The RBI is categorical that there is no shortage of small denomination coins in India. Shopkeepers, on the other hand, are as emphatic about ‘acute shortage’ of coins when they hand over toffees in lieu of small change. The bitter truth is that the consumer is the loser.
This point was brought out by a study on the “Need and Use Behaviour of Small Denomination coins” commissioned by RBI in 2005 and conducted by BITS, Pilani.
Traders, the study founded, either charged more for an item on the pretext of not having small change or gave a substitute item in lieu of change. Either way, the trader is benefited, the study said. “Clearly, the trader is not a loser when the coin change is not available,” said the study.
Things have not changed much in the last seven years. The profit margins of many retailers have gone up because of the increased ‘sale of toffees forced on the consumer’.
Two years ago, lakhs of consumers applauded Nana Patekar when he refused to accept such toffees from a store, in the film “Tum Milo To Sahi”. If what was prevalent was the barter system, he offers to pay for the goods that he had bought at the store with one of his shoes. A pair cost Rs 390, so one of them should be sufficient to pay for my purchases, he says, even as other customers in the shop accept the toffee and prefer not to join him in his protest.
As in reel life, in real life too, very few consumers protest. In fact, the RBI study also remarked on the passive nature of Indian consumers and their unwillingness to protest and thereby ‘displease’ the trader.
Kuldip Singh: A very large outlet selling sweets in Naraina Vihar has started tendering the balance amount in toffees. Isn’t this a forced sale of an unwanted item? Through this, he is retailing about 500 to 1,000 toffees a day, making a neat profit. Should the government not caution the retailers that toffees are not legal tender?
Answer: The government should step in. If there is a real shortage of small coins, then it should mint more. If what the RBI says is true and there is no shortage, then it should put stop to this kind of exploitation of consumers. It cannot be a mute spectator. Consumers should also express their disapproval of such practice and refuse to accept toffees and such other items. If one or two customers rebel, retailers may ignore it, but when such resistance comes from a larger number, they will be forced to keep small coins.
Having said that, I must point out that this sort of imposition of unjustified costs or restrictions on the consumer falls within the definition of ‘Restrictive Trade practice’ under the Consumer Protection Act. So, a complaint can be filed before the consumer court against the trader.