Consumers beware!
Now, insist on standard pack sizes
From July 1 this year, 19 essential goods will have to be sold only in pack sizes specified under the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011 
Pushpa Girimaji

LET me explain the significance of this. Price, as we all know, is an important factor that determines consumer choice, more so now, given the skyrocketing prices. So when you buy your monthly provisions such as oil, tea and atta sold in packages, you obviously need to compare the prices of different brands and pick those that give you a price advantage. However, in order do that, you must have packages of standard sizes.

For example, you can compare the prices of five different brands of atta, if all of them are packed in a standard size of say, 5 kg. If on the other hand, one pack weighs 5 kg, the other 4.72 kg, and yet another, 4.36 kg and so on, then obviously price comparison becomes difficult. In fact, with such packages, you can well get misled into making a wrong choice because by looking at the packages, you will assume that they all weigh 5 kg. It's for this reason that standard pack sizes are essential for protecting the consumers' right to an informed choice. 

So under the Packaged Commodities Rules, the government had first mandated standard pack sizes for 39 essential goods. And there were decent gaps between such standard sizes so that consumers were not misled on the quantity by pack sizes. But manufacturers lobbied hard against this and ensured that this number was reduced to just 19. 

Not satisfied with that, they argued for some relaxation in these sizes too. The Consumer Affairs Ministry capitulated and in the year 2006, it gave them a window for deviating from standard sizes. Now Rule 5 of the Packaged Commodities Rules stipulates that commodities specified in the Second Schedule of the Rules should be packed only in the standard quantities specified in that Schedule. So in 2006, the government introduced a proviso to this rule saying that if a commodity is packed in a size other than the one prescribed in the schedule, the manufacturer has to declare prominently on the package that it is a "Non standard size under the Legal Metrology (packaged commodities) Rules, 2011". 

This proviso was meant to provide for exceptions to the rule, but in reality, it completely overturned Rule 5. And manufacturers began to sell goods in such odd sizes or quantities that it not only made price comparison difficult, but also misled consumers on the quantity in packages. It was also used by manufacturers to deliberately mislead consumers on price. For example, manufacturers would keep the price of the product constant, giving consumers an impression that there was no price increase . However, they would have decreased the quantity, without changing the pack size. After all, how many consumers look at the weight of the product specified on the package every time they buy it? 

If, for example, you are buying 500 gm of a particular brand of tea every month, you will assume that the weight continues to be 500 gm, if there is no change in packaging. Manufacturers, at least some of them, betrayed this trust that consumers had in the honesty of manufacturers and reduced the quantity. And they displayed the information about it being a non-standard pack size in such a way that consumers never read it. Even if they did, how many consumers would even understand it's significance? Ironically, the law on standardisation of weights and measures comes under the purview of the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs! The government now says that they never expected manufacturers to misuse this provision and to such an extent. 

Through a notification dated October 24, 2011, the Ministry omitted this proviso, thereby restoring the earlier status of Rule 5 and ensuring that these 19 products are sold only in pack sizes specified in the rule, from July 1.

But before you begin to rejoice in this positive development, let me warn you that manufacturers' are very strongly lobbying against this. So it is in your interest to send a mail to the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, demanding that they not give in to the manufacturers this time. 

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