Ram Vilas Paswan, Union minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, says that proposed amendments in the Consumer Protection Act will bring a revolution in terms of consumer rights. He says in an interview to Sanjeev K Ahuja that the government plans to abolish mandatory service charge, ensure the mention of food portions served in big hotels and adherence to MRP.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. A consumer is supposed to be the king but that’s hardly the case in India. What does your ministry propose to do to help hapless consumers?
A. One hundred and twenty-seven crore people, including a peon to the President of India, are all consumers. Unfortunately, this department was neglected earlier. We have to make consumers aware of their rights. One has the right to know how much food one gets for the money one pays. Our Consumer Protection Act, 1986 provides the right to know about the quality and quantity of the goods a consumer purchases.
We don’t want to ban, but regulate. All know that food is wasted in 5-star hotels. Left-over food is served to other people. Hotels don’t mention the quantity of the food; people eat less food (than what is served) and the rest gets wasted or is served to someone. I don’t understand why there is an unnecessary hue and cry over the concern that requires hoteliers to mention the quantity of the food they are serving. We are not asking them to explain how much food they are wasting.
Again, nowhere in the world, service charge is compulsory; it is left to the discretion of the consumer who offers tips to the waiters if he/she enjoys the food and services. It is unfair to ask 5-20% service charges over and above the price.
Then, MRP is maximum and not minimum retail price. So, a water bottle should be sold at a uniform price all over, across all platforms. It is unfair to charge differently inside and outside cinema halls, hotels or airplanes.
Q. What do you propose to amend in the Consumer Protection Bill?
A. It is lying with the law ministry. It will address three issues: Service charge, food portion and MRP. We have taken up the matter with the law minister, requested him to clear it at priority. The bill makes it compulsory to mention MRP on the products. Bill will also empower the government to look into whether or not the MRP fixed is exorbitantly high. MRP should be in proportion to the cost of production.
We will give a month’s time to companies to mention in bold on their products six facts, including dates of manufacturing and expiry, ISI mark, where to complain, and the name of the manufacturer. At present, it’s so small that it’s very difficult to read. On packed food and electronics products including water bottles.
Q. FCI is known for leakages as also wastages. How do you propose to plug them?
A. We have been able to plug food leakage at the Food Corporation of India go-downs by installing CCTV cameras, bringing depots online, etc. It’s down to 0.04%. The wastage of grains doesn’t happen any more in FCI warehouses. There is another project we are pushing for: instead of bringing the produce to the warehouse after procurement, we can send it directly to states. It will save transportation and warehousing cost. But it’s still under discussion.