My column last week on the Delhi High Court judgment permitting hotels and restaurants to charge beyond the maximum retail price (MRP) on bottled water has elicited strong reactions from so many readers that I thought I must bring their views to the notice of the hotel and restaurant industry as well as the Union ministry of consumer affairs in a hope that there will be some positive response.
Readers have repeatedly pointed out that restaurants and hotels charge as much as they want for food that they prepare and serve. And obviously, the price for the food is worked out by the eateries taking into account all their expenses. So, why should they be allowed to overcharge on bottled water? After all, the very idea of mandating the MRP on packed goods is to ensure that consumers are not over-charged. Besides, the MRP includes the profit margin for restaurants and hotels, they point out.
Readers have also given expression to their unhappiness over 8-12% ‘service charge’ levied by the restaurants. In fact, a number of consumers have pointed out that as it is they have to pay VAT and service tax on the food bill and, in addition, they are also being forced to pay a service charge, jacking up the bill by about 25%. Given all the factors, their unanimous view is that restaurants must not be allowed to charge more than the MRP on bottled water.
It is only consumer pressure that can bring about a change. So, convey your views on overcharging on water at restaurants and hotels. Ask for a comment book and articulate your opinion. If they do not have a comment book, address a letter to the manager and put across your point of view. Similarly, write to their associations.
Believe me, a campaign of this sort, if taken up by a large number of consumers, can force restaurants and hotels to bow down to the wishes of their customers. After all, their very existence depends on the patronage of consumers. If we can achieve this, we won’t even need the help of the government to amend the law.
RS Roy: Your earlier article referred to a decision of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission wherein a hotel was penalised for overcharging on soft drinks. Will this order not help consumers?
In Hotel Nyay Mandir Vs Ishwar Lal Jinabhai Desai (RP No. 550 of 2006), the highest consumer court in the country upheld the order of the lower consumer court directing the hotel to refund the excess amount (beyond the MRP) charged on four bottles of soft drinks and also pay R5,000 as compensation and R1,000 as costs to the consumer. It also calculated the cumulative loss to consumers as a class as a result of such overcharging by the hotel and directed it to deposit R1,50,000 in the Consumer Welfare Fund.
There is no reference to the Delhi High Court judgment in this order and I presume that this was a case of a simple purchase of soft drink bottles by the consumer.