EVERY now and then one comes across a grocery store owner who refuses to vend a cold drink bottle until the customer pays Rs 2 extra as ‘cooling charge’. Although this is patently illegal, the legal metrology department however has failed to rein in those charging above Maximum Retail Price (MRP), although the practice is rampant at some grocery stores in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. According to officials, a stricter law to stop overcharging is in the pipeline which, once enacted, would rein in the violators effectively.
Charging above MRP on any pretext including cooling charge or transportation is an offence under the Central Law of Metrology Act provisions. A retailer violating the law is liable to be slapped with a fine of Rs 2,000. The retailers try to justify the overcharging by arguing that they have to spend money on cold storage, transportation charges and that the profit percentage is very low. However, as per government rules, it is the manufacturer, distributor and retailer who have to bear the charge of refrigeration which is already included in the MRP.
What is alarming that most consumers who are at the receiving end of this illegal practice don’t know where to get justice and register a complaint about the violator. Most of them either just argue or threaten the shopkeeper with approaching the consumer court which, say consumer activists, is laughed away by shopkeepers.
According to D G Mahajan, Assistant Control (Pune Division), Legal Metrology — the department concerned with the offence of overcharging — his office has received only at least 150 complaints from across the district in the last seven months.
“The complaints are from Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and rural parts of the district. Of these, most pertain to overcharging for mineral water bottles, cold drinks, liquor bottles and not printing MRP properly. Whenever a penalty is imposed on a retailer, he cries foul that he has very low profit margins on cold drinks, which is not true,”said Mahajan.
Others officials with the department said the shopkeepers are emboldened to violate the law because the punishment is too soft.
“Rs 2,000 penalty is not much for a shopkeeper. Given the fact that very rarely it would happen that someone would complain about an overcharging shopkeeper to us. Had the penalty been more, like say Rs 10,000, the shopkeepers would have been more careful not to violate the law,”said the official who did not wish to be named.
“The new act will have provision of non-bailable offence for the repeated offenders. First offence will be bailable while next will have harsher punishments and penalties. Also, police complaint will be registered against such offenders by officials of metrology department. Then, the police and metrology officials will coordinate to bring culprits to justice,” said the official. Until that happens, the official said, the consumer facing overcharge can call up 020 2613 7114 to complain about the harassment.