of this story, obviously, is caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware.

Unfortunately, such a salutary principle still prevails in the Indian economy in which the consumer protection regime is weak. In sharp contrast, in the US and Europe, the consumer enjoys far more comprehensive protections. They also have an active consumer movement. Here, the buyer has to perforce watch out while purchasing everything from services to shoddy goods. Ask any visitor how much he or she has had to pay for a rollicking ride in taxis or auto rickshaws that run without meters?

A more aware citizenry — that includes tourists as well — can help in checking the sort of abuses faced by the Dutch couple. But there is no real guarantee that such episodes will not happen. The hot sam-type rip-offs routinely occur in the tourist sector — for antique art and handicraft, for instance, where astronomical prices are paid for junk. Up to a point, the defence certainly is that value lies in the eyes of the beholder. But if such practices are allowed to get out of hand, the image of the country will take a beating — all for a miserable plate of samosas in Laluland.