Ashok Mansata’s mobile number features on the “Dial E” (for emergency) page of the Telegraph’s annual Metro Guide publication. All day long, he gets calls from Kolkatans seeking help with consumer complaints.
Mansata’s family runs the oldest film distributorship in eastern India. He owns Drive Inn, a popular vegetarian restaurant. But first thing every morning Mansata, 50, thinks not of his businesses, but of the consumer complaints received on the previous day, and on the cases he takes up voluntarily.
His activism began a decade ago, he says, when he opened a packet of mushroom-and-peas curry of a reputed international brand. The contents matched neither the details nor the picture on the cover. He wrote to the manufacturers, who promised to take corrective measures.
After this there seemed to be cases all around waiting to be tackled. In 2003 he set up the NGO Concern for Citizens. Since then he has caught out scores of brands and institutions in Kolkata. A retail group modified an advertisement from “up to 50% on all items” to “most items”. A leading company withdrew its brand of chocolate biscuits because the contents did not match the picture. Forum Mall has made free drinking water available to its patrons. “I need to take it up with other malls,” Mansata says purposefully.
“But I do not take up matters that happen by accident,” he says, “like a paan masala found in a cola bottle. I will take up issues related to policies, or ones that mislead, dupe or fleece consumers.” Recently he came to the rescue of a harried parent who was being forced to pay 11 months’ fees to get the transfer certificate of her daughter from a reputed public school, because she was withdrawing her child after the beginning of the academic session. She would have had to pay the full fee in two schools for the same session. Pressured by Concern for Citizens, the school relented. Mansata plans to ask the ministry of education to issue proper guidelines to schools. “See,” he says, “it just takes writing a few letters to get people to act to rectify a wrong.”
Another example: most hospitals do not provide a cost account of services rendered, like tests, doctor’s visits, medicines or products used on an in-patient. Mansata organised a seminar on “Patients versus Medical Fraternity”. After this, he says, “I got a mail from Mani Shankar Aiyar who was at the seminar, saying he had forwarded the issue to the health ministry for action.”
Mansata’s activism is not just a well-off businessman’s hobby. He shows awards given to him by the Kolkata Police, a Good Samaritan Award and several others. “It’s funny — I never got a single award for anything in school, neither in sports nor studies,” he says, breaking into laughter.