Following Hindustan Times’ report on Friday on how soft drink retailers are overcharging consumers, the Legal Metrology Department’s Colaba Division swung into action on Friday. It conducted surprise checks at several spots and filed a case against a retailer for selling soft drinks for more than the maximum retail price (MRP).
The department is now launching a sustained drive against MRP rule offenders. It will conduct checks to ensure consumers are not being fleeced.
“[Overcharging means] exploitation of consumers. We will focus on canteens, stalls and places where counter sales take place. Since it is summer, soft drink sales are high and therefore there are more violations,” said Dr Maadhava Saanap, controller of legal metrology, Maharashtra.
Many retailers say they are charging extra for cooling the drinks. However, the law is clear that the MRP includes all costs and taxes. Any overcharging is a crime and punishable by a fine of up to Rs 5,000.
A team of officials from Legal Metrology, District 1, which covers South Mumbai, inspected shops and found a violation at Paritrupti Cafeteria located in the Bombay Hospital premises at Marine Lines. The cafeteria demanded Rs 5 more than the MRP of Rs 20 for a soft drink can.
The can was bought by this reporter, who accompanied the team of officials. She bought the can and handed over the bill to the officials. “We have filed case against the cafeteria. Now, the cafeteria must decide whether it wants to pay a fine and end the case at the departmental level or contest the action in a Judicial Magistrate Court,” said Atul Manwatkar, assistant controller of Legal Metrology, District 1.
A case was registered against Paritrupti Cafeteria under the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, (Package Commodities) Rules 2011. “The cafeteria has to give us a consent letter stating that it is ready to pay a fine within six months of the case being filed. We will forward the letter to the deputy controller who will issue a compounding order mentioning the penalty. The cafeteria owners can, otherwise, fight the case in court,” said Ramchandra Surwase, inspector of legal metrology, Colaba Division.
Cafeteria manager Damodar Bindal said, “I don’t want to say anything. This is the Bombay Hospital cafeteria; we are only managing it.”
Bombay Hospital Trust officer on special duty Dr Sagar Sakhale said: “Our HR Department has already initiated an inquiry in a similar case reported by Hindustan Times against Deepak Caterers [which runs the canteen]. Now, the department will also inquire into the matter.”
Interview Dr Maadhava Saanap
‘Violations are getting very blatant’
A day after Hindustan Times reported numerous maximum retail price (MRP) violations the city, Dr Maadhava Saanap, state controller of legal metrology, admitted that such offences have become blatant. He promised a crackdown on retailers who overcharge consumers.
On Friday, Hindustan Times reported several cases of MRP violations. How will you curb them?
Since MRP violations are taking place blatantly, we will prioritise action on it. We will conduct special drives focused on soft drink retailers. Also, our officials will frequently inspect canteens, stalls and other such outlets where soft drink sales happen over the counter.
We found retailers charging more than the MRP printed on soft drink bottles, citing refrigeration costs. This was happening in the city’s busiest areas and there was no check on it.
Action is a continuous process. Our officials conduct regular surprise visits and take action against offenders, but they repeat the offence after paying the penalty. In such cases, regular offenders are directly sent to the Judicial Magistrate Court.
Under which law are MRP violations booked?
The earlier laws were the Standard Weight and Measures Act (1976) and the Standard Weights and Measures Enforcement Act (1985) under (Package Commodities) Rules (1977). The law has been amended now. It is now the Legal Metrology Act (2009) and Rule 24(1) of the Maharashtra Legal Metrology (Enforcement) Rules (2011). This law has been in force from April 1; offenders are penalised Rs 2,000.
How can those who have been overcharged complain?
This is exploitation and consumers need to resist it. They could register a complaint on our helpline, 22886666. You can also email us on dclmns @yahoo.in.
Interview Shirish Deshpande
'What are the authorities doing?'
Consumer activist and chairman of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, Shirish Deshpande, said more powers must be given to officials to crack down on maximum retail price (MRP) law offenders.
Most retailers justified overcharging, citing refrigeration costs. Is this justified?
These are mere excuses to fleece consumers. It is a racket. If manufacturers pay retailers low margins, they should be dealt with separately. The cost should not be passed on to consumers. The law makes is clear that MRP is the highest amount that can be charged.
Are the authorities efficient enough?
The government bodies are slack and inadequate. We find violations at every second shop. What are they doing?
What should the authorities do?
The Legal Metrology Department should not wait for complaints to act. They should take suo motu action to curb violations. It is not practical for consumers to fight for Rs 2 every time they buy a soft drink. The authorities need to take care that such practices are not followed in the first place.
Should the laws be more stringent?
The Legal Metrology Department should be given more powers to carry out raids and impose instant penalties. The penalty should be so high that offenders feel the pinch. Laws make no sense unless they are implemented well. Unless retailers fear being punished, such violations won’t stop.