July 2013

Help yourself to fight arbitrary pricing

By Sajjad Bazaz

CONSUMEREssential day to day expenses for food, light, transport, toddlers’ education etc have soared by 30-40 per cent in the last couple of years. This increase when compared with the rise in income levels is much higher and confirms the uncontrolled cost of living. This never-seen- before price rise situation has squeezed saving opportunities of commoners and has even been steadily getting them poorer with every passing day.

Amid high cost of living, consumer spending has turned out an uncontrollable phenomenon. This situation has exposed consumers to a high risk territory of price exploitation. We as a consumer are most of the times at the receiving end. Unfair trade practices continue unabated. It is usually found that the prices of consumer goods traded in the markets are settled arbitrarily by the seller with the wholehearted support of manufacturers, surprisingly that too well under the nose of authorities.

Ours is a place where it is very difficult for consumers to check whether retailers are actually charging the right amount of local taxes on the products they sell or they are overcharging. Let me quote a simple example of cold drinks, particularly the branded ones. Don’t be surprised if you find different prices of a single brand in the same market. Just ask a simple question to yourself. How many times have you paid more than the maximum retail price (MRP) mentioned on the bottle while buying a cold drink or packaged water? If a medium size bottled drink, for example, is pegged at MRP of Rs.20, the retailer won’t hesitate to charge you Rs 5 extra. The oft-used excuse by the retailer is that he’s charging extra for cooling the product. Unfortunately, it is such a widely followed practice in Kashmir that most of us don’t even bother to negotiate. We as a consumer also turn a blind eye to the fact that trader or retailer cannot legally charge over maximum retail price under any pretext.

Charging over MRP even in branded bottled drinks pinches a common consumer but he is helpless to counter the

retailers’ profiteering practices. Even as manufacturing companies have consumer grievance cells in place to resolve such issues, they have proved toothless tigers. No manufacturer would like to see a reduction in sales by annoying a retailer. They turn blind eye to the malpractice and don’t take any action even when a consumer complaints.

Take the case of markets at airports. There is practice of selling the goods at higher rates – even two to three times more than the maximum retail price. Simple example is bottled water. Nobody cares when it is sold at a cost twice than the MRP. If one tries to show resistance against the overcharging, he is denied the product and a notion is given to the consumer that goods at airport cost more than the normal rate.

Is it true? Nobody has a credible answer. But the practice of overcharging of goods continues well under the nose of authorities at places like airports.

If there is any legal practice to sell goods at higher rates at airport, then the packaged bottle should have mentioned that it is to be sold at airport and the double cost which is charged from the consumer should have been mentioned on the bottle. But it is not so. So if bottles meant for mass market are sold at airport at a higher price, it is simply a breach of law.

Sometimes it also happens that the manufacturer increases the price of a product and sells old stocks/products on new price rates. But this new price does not apply to the stock already with the retailer. And this is where retailers try to make a quick buck by trying to sell the old stock at the new revised rate. So this is simply an unfair trade practice.

There are numerous instances about the goods sold at a much higher price. If you as a consumer want to set the overcharging trader or retailer right, you have help at hand. Instead of being a dumb driven consumer, you can take consumer court route. Precisely, you never know when a problem might surface. When it does, consumer protection laws are on your side. These laws are designed to protect the consumer from deceptive and unfair practices.

It’s also important for consumers to know the difference between the maximum retail price and actual price of the goods. The maximum retail price is inclusive of all taxes and a retailer can sell at a price below the MRP. In fact consumers should always look for retailers who sell below the MRP because the MRP is the maximum retail price allowed for that commodity and not the actual price and a retailer can well reduce his margin built into the MRP. They should not forget to obtain proper receipt/cash memo. They should always obtain the guarantee/warranty card duly stamped and signed by the shopkeeper, wherever necessary.

In succinct, amid rising prices, an aggressive consumer protection movement should be launched throughout state to help the consumers to hedge themselves against unfair practices.

Ends…

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