By Aurangzeb Soharwardi
Consumer is the king’. This credo has brought a considerable paradigm shift in the contemporary business world regarding manufacturing of products and provision of services. With this , the concept of Consumerism has grown up fast about which most historians point to 1880 as the start of the American consumerist movement. Industrial centers supported agricultural regions; agricultural regions fed industrial centers. People in both consume what the other produce. Service industries sprang up around both. And in the middle, rapid communication and transportation linked the two. The shift from a producer-oriented culture to consumerism in the nineteenth century was gradual. With the marked exception of the depression and World War II, consumerism in the twentieth century became a way of life for Americans. Organized-efforts by individuals, groups, and governments to help protect consumers from policies and practices that infringe consumer rights to fair business practices. As per Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: The movement seeking to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards. Public concern over the rights of consumers, the quality of consumer goods, and the honesty of advertising. The ideology came into full focus in the 1960s after President John F. Kennedy introduced the Consumer Bill of Rights, which stated that the consuming public has a right to be safe, to be informed, to choose, and to be heard. Anti-consumerism is the socio-political movement against consumerism. In this meaning, consumerism is the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing material possessions and consumption. Consumerism is itself divided into two subcategories, reactive consumerism and proactive consumerism. Reactive consumerism (hereinafter RC) awaits a public demand for a product and, no matter how absurd the demand, fills it. Proactive consumerism (hereinafter PC) uses advertising to create markets for products that have no natural market. In Pakistan , consumerism has got a considerable recognition and a lot of work is being done in this regard. Many organizations and legislatives are in place in Pakistan too, like Natural Gas Regulatory Authority, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) Order- 19831, Pakistan Standards And Quality Control Authority Act, 1996, West Pakistan Pure Food Ordinance- 1960, Cantonments Pure Food Act -1966, Pakistan Hotels And Restaurants Act- 1976 ,Pakistan Penal Code- 1860, Drugs Act-1940, Drugs Act- 1976, Pakistan Penal Code- 1860, Islamabad Consumer Protection Act-1995, North West Frontier Province and Consumer Protection Act- 1997 . Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP), established in 1998, is an independent, non-profit, non-political and nongovernmental organization, which is also working for consumer’s rights and awareness. Establishment and active role of consumer courts has also facilitated the process of providing relief to consumers. Various consumer advocacy groups are playing an active role in the society. Many positive business responses have emerged as a result of consumerism such as concern about total quality management, voluntary industry codes of conduct, establishment of consumer affairs departments and encouragement of product recalls. All the organizations in Pakistan are now relatively more conscious about the concept of customer satisfaction and are serious in formulating consumer friendly policies. One of these organizations is PEPCO which is providing electricity supply to total 18674114 consumers all over Pakistan except Karachi, where this responsibility is rested on the shoulders of KESCo. PEPCO, having a huge consumer base, is also customer oriented company which has the philosophy of facilitating consumers. PEPCO has 15858823 domestic consumers out of which LESCO-2468427,GEPCO-2014886, FESCO-2401612, IESCO-1671381 , MEPCO-3356725,PESCO-2136302,HESCO-1191748 TESCO-253796 and QUESCO has 363947 consumers. Total 2291628 commercial consumers are dependent on PEPCO out of which LESCO has 463781, GEPCO-261680, FESCO-290036 ,IESCO-286134 , MEPCO-382213, PESCO-251022, TESCO-28353, HESCO-240466, and QUESCO has 87943 commercial consumers. As far as industrial consumers are concerned they are total 253089, out of which LESCO has 63394 consumers ,GEPCO-47212,FESCO 37940,IESCO 11880,MEPCO 40796,PESCO 22737, TESCO 4089, HESCO 21958 and QUESCO has 3083 industrial consumers. PEPCO has 258368 agri consumers LESCO has 47693 consumers, GEPCO 31986, FESCO 31489, IESCO 7005, MEPCO 60482, PESCO 25840, TESCO 8343, HESCO 24859 and QUESCO has 20671 consumers. To satisfy such a large consumer base by providing them electricity and related customer service is a colossal task. How ever PEPCO leaves no stone unturned in doing so and is maintaining a vast electricity distribution infra structure. Over 18 million, industrial, domestic, commercial and agricultural consumers of the company are the most important asset of