Soon, your shopkeeper or retailer may have to pay a heavy fine or even face imprisonment for up to three years for overcharging you for milk, bottled water, soft drinks or packaged goods.
Taking note of consumers’ complaints, the legal metrology organisation, which comes under the food, civil supplies and consumer protection department, has drafted a stringent law to prosecute errant shopkeepers, retailers, middlemen and manufacturers indulging in profiteering.
In the past one month, the organisation has received more than 200 complaints of overcharging for milk, bottled water and soft drinks. Currently, errant retailers are prosecuted under section 52 of the legal metrology act, 2009, and packaged commodities rules, 2011, and have to pay a penalty of up to Rs 2,000. The retailer faces prosecution in court — only if he refuses to pay the fine, which is hardly the case — attracting a penalty of up to Rs 25,000.
The new law will lead to a minimum penalty of Rs 10,000 for the first offence, and penalty with imprisonment for up to three years for subsequent offences. Although the first offence will be bailable, all subsequent offences will be non-bailable. It also has a provision to prosecute manufacturers or service providers, if a middleman or retailer is caught overcharging the consumers. Every offence in the newly-drafted law will be cognisable.
“We will soon appoint an expert committee comprising consumers, citizen activists and lawyers to discuss the draft. The consumers, too, can send their suggestions,” said Sanjay Pandey, controller, LMO.
The existing law has several loopholes, which are used by the accused to evade punishment. “We have drafted a watertight law, so there is little scope to get away with profiteering,” said a senior officer from the organisation.
Consumer activists have welcomed the move. “It is a good move in the interest of consumers. We hope the penalties will act as a deterrent. We also need a fast-track court, especially to deal with profiteering cases,” said MS Kamath, secretary, consumer guidance society of India.
Shirish Deshpande, chairman, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, said, “We are coming across several cases of profiteering. The authorities should look into overcharging and overpricing of commodities.”