Check for underweight packages
When we buy packed goods, we assume that the weight or volume declared by the manufacturer on the package is accurate. However, that assumption may not always be correct

We are all aware that an LPG cylinder delivered at our doorstep may not contain the net quantity of cooking gas declared on the cylinder. So we insist on the delivery man weighing the cylinder at the time of delivery and the gas agencies send a hand-held weighing scale with the delivery man to facilitate this. But what about all those household provisions that we buy every month? Have you ever given a thought to whether these goods that come in packages, actually contain the quantity declared on it? Consumer groups like Consumer Education and Research Centre, Ahmedabad, which does comparative testing of brands, has many times brought to light, cases of packages containing quantities much less than what is declared on the package. Similarly, there are many instances of enforcement agencies —legal metrology departments of state governments — imposing penalties on manufacturers for packing much less than the declared weight and asking them to repack the entire batch. The penalty for the first offence in such cases is Rs 10,000.

According to the Department of Legal Metrology, Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, such cases have been noticed in packs of edible oil, tea, coffee and a variety of food items, besides soaps and detergents. The enforcement agencies carry out random checks at the manufacturers’or the packers’ premises, but obviously there are underweight batches that escape such scrutiny and make it to the retailer. And here it may never get detected because, usually, the enforcement agencies do not do such random testing at the retailers’ level.

In cases of underweight packages, the loss to an individual consumer may not be substantial, but to consumers as a class, the loss is really huge. And to the manufacturer, the ‘profit’ or the gain from such underweight packages is also considerable. You can double-check the weight of the packed goods that you buy and the government has facilitated this by making it mandatory for certain class of retailers selling packed goods to keep an electronic weighing machine. It should extend to all retailers. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011, which came into force on April 1 last year, says under Rule 18 (sub rule 7) that all retailers who are covered under the Value-Added Tax or Turn-Over Tax and dealing in packed commodities, shall maintain an electronic weighing machine of, at least, accuracy class III, with smallest division of at least 1 gm, with facility to issue a printed receipt, indicating among other things, the gross quantity, price and the like at a prominent place in the retail premises.

Consumers wishing to check the weight of any packed commodity bought at the retail outlet should be able to do so free of cost.

The legal metrology departments of many states have begun checking the retail outlets for compliance. Some state governments have established consumer helplines so that consumers can call and complain on the number– either about the absence of the weighing scales or about the underweight packages.

So do try and make use of this facility, get packages checked once in a while to see if the quantity is accurate. (the law provides for a small margin of error and if the package weighs less than what is permitted, then it becomes an offence under the Rules.) If it is not, then complain to the Department of Legal Metrology. In cases such as these, since it is not possible to identify each and every consumer who has bought such underweight package, one can calculate the total loss suffered by consumers as a class and ask the manufacturer to deposit the entire amount in the Consumer Welfare Fund.

A consumer or a consumer group can make such a plea before the consumer court. However, ensure that the retailer issues a proper receipt for the purchase of the commodity and if you have got it weighed, a receipt for that too, specifying the name of the product, its declared weight, actual weight, batch number, manufacturer’s name and the date of purchase. Also ensure that the receipt carries the name and address of the retailer.