the company to be taken care of. All the new policies , systems, procedures, modern equipments, are being incorporated to facilitate worthy consumers. The officers and the field staff are being trained to be customer friendly and ensure service quality for consumer satisfaction. PEPCO line staff is available round the clock in the field offices to rectify all sorts of problems in all types of weather , at any time. PEPCO staff replaces faulty meters and cables, upgrades transformers, strengthens and bifurcates feeders and also replaces power transformers of the grid stations with the heavy ones in the scorching heat, wind storms, rains and severe cold, endangering their lives for public service. PEPCO has established a vast net work of complaints and customer service centers which are fully functional to redress consumer grievances. On one hand all these efforts are being invested , but there is a considerable dearth of reciprocation by the consumers. Efforts put in for consumer education to make them responsible , cooperative and disciplined are minimum and unfocused. If the consumers have genuine reservations about products and services, the organizations also have serious observations about consumer’s behaviors and discipline. PEPCO also is confronted with various consumer related issues, out of which Electricity theft , using undeclared electricity loads and non payment of bills are worth mentioning. Electricity theft is on the rise and PEPCO has to suffer heavy losses in this regard. Practices of Kunda system, meter tempering , use of electrical switches are rampant and due to this misuse and theft of such a precious resource of electricity is casting a daunting effect. Huge number of Mega Watts of electricity is wasted and goes unaccounted . Maximum electricity theft is committed by domestic and commercial consumers, for which PEPCO has launched a massive campaign against electricity thieves. Normally the consumers hesitate to report electricity theft. PEPCO has declared the passing year as ‘year of electricity theft prevention’ and established a theft reporting center, along with constituting a special task force. The other pressing issue is over loading of electricity distribution system due to excessive and undeclared electricity load. I t has considerably grown upwards to 15% and astoundingly to 21% (apr to june 2004 ) due to unprecedented use of about 60 million home appliances ,increasing the load of about 3000 Mega Watt on the system. Air conditioners and microwave ovens consume electricity the most, whose usage abruptly increased during the recent past, because of easy consumer finance facility. Consumers add up or install these appliances in their existing domestic load but do not approach the concerned PEPCO offices to report the change in the load increase for up grading their existing equipment . Unreasonably exaggerated illumination is done on weddings and in shopping maals. Traders ,in particular do not cooperate in this regard in terms of adjusting the timings of their business and controlling the use of extra lights. Even domestically no energy discipline is implemented. It becomes a great impediment in load estimation , system augmentation and infra structure planning. Non payment or delayed payments of electricity dues is an other irritant which seriously hampers the functioning of the organizations, resulting in increase in the corporate debts. Purchase of new equipments, maintenance activities are jeopardized and financial health of the organization is severely affected. Although PEPCO has extended many forms of bill payment , along with Installment facility for the consumers, but still there is a trend of delayed or NO payment. Some times the company has to take stern actions for nabbing the defaulters. There are 1517634 permanently disconnected private consumers due to non payment of 2059509 million rupees, which is not a pleasant situation for the company. Consumers have to be looked after and satisfied but the fact of the matter is that without the cooperation and responsible behavior of the consumers , it is not possible to to ensure smooth and high quality electricity services for them. Consumer’s rights must be protected but consumers also have to take the responsibility to conserve national resources and ensure their judicious use. Although government, at the federal and provincial levels is making all possible efforts to maximize electricity generation, how ever without consumer discipline nothing can make these efforts more use full. In the absence of consumer’s responsible behavior, the gap between demand and supply will keep on widening, in spite of abundant resources, with quality deterioration. Consumerism must also ensure consumer education and discipline along with protecting their rights and providing them relief. A professional and competitive business scenario can only prevail if the producer and the customer play their active and responsible roles to safe guard each other’s rights.