Charge MRP for bottled water, beverages

YOU must have often got angry with shopkeepers who overcharge you for a bottle of water or soft drink, but felt helpless because you were thirsty and had no other option but to pay what the retailer demanded. Well, here is a person who refused to accept such exploitation and went to court, demanding stern action against the seller. The order that he got in response to his complaint should make retailers think twice before overcharging consumers.

Here, the district consumer disputes redressal forum in Bharuch, Gujarat, not only asked the seller to refund the excess amount of Rs 22 charged, but also pay Rs 5000 as compensation to the consumer and Rs 1,000 as costs. In addition, the seller was asked to pay Rs 1,50,000 to the consumer welfare fund. This was upheld by the Gujarat state consumer disputes redressal commission and also the national consumer disputes redressal commission.

According to the complaint filed by Ishhwar Lal Jinabhai Desai, he bought on May 14, 2003, four bottles of Mirinda from Hotel Nyay Mandir located on National Highway number 8. The MRP on the bottle was Rs 12.50, as per which he should have been charged Rs 50 for the four bottles, but instead, he was asked to pay Rs 72. So in his complaint filed before the district forum, he asked for a refund of the excess amount charged, besides compensation. In addition, he wanted the forum to direct the hotel to pay to a consumer association, the excess amount charged on soft drinks by the hotel in the previous three years. Opposing this, the hotelier argued before the national commission that first and foremost, the additional amount was the service charge towards the facilities provided by the hotel. Second, the hotel had put up a notice outside, specifying the cost of the soft drink and the service charge. So the complainant was aware of the price and had willingly bought it.

On bottled water, hotels and restaurants should not be permitted to charge more than the MRP
On bottled water, hotels and restaurants should not be permitted to charge more than the MRP

Dismissing this contention, the national commission pointed out that firstly, there was no mention of any service charge in the receipt given to the consumer. Secondly, in its appeal before the state commission, the hotelier had not said anything about the notice board. So the commission cannot examine any new grounds at the revision petition stage (Hotel Nyay Mandir vs Ishwar Lal Jinabhai Desai, revision petition number 550 of 2006, decided on December 14, 2010).

Having said that, I must clarify for the benefit of consumers that in March, 2006, in the case of the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India vs Union of India, the Delhi High Court held that "charging prices for mineral water in excess of the MRP printed on the packaging, during the service of customers in hotels and restaurants does not violate any of the provisions of the Standards of Weights and Measures Act as this does not constitute a sale or transfer of these commodities by the hotelier or restaurateur to its customers."

A similar view was held in respect of clubs in 2009, in the case of Delhi Gymkhana Club Limted vs Union of India. Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs also clarified through an amendment to the Packaged Commodities Rules in July 2006 that the rule pertaining to the MRP would not be applicable to packages containing more than 25 kg or litres, and packages meant for institutional consumers. Institutional consumers are defined as those who bought packaged commodities directly from the manufacturers or packers for the service industry like airways, Railways, hotel or any other similar industry.

The sum and substance of all this is that one can haul up for charging more than the MRP, only those outlets selling bottled beverages, without any component of service in it. That is the law at present, but personally, I feel that at least on bottled water, hotels and restaurants should not be permitted to charge more than the MRP.