I have had a number of mails from angry consumers protesting retail outlets at cinema halls, airports, railway stations and tourist destinations charging more than the maximum retail price (MRP) for soft drinks and water. They want to know if they can take action against such retailers and if so, under what law. (There are also complaints about restaurants charging more, but I will deal with the issue in another column.)
So let me get down to the facts: Rule 6(1)(e) of the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules mandate that on every package meant for retail sale is mentioned the retail sale price. Rule 2(m) defines “retail sale price” as the maximum price at which the commodity may be sold to the ultimate consumer and the price shall be printed in the form of the MRP that is inclusive of all taxes.
Rule 18(5) also says that no wholesale dealer or retailer shall obliterate, smudge or alter the retail sale price indicated by the manufacturer or the packer or the importer.
Now we come to the most important provision. Rule 18(2) says, “No retail dealer or other person including manufacturer, packer, importer and wholesale dealer shall make any sale of any commodity in packed form at a price exceeding the retail sale price thereof.”
Thus, selling at a price higher than the MRP is a clear violation of the Packaged Commodities Rules and because the state governments enforce the rules, a consumer has to complain to the department of legal metrology. If you go to the website of the Union ministry of consumer affairs (fcamin.nic.in), you will get the telephone numbers and addresses of the controllers of legal metrology in the states.
However, I do feel that since complaints about overcharging soft drinks, water and even ice cream go up quite substantially during summer, all state governments should provide a hotline for such complaints and also an online complaint facility with an assured response within a specified timeframe on the action taken.
In fact, if you look at the legal metrology websites of various state governments, you will notice that some states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra have toll-free helplines and also online complaint facilities. It's time other state governments followed suit.
Under the Consumer Protection Act too, one can file a complaint against retailers who sell at a price higher than the MRP. However, you must keep the receipt here.
In Hotel Nyay Mandir vs Ishwar Lal Jinabhai Desai (RP No. 550 of 2006, decided on December 14, 2010) the District Consumer Forum in Bharuch, Gujarat, asked a hotel, which charged more than the MRP on four bottles of a soft drink, to refund the excess amount of Rs 22 collected from the consumer. In addition, it awarded a compensation of Rs. 5,000 and costs of Rs 1,000 to the consumer and also directed the hotel to deposit Rs 1,50,000 into the Consumer Welfare Fund. This was upheld by the consumer courts at the state and the national levels.
The consumer in this case had pleaded that the consumer court determine the total number of such soft drinks sold by the hotel at the inflated rate during the previous three years and direct that the excess amount collected be deposited into the fund.
Vinod Sehgal: Is there any penalty for a shopkeeper who sells at a price beyond the printed MRP? If so, under what law? Whom should one approach with the complaint? The information given above should answer your question. The PC Rules prescribe a fine of Rs 2,000 for selling at a price higher than the MRP.