Saturday, May 8, 2021

Ignorant consumers

Today the element of mistrust looms large in the market, as unfair trade practices continue un abated. It is usually found that the prices of consumer goods traded in the markets here are settled arbitrarily by the seller; and that too well under the nose of authorities. Ours is a place where within one city, different products have different rates. It becomes 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. This has led to a situation where confusion in respect of price of goods is natural for the consumer. Amid this confusion, traders and manufacturers gain huge profit. Let’s take the simple example of mineral water. Don’t be surprised if one finds different prices of a single brand in the same market. How many times have one paid more than the maximum retail price (MRP) mentioned on the bottle while buying packaged water? If a medium size bottled drink is pegged at MRP of Rs 15, 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 our state, particularly Dimapur 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. Again take the case of airports. There is practice of selling goods at higher rates. Simple example again 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. But 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. Again take the case of restaurants. They charge more for cold drinks and bottled water. Hardly anybody shows resistance and most of the consumers pay gladly. Is this overcharging justified? No, provided the restaurants serve the packaged water or bottled cold drink in their own crockery. In this case they are offering a service in addition to the product. 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 old stock at the new revised rate. This is simply an unfair trade practice. There are numerous instances about goods sold a much higher price in our part of the word. If we as a consumer want to set the overcharging trader or retailer right, instead of being a dumb driven consumer, we can take the consumer court route. The consumer protection laws are designed to protect the consumer from deceptive and unfair practices. And it is of utmost importance that consumers are made aware about the consumer protections laws so that they can use them to their advantage. Meanwhile, consumers should know the difference between the maximum retail price and the actual price of 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. Indeed consumer protection movement is much needed in our state, if the government is serious in curbing the unabated unfair trade practices.