It is well known that Indians excel in jugaad, and until recently, semi-skilled technicians from India ruled the repair and innovation business. This developed into a lucrative business in several areas, including machinery spares. Newspaper printing technologists too would take the help of those who were once dubbed "hackers" to reuse parts of printing machines that had become outdated.
Even today a prestigious mass communication institute runs an obsolete offset printing machine with the help of such "jugaadus".
The business was so successful that in the '90s, a UK dealer was known to market India-made Ambassador cars with a do-it-yourself kit. He was selling 30 cars a month.
The "jugaad" developed into a billion-dollar industry, providing jobs and business to millions. But with the emergence of sophisticated computer-controlled devices and appliances, this industry is facing severe problems.
They are not restricted to the technicians; in fact, it is a woe for millions of customers who are extorted by giant manufacturers in the name of "providing service".
Costs run into more than double the price of the products as the parts themselves may cost just Rs 50 but service charges would amount to more than Rs 1,500. Since spare parts are not readily available in the market owing to manufacturers' monopoly, the customer would inevitably be fleeced by companies like Samsung, Videocon, LG, et al. The key to extortion is in the word "scan". Say it is a Honda car: the company does the "scan", charges Rs 450, in addition to about Rs 3,000 for servicing, only to tell you the car has no problem.
The customer is reduced to being a servant. Photo: PTI
If you fix the problem outside for a fraction of the cost, the company may threaten you with cancellation of warranty.
The customer is no more king, she is the manufacturers' servant.
In the absence of a law against flagrant monopolies and a weak competition act, fleecing customers has become a norm.
Remedies from consumer courts are as difficult, time-consuming and cumbersome; even the companies one file's suits against know the law can exploit you.
So they deny consumers the right to repair, citing patent protection. The practice is anti-consumer, anti-farmer and anti-poor. It impacts technology and appliance repair businesses.
It leads to job losses on the one hand and deprives customers of value for their money.
Once a device is sold, it is the option and right of the buyers to do whatever they want with the purchase. The companies have no right over it except the responsibility that if the consumer seeks help, they are bound to provide it.
Meanwhile, their friends in the US have launched a movement called the right to repair. They too have not been able to work around the lobbies but have, in a small way, been able to impact them.
It is fast becoming a mass movement.
Even in the US, companies rule the roost. As recently as May 2017, the US Supreme court came to the rescue of the buyer in what is called the "right to tinker printer cartridge ink".
Indian consumers and farmers need to learn from the wave.
They must understand that once sold, proprietary rights cease to exist. Denying information on repair needs to be made a punishable offence.
The issue is not about few devices but being propagated as the spirit of self-sufficiency so that repairers survive and consumers get affordable services.
While Skill India is being promoted, it should also tailor it to the concept of self-sufficiency to protect the indigenous innovative workers and the proprietary rights of ordinary citizens. Cheaper repair services would create jobs, add to the GDP and result in freedom from the clutches of vultures of monopoly.