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Is the Consumer Affairs ministry acting in our favour?

The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has once again given in to the manufacturers’ lobby and sacrificed consumer interest. Two notifications issued by the ministry on June 5 not only dilute the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules on standard pack sizes, but also postpone their implementation from July 1 to November 1.

delhi Updated: Jun 17, 2012 00:28 IST
Pushpa Girimaji

The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has once again given in to the manufacturers’ lobby and sacrificed consumer interest. Two notifications issued by the ministry on June 5 not only dilute the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules on standard pack sizes, but also postpone their implementation from July 1 to November 1.

Given the skyrocketing prices of essential goods, prices today have become the most important factor determining consumer choice. However, in order to exercise that right to informed choice and choose goods that cost the least, consumers need to compare the prices of different brands and it is only standard pack sizes that facilitate such price comparison.

If, for example, there are five brands of tea packages, each containing 500g of tea, you can easily compare their prices. On the other hand, if one contains 462.6g, another 480g, yet another 496.4g and so on, price comparison becomes almost impossible at the time of purchase. Besides, given the lack of consumer awareness in the country and the way manufacturers print the net content, a consumer may well assume from the outward size of the packages that they all contain 500g — this would again lead to a wrong choice.

So, in order to protest the consumers’ right to information and informed choice, the ministry had initially mandated, under the Weights and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, standard pack sizes for 39 essential goods.

And there were decent gaps between such standard sizes to ensure that consumers were not misled on quantity by looking at the packages. But thanks to intense lobbying by the industry, pack size restrictions were removed for 20 goods.

Then in 2006, the government allowed the industry to pack even the remaining 19 items in non-standard pack sizes through a proviso to Rule 5 of the Packaged Commodities Rules. This led to manufacturers packing essential goods in such odd sizes that it made
price comparison absolutely complicated.

Manufacturers also exploited the proviso to bring down the quantity and keep the price constant, thereby giving consumers an impression that there was no price increase in the commodity.

Then eventually, through a notification dated October 24, 2011, the ministry omitted this proviso, thereby mandating once again that these 19 products will be sold only in pack sizes specified in the second schedule of the rule. The implementation of this has now been postponed. That’s not all. The new amendments also give the government the power to permit a manufacturer, packer or an importer (upon application from him) to pack or sell in non-standard packages for a year. It is also not necessary for the manufacturer to declare the net content for value based packs in the range of R1 to R10.

In addition, the government has revised the second schedule wherein it has given the manufacturers more size options, thereby reducing the gap between sizes. It has also removed the size restrictions for a number of products, when packed in small quantities specified in the schedule.

P Rathore:
I bought a kitchen weighing scale recently. In order to test it, I checked the weight of several packed goods that I had bought — pulses, atta and spices — and found that some of them weighed less than what was declared on the pack. What action can I take?

Answer: Please complain to the department of legal metrology. The penalty for the first offence in such cases is Rs. 10,000.

I must also mention that now under the Packaged Commodities Rules, all retailers who are covered under the Value Added Tax or Turn Over Tax and sell packed goods, have to keep an electronic weighing machine to facilitate consumers cross-checking the weight.