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INVESTIGATIVE: Trading Malpractice -a profane tradition

As humans and consumers living in the modern age, we have certain requirements that need to be fulfilled on a daily basis with a variety of goods and services that serve the purpose of ‘value for money’ by those who sell and market them. Essential commodities for our consumption and satisfaction require being of the right quality, right quantity and right price to serve our purpose.
However, it has often been observed that consumers end up being harassed and cheated by traders. Being a victim of malpractice is not a new topic on the table anymore as several consumers are gradually getting accustomed to these malpractices. The easy-going behaviour and lack of knowledge of consumers have given traders the ill habit of cheating their customers on a daily basis.
Trade practices have seen a lot of change over the past few decades, with change in the standard of living. With the industrial revolution, liberalisation and globalisation, our demands and needs have increased tremendously, which has given plenty of scope and space for unwanted activities. Trading malpractices are widely practised around the country. Similarly, in Arunachal Pradesh, trading malpractices take place from the smallest villages to the twin capital of Itanagar and Naharlagun. Traders in remote villages impose extra charges citing transportation costs and during times of emergencies a packet of instant noodles like Maggi, which comes at a retail price of Rs 12, is sold for as high as Rs 100, while larger markets in the capital are filled with the adulterated and spurious goods that are often overpriced. Use of faulty weights, counterfeit products and selling expired products are other issues which go unnoticed or are ignored.
Adulteration in food items is very common and could prove to be highly injurious to health. Many food items are available in the market with no mandatory declaration, ingredient and caution mentioned, which consumers are unaware of or tend to ignore. Counterfeit goods, commonly called “knockoffs” are goods that are replicas of the real product with quality far below the required standard. Most products can be differentiated from their quality, while others have their own model code and toll free number on the tag, which a consumer can call to verify.
After a little research, we found that apparels or essential goods are usually forged with yellow-coloured stickers with only the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) displayed on them. The yellow sticker with only an MRP is a sham because it is rated by a price printing machine, while genuine products have company-marked holograms on them.  The extra charges of Rs 5 or Rs 10 on cold drinks for freezing, mobile and TV recharges are also illegal and a customer has every right to deny paying those extra charges. Wholesalers claim that they sell and supply products to shopkeepers on accurate prices and that there is no requirement for them to charge extra. 
Is the manufacturer at fault for high prices?
Technically speaking, no. The manufacturing company takes in great effort in deciding the price of the commodity. It conducts market surveys, obtains feedback from every distributor, wholesaler, retailer and some consumers. Adding these things together with the production cost, tax schemes, state of economy and a thousand other factors, it comes to a vague, competitive price for the commodity at each stage in its distribution.
The MRP (inclusive of all taxes) is the price corresponding to the consumer. In simple terms, MRP is not some freeloading exploitation scheme of the repressive manufacturers as the shopkeepers and trader blame them to be. However, traders have a thousand excuses to make the buyers pay extra and the manufacturing companies do not receive anything out of it. 
We also need to learn about how taxes work –both Sales Tax and VAT are consumption taxes. To cite an example, if a consumer consumes a product worth Rs 100 on which the tax rate is 10%, the purpose of both the systems is to collect Rs 10 (i.e. 10% of Rs 100) and pay to the government. Both are also Indirect Tax, meaning the consumer does not pay the tax directly to the government, but to the business from whom he/she has purchased the product. Sadly, every time a trader charges extra amount, a consumer automatically contributes to black money.
There are many ways in which consumers are exploited and many cases have been detected related to smudging, defacing or masking the originally declared price altogether. On March 2016, a surprise inspection was done near Dam Site area, Ganga market and in prominent shopping complexes, where many enterprises and retailer goods were seized by the inspector of Legal Metrology (LM) from Naharlagun and Itanagar. Several items like hardware, grocery, gifts, cloths and spices were found without any mandatory declaration. Most cases were conferred under Section 36 and 48 of the Legal Metrology Act, 2009. 
Section 36 deals with the penalty for selling of non-standard packages and with subsequent offences the offender would have to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1, 00,000, or punished with imprisonment up to one year or both. Section 48 deals with the compounding of offences punishable under Section 25, Section 27 to 39, Section 45 to 47 or any rule made either before or after the institution of the prosecution on payment for the credit to the government of sum as may be prescribed.
According to a report provided by the Legal Metrology Department, over the past five years, a total of 723 cases have been detected from 16 inspectorates operating in Tawang, Bomdila, Seppa, Ziro, Daporijo, Basar, Aalo, Pasighat, Roing, Khonsa, Tezu, Namsai, Changlang, Miao, Naharlagun and Itanagar.
Out of the 723 detected cases, a total of 671 cases have been compounded, while 22 cases are on trial or on penalisation. In Itanagar and Naharlagun 244 cases were detected and 221 cases were compounded over the past five years, while the rest of the cases are either on penalisation or under process.  
Under the State Commission, 85 cases has been filed which have all been disposed off, while under the District Forum 432 cases out of 467 cases have been filed and disposed, and 35 cases are on penalisation. However, the number of cases filed under the State Commission and District Forum seem fewer when compared to the low quality of goods and products found in those places.   
Accordingly, the Legal Metrology Department inspected and registered 32,758 trading units and 2, 84, 133 weights and measurements in the 16 districts. It collected total compounding fees of Rs 25, 70,950, license fees of Rs 33,910, sales deed of Rs 26,800 and total verification fees of Rs 1, 34, 15,105.

