Standard for gold
Pushpa Girimaji

Expressing concern over the fact that hallmarking of gold is still not mandatory, the National Consumer Rights Commission/ Court has asked the Union Government to take appropriate measures to protect consumers and not leave them to be victims of unfair trade practices.

Referring to the survey conducted by the Bureau of Indian Standards(BIS) during 2001-2002 which showed 90 per cent of the jewellers surveyed cheated on the purity of gold, the apex court has put a poser to the government: "should the purchasers of ornaments of precious metal (gold) be left at the mercy of such traders?"

The apex consumer court observed that although hallmarking was introduced in April 2000, more than 750 jewellers had been certified and only 17 hallmarking centres had been set up in 10 cities.

The reaction came following a complaint filed by B. S. Sharma about the quality of a gold ring he purchased for Rs 2,700 on December 16, 1997. The jeweller gave him a cash receipt which said the ring was made of 23 carat gold. However, the buyback condition stated that the jeweller would refund only 80 per cent of the value of the ring.

Sharma accused the jeweller of selling a gold ring of 18.4 carat. The jeweller, on the other hand, argued that the ring’s purity was 23 carats. The 20 per cent reduction in the price was meant to cover his cost towards making charges, sales tax, wastage and also copper and other alloys used as connecting material. When Sharma got the ring tested at Gwalior Bullion Laboratory, it showed gold purity as 21 carats. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in Bhopal asked the jeweller to replace the ring with a new one of 23 carat gold and also pay Sharma Rs 5000 as compensation.

The state commission, in response to the jeweller’s appeal, set it aside. The national commission called the RBI, the BIS, and the Union Government to discuss the issue of gold purity and hallmarking in detail.

Finally, its verdict was that hallmarking should become mandatory at the earliest, but till then, the government should give appropriate orders to jewellers to emboss the caratage clearly on every piece of jewellery.

The commission said, "It is apparent that a large scale unfair trade practice in sale or purchase of precious jewellery is prevailing. Consumers are at the mercy of the jewellers. It is for the government to protect such consumers. One of the main objectives of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, is to see that a consumer gets information regarding the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods. There may be some difficulties with regard to hallmarking. But, there cannot be any difficulty in issuing directions or notifications, for the time being, till the hallmarking is made compulsory, to the jewellers/goldsmiths to "emboss" a mark indicating fineness of the ornament. This will give an opportunity to the consumer to know its purity."

"Subsequently, at the time of sale or return of such ornaments, the consumer can bargain the repurchase price on the basis of purity mentioned thereon. Further, if the ornament is not of the same purity/quality as per the mark, then it becomes easy for the consumer fora to pass appropriate order." (Akhil Bharatiya Upbhokta Congress, through its president B.S.Sharma vs M/s Aggarwal Jewellers, Bhopal, RP no 3020 of 2003, decided on December 12, 2005).