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Posted at: Mar 19, 2017, 12:57 AM; last updated: Mar 19, 2017, 12:57 AM (IST)BUYERS BEWARE!

Weigh before you buy

Weigh before you buy
Go for it: Rules allow you to get your packages weighed at the retail outlet itself istock

Pushpa Girimaji

Yesterday, I bought two packets of tea at a retail store near my house. As I had recently purchased a kitchen weighing scale, I decided to check their weight. I was surprised to see that they weighed 18 to 20 gm less than the declared weight of 250 gm. I had never suspected so. What should I do now?

Well, I must tell you that checks by state enforcement agencies, consumer groups and even individual consumers have revealed that one cannot always take for granted the accuracy of the weight declared on pre-packed goods.

It’s for this reason that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has facilitated cross checking of the weight of these packages at the time of purchase, through a rule in the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011. Rule 18 (7) , says, “All retailers who are covered under the Value Added Tax (VAT) or Turn Over Tax (TOT) and are dealing in packaged commodities whose net content declaration is by weight or volume or a combination thereof shall maintain an electronic weighing machine of at least accuracy class III, with smallest division of at least 1 g, with facility to issue a printed receipt indicating among other things, the gross quantity, price and the like at a prominent place in their retail premises, free of cost, for the benefit of consumers and the consumers may check the weight of their packaged commodities purchased from the shop on such machine.” So you can now get your packages weighed at the retail outlet itself.

I must also mention that this problem is not peculiar to India. In Europe, North America and Australia, where consumer groups are active, they regularly cross check the weight of pre-packed goods. A couple of years ago, for example, the UK consumer magazine “Which” published results of one such survey done in the supermarkets of Northern Island , where out of 467 food packets bought , 73 were found to be below the recognised margin of error. In fact, in the United States, whenever they come across such under filled packets or bottles, class action lawyers file suits against the manufacturer, demanding refund or compensation to all those who bought those underweight packages. We, in India, too need to do that.

Meanwhile, I would suggest that you lodge a complaint with the retailer, the manufacturer and also the state legal metrology department. Since in cases such as these, the entire batch (or batches) would be underweight, the department can order their withdrawal from the market and also take action against the manufacturer. Under the Consumer Protection Act too, selling much less than what is promised or paid for, constitutes an unfair trade practice and you can lodge a complaint before the consumer court, seeking compensation.

You can also ask the consumer court to find out from the manufacturer how many of those underweight packages were sold, calculate the illegal gains from such a sale and direct the manufacturer to pay the entire amount to the Consumer Welfare Fund.

You must remember that in almost all cases of underweight packages, it’s not just one or two packages, but the entire batch that is affected. So even though the loss to the individual consumer may not be very large, to consumers as a class, the loss is substantial. And to the manufacturer, the illegal gain from such a practice is huge.

Can you quote any recent consumer court case on this issue?

Unfortunately, I have not come across any class action suit in these matters in India. However, many individuals have filed cases before the consumer courts at the district level, seeking compensation. I can recall the one that came up to the apex consumer court level. This pertained to Punjab Milk Federation and others Vs Dr Rajinder Singh (RP No 4086 of 2007, order dated March 29, 2012) where the consumer court awarded a compensation of Rs 25,000 to the consumer, besides Rs 5,000 towards costs. It also directed the manufacturer to pay Rs 25,000 to the State Legal Aid Authority. Here the complaint was that a packet of milk with a declared weight of 500 ml, actually weighed only 360 ml.

I must also mention that, these days, consumer courts are taking a serious view of such short practices and awarding hefty compensation to the consumers.

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