Thursday, May 24, 2018

google plus
Spectrum » Society

Posted at: Jan 7, 2018, 1:34 AM; last updated: Jan 7, 2018, 1:34 AM (IST)CONSUMERS BEWARE!

Voice your right to clean, free water

Voice your right to clean, free water
Bottleneck: Demand water at MRP

Pushpa Girimaji

I was extremely disappointed to read about the Supreme Court judgement allowing hotels and restaurants to charge more than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) on bottled water. Can you please explain the significance of this judgement to consumers?

It all began with hotels and restaurants charging exorbitant rates on bottled water sold and served at their premises. As consumers stepped up their complaints against such practice, the department of legal metrology began to prosecute them for selling above the MRP, in violation of the Standards of Weights and Measures Act 1976 and the SWM (Packaged Commodities) Rules 1977.

The hospitality industry responded by filing a writ petition before the Delhi High Court, challenging the jurisdiction of the department of legal metrology to do so and, in March 2007, a single judge of the Delhi High Court held that charging in excess of the MRP on mineral water during the service of customers at hotels and restaurants did not violate the provisions of the SWM Act of 1976, SWM (Enforcement ) Act or the SWM (Packaged Commodities) Rules as it did not constitute a sale or a simple purchase of these commodities.

The Department of Legal Metrology, in turn, filed an appeal before the Division Bench of the HC. Since the SWM Act and the Rules had been replaced by the Legal Metrology Act 2009 and the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) rules by then, the Division Bench held in 2015 that the judgement of the single judge shall not come in the way of the enforcement agencies, enforcing the provisions of the new act. A review filed by the hospitality industry was dismissed by the Division Bench. Consequently, the Department of Legal Metrology was taking action against those charging more than the MRP and the consumer courts too took a serious note of such instances. In fact, in the beginning of this year, a district forum in Goa imposed a penalty of Rs 20,000 on a restaurant for selling bottled water, costing Rs 20, at Rs 40, terming it as ‘illegal enrichment’.

Meanwhile, an appeal filed by the industry was before the Supreme Court. This, on December 12, held that the new law would also not apply to the sale of mineral water sold in hotels and restaurants. So what it means is that the department of Legal Metrology cannot prosecute hotels and restaurants that fleece consumers by selling bottled water at five to 10 times its marked price. Thus, consumers can no longer have the backing of the Legal Metrology Act and the Rules to fight against this sheer exploitation by hotels and restaurants.


What are the options before the consumers now?

Well, the Supreme Court verdict is highly disappointing, but consumers should not lose heart. First of all, the consumers should use the social media to express their anger and resentment over exorbitant charges levied by restaurants on bottled water. As part of the protest, consumers should stop ordering bottled water and demand safe, unpackaged water, for free or insist on carrying their own water. Restaurants may make a fuss over it, but if everyone starts doing it, they will have no option but to relent and either allow customers to bring water or sell bottles at the MRP marked on them. Let’s not forget that a restaurant is free to fix any price for the food that it serves and this price includes all its costs, overheads and profit margins. So charging a steep price on a commodity like water that it just buys and transfers to the customer is nothing but sheer greediness. And this has to stop.

Second of all, consumers must pressure the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) to ensure, through the FSS (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011, that all hotels and restaurants provide clean, safe drinking water free of charge to the customers. Through regular inspections, the food safety officers have to ensure that all restaurants have proper water purification systems and that the water served by them is safe in all respects.

Third, consumers should make a similar demand from the civic authorities. Remember, the entire problem or the demand for bottled water has arisen in the first place because of the failure of the civic authorities to supply potable water through taps. It is now their responsibility to mandate that all hotels and restaurants provide safe drinking water, free of cost. This can be done through the licencing conditions. 

Fourth, the ministry of consumer affairs needs to tweak the Legal Metrology Act and the Packaged Commodities Rules to bring under its jurisdiction, the sale of bottled water at hotels and restaurants.


All readers are invited to post comments responsibly. Any messages with foul language or inciting hatred will be deleted. Comments with all capital letters will also be deleted. Readers are encouraged to flag the comments they feel are inappropriate.
The views expressed in the Comments section are of the individuals writing the post. The Tribune does not endorse or support the views in these posts in any manner.
Share On