When you compare prices of different brands of packed goods, do you also check their net weight? Well, I don't blame you if you look at their identical pack sizes and assume that they all contain the same quantity. But if you do check the weight declared on the package — and it's absolutely essential that you do - you will be surprised at their variations in weights.
Take three similar-sized packets of tea, for example. One will contain 260gm, another, 250gm and yet another 245gm! Unless their weights are identical, how can you make a simple price comparison?
Look at two brands of similar-sized packages of liquid soap (handwash). One contains 200ml and another 250ml! More interesting is that the 250ml handwash, sold in a canister with a dispenser, offers refills for Rs34. Since the handwash with the dispenser is priced at Rs59, you think the refill is a fantastic bargain. And the manufacturer prompts you to think so by declaring the price in bold letters. However, the bubble bursts when you see the net volume of the refill — 185ml only !
The government had initially mandated 39 essential items of daily to be packed only in standard sizes specified for each of them under a schedule of the Weights and Measures (Packaged commodities) Rules. And there were wide gaps between any two standard sizes, so that there was no ambiguity about weights. But the list was pruned to 19 items after hard lobbying by manufacturers.
In 2006, they managed to break free from the restrictions on pack sizes through a proviso to Rule 5 of the Packaged Commodities Rules, which was introduced through a notification.
The provision allowed manufacturers to pack in any size, the only condition being that they must prominently declare on the label that “this is not a standard pack size”. This took away the power of standardisation as a means of protecting consumer interest.
And manufacturers exploited this proviso to the full by coming out with all kinds of odd pack sizes that made price comparison almost impossible (or too complicated). Ironically, a ministry that is to protect consumers rights acted against the interests of consumers by notifying the amendment!
Realising the folly of the amendment, the ministry deleted the proviso to Rule 5, through a notification dated October 24, 2011, thereby ensuring that these 19 items are once again packed only in standard sizes from July 1 this year. This is welcome , but in order to protect consumer rights, many more items of daily use need to be brought under the list. I will write about that in another column.
Suresh Sharma: I purchased a packet of tea — its declared weight was 500gm. Out of curiosity, I weighed the contents and found that it weighed 25gm less! What action can I take against the manufacturer?
Answer: Lodge a complaint (in writing) with the department of legal metrology in your state — it is possible that the entire batch is underweight. In addition, you can also file a case before the consumer court — in such cases, the court can calculate the cumulative loss to consumers as a class and direct the manufacturer to remit the entire amount to the Consumer Welfare Fund. They can also award compensation to you, besides directing the manufacturer to pay punitive damages.