Respect All, Suspect All; No uncertain terms are allowed to declare stuff in the packages

Respect All, Suspect All; No uncertain terms are allowed to declare stuff in the packages

Buying is not just a twosome deal in which money is given away for a certain product. A fair deal can’t be complete unless the delivered quantity of a product does not worth its equalised monetary value. That’s to say, we pay not just for a certain product but the quantity delivered in exchange must be definite in effect, too. And, if thus be the settled tradition across all economic activities, this must apply to pre-packed commodities with equal rigour. Therefore, ‘The Legal Metrology Act, 2009’ causes to be laid down an exclusive supplement – ‘the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011’ or PC Rules– to regulate and provide for the matters connected therewith.

Commodities in pre-packed from are fast emerging a clientele preference simply because they cut short on the time taken to repeatedly weigh or measure each time in the physical presence of every other customer; and thus can be readily made available. Since, at the time and place where such packaging is made consumers are not present, their trust regarding ‘Q&Q’ (quantity and quality of inside stuff) is stimulated only by sundry declarations made on the label. As the size of demand differs in accordance with varying needs of diverse customers, most of the packaged products are offered in several denominations so as to cater to such differentiated quantum of utility. But neither these declarations to be made are voluntary, nor are the quantity sizes endless as per whims and will of marketers. On the contrary, both are subject to stringent regulation of the law. It is given that some products can be packed only in those quantities as prescribed under second schedule of PC Rules. One such product is tea, which can be packed in size of 25g, 50g, 75g, 100g, 125g, 150g, 200g, 250g, 500g, 750g, 1kg and thereafter in multiples of 1kg. Any other pack-size for such products is in violation of law.

While section 18(1) of the LM Act causes to be made some mandatory declarations on every package, as prescribed under 6th of PC Rules, section 36(1) ensures that every pre-packed commodity must also conform to these declarations. But the reliability with regard to filled-in quantity is exuded by section 36(2), which ensures that the net contents of the package, except to the limit of ‘maximum permissible error’ (or MPE) prescribed under first schedule of PC Rules, must in no circumstances be less than its declared quantity. This MPE is the allowed shortage, and rightly in order, to mitigate the loss of quantity due to natural decay or for the reasons beyond human control.

Because of this overt importance accorded to accuracy of net contents, and more so as we literally pay only for the inside stuff, the law is explicit that the quantity declaration must be made in no uncertain terms; or the words that tend to tell about net contents must be free from any ambiguity. The sensitivity of the law to quantity aspect gets further accentuated under rule 2(f) which says that the ‘net quantity’ of package is the quantity contained in the package and it shall be exclusive of packaging materials or the wrappers.

Nonetheless, this quantity declaration is the bane which the fledgling as well as established companies, alike, are found to have floundered time and again. Although in some of the cases the mistake is seemingly inadvertent. Exempli gratia, almost all ‘incense sticks’ and ‘mosquito coils’ manufacturers, for the sake of declaring net quantity, tend to just declare number of the sticks or coils but not the weight, volume or dimension of the product inside the package. Since ‘incense sticks’ or ‘mosquito coils’ are not identically similar standard articles, this type of quantity declaration is utterly vague because this fails to give a clear view about the exact fill-in. But in larger number of cases, the quantity declaration is deliberately fudged with the motive of keeping the consumers confused. A glaring example is provided by ‘dip-tea’ packaging industry. In spite of the fact that the end product they tout to sell is nothing but the ‘tea leaves’ contained in each tiny pouch that hangs from a thread to help it dip in the mug. Yet, hardly any one of them is quoting net contents in weight of either individual pouch or collectively of all the pouches contained in retail pack. They think that it is sufficient to declare how many pouches or tea envelopes are inside the pack. This is brazenly against spirit of foregoing quantity definition, as given under the law.

This is not as if the law is left wanting on this notch up. How to overcome this confusion is aptly provided in the rule book itself. It is given under rule 6(c) that the net quantity of the commodity contained in the package shall be declared by its weight, measure or number; and that too in standard units only. But this quantity declaration in either of weight, measure or number alone is not sufficient and meaningful in all of the cases. When just one of them is insufficient to give a clear view of the product, section 12(1) removes the glitch with provision that quantity declaration in such cases shall be made in such combined terms of weight, measure or number as would give accurate and adequate information to the consumer with regard to the net quantity of commodity contained in the package. And rule 12(4) further goes on to provide that quantity declaration shall also contain the dimension of the commodity contained in the package if declaration of weight, measure or number is not sufficient to give to the consumer full information with regard to the dimensions of the commodity. Finally, rule 12(6) leaves no scope for arbitrariness when it says that the quantity declaration shall not contain any word or expression, of any sort whatsoever, which tends to create an exaggerated, misleading or inadequate expression about the quantity contained in the package.

In spite of thus elaborate provisioning under the law that no uncertain terms are allowed to declare stuff in the package, there are numerous instances that even reputed industrial houses are regularly booked for transgression on this count. And if the quantum of violation is put together, it would be unveiled that this frequent stepping over the law’s limit is not merely per chance of ignorance or inadvertent. Definitely something is left to smell the rat, against which Legal Metrology Department must be vigilant while consumers should remain cautiously educated.

Harish Kumar Prajapati

Harish Kumar Prajapati is presently employed as a Legal Metrology Officer, Ghaziabad (UP Govt.). He was also appointed as the member of drafting committee to write the enforcement rules on ‘The Legal Metrology Act, 2009’.