We spoke to some consumers who expressed their dissatisfaction over the unfair practises of traders.

Geyi Raksap (29 years old, runs a photo copy store) – “The shopkeepers in our state are too much into fraudulent practices. I oppose the extra charges on the cold drinks taken for freezing sometimes because I feel they are pointless. It has become a tradition and we are getting accustomed to this practice. It is hard to argue with every single vendor.”

Yangam Bayor (23 years old, Typist) –“I recently bought a bottle of lemonade, which is Rs 20 but I was charged an extra Rs 10. When I asked the shopkeeper why I was charged more than the printed MRP, she simply said that every shop charges extra.”
Vijay Gurung (24 years old, data operator) – “I recently purchased a shoe from Ganga Market and it had no price tag. The quality was not very good but priced very high. Such pricing makes one feel cheated.”
Then there are some consumers who are aware of their rights and have questioned the foul demands of shopkeepers, like Jintu Machey, who works at the 102 Emergency Response Centre at Naharlagun.
Machey had recently purchased a mobile phone from a mobile enterprise shop located near Lagun Bridge at Naharlagun. When he checked the MRP to negotiate the price, he noted that it was marked with black ink and the shopkeeper had asked him to pay Rs 1250, and after some negotiation, the shopkeeper agreed on Rs 950.
However, dissatisfied with the purchase, Machey took the matter to the Legal Metrology Department and wrote an application with the money receipt attached, and requested the department to take action so that such unscrupulous activities could be stopped.  After due inspection, many items of the shop, including mobile handsets, memory cards, dish players, among several other items were seize by the inspector of Legal Metrology and a case was conferred under Section 36 of Packaged Commodity Act. 
Even if The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the “Jago Garhak Jago” campaign have come to the rescue of some aggrieved consumers, it is yet to spread awareness to a larger number of consumers who are hesitant to proceed for lack of knowledge and the hassles of judicial procedures.
A consumer has every luxury to bargain on any product but many times even after being aware of our rights as consumers we intentionally tend to let such practices slip by.  Traders have to also remember that they are consumers as well, and in order to maintain a healthy line of customers they need to be honest in their dealings. Blaming others for our ignorance will only lead to nowhere. The Legal Metrology Department can only take proper action when consumers step up against trading malpractices and truly follow the golden slogan of “Jago Grahak Jago”.

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