Consumers are constantly taken for a ride by market players ranging from provisional stores to vegetable and fish vendors to gold jewellers and petrol pumps in the district as the more than 1,000 cases registered by the Legal Metrology Department during the ten-month period between April and this January suggests.
Twenty-three cases had been registered for short delivery (selling lower quantity than what the consumer pays for) of commodities, 392 cases for violation of Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities Rules), 2011, and 649 various weight-related manipulations in contravention of the Legal Metrology Act 2009 and the accompanying Legal Metrology Enforcement Rules, 2011.
The cases collectively contributed Rs. 21.75 lakh to the Exchequer, while prosecution measures have been initiated in 22 cases on failure to pay the fine.
Missing declarations on packages like the packaging date, outdated packaging, and obscuration of maximum retail price and its replacement with a price tag by the trader are some of the common violations under the Packaged Commodities Rules. The other weight-related violations include traders’ failure to maintain documents of timely testing and certification of electronic balances.
Neither false declaration on the package nor wilful representation of weight on documents including bills is treated as an offense, which officials point out is a major shortcoming.
Manipulation of scales
Manipulation of electronic balance through external calibration is one of the common methods adopted to fleece the consumers. So, while a consumer may have paid for a certain quantity, he may be actually taking home much less.
While the 1958 edition of the Legal Metrology Act prescribed imprisonment of up to one year for fraudulent use of weighing equipment, such stringent provisions are completely missing in the Legal Metrology Act, 2009. The existing provision for a penalty of Rs. 50,000 hardly serves as a deterrent.
A senior Legal Metrology Department official said the Act should be amended to remove this laxity while observing that the Union government also erred in accepting an electronic balance model that was susceptible to external calibration leaving 90 per cent of the electronic balances in use in the market vulnerable to manipulations.
A trader could hoodwink the consumers by simply placing the electronic balance on an uneven surface, as the equipment gives accurate measurement only if is placed on a flat surface. The balance could be seen awkwardly placed by many vendors either out of ignorance or intentionally, the official said.
Doing away with consumer protection provision in the previous Packaged Commodities Rules, 1977, like the one that stipulated that commodities be sold only at a price in proportion to the original maximum retail price, has been attributed to proliferating irregularities.
Loopholes in rules
To make matters worse, the provisions of the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities Rules), 2011, are now applicable to packages weighing between 10 gm and 25 kg. This leaves out commodities like saffron, which is costly but sold in lesser quantities than 10 gram, and building materials like cement and sand sold in bigger packages than 25 kg, the official said.
While a person charged with repeated offence of short delivery attracts imprisonment of up to one year, the Legal Metrology Department must undertake more frequent drives to put this into effect. The department is plagued by lack of man power, vehicles, and standard equipment to undertake inspections.
Consumers will do well to have a weighing machine of their own at home to ensure that they get their money’s worth while shopping.