Earlier this year Ch. Kondaiah, a resident of Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, approached the consumer forum since he was displeased at having to pay almost double the MRP for a bottle of mineral water.
When asked why the eatery was charging beyond the MRP, the manager of the hotel had told him that charging over the MRP was the general practice.
Kondaiah refused to accept this answer and approached the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum-II to stop the unfair practice.
Pointing out that charging over the MRP violated the Legal Metrology (packaged commodities) Rules 2011, the Forum directed the eatery to pay ₹20,000 to the petitioner “towards damages for making illegal enrichment by charging excess amount from complainant/customers.” The eatery was also asked to pay Kondaiah the ₹20 collected in excess and another ₹5,000 in costs.
In March, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the consumer forum had received complaints that mineral water bottles were being sold at prices above the MRP —the price printed on the product labels differed at airports, hotels and malls. He directed all establishments to comply with the laws and sell packaged mineral water only at the maximum retail price.
While this happened in March, three days ago, passing a judgement on a special leave petition filed by the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) against the Union of India, the apex court took a different stand.
It said that when hotels and restaurants sell food and drinks, they also render a service, making it a composite transaction with composite billing. Therefore, MRP rates cannot be insisted upon for such entities.
In saying this, the Supreme Court held that restaurants rendering a service cannot be governed by the Legal Metrology Act.
The court said the provisions of the Act would not apply to hotels, and they cannot be prosecuted for selling products above MRP. “It is not a case of a simple sale,” the bench said.
“Nobody goes to a hotel to buy or take away a bottle of mineral water.”
To understand this better, we at The Better India approached the National Consumer Helpline and here is what we learnt.
“If the bottled water is being served to you within a restaurant premise, in a glass, and is chilled, then there is a service being provided, and the restaurant is at liberty to charge over and above the MRP. However, if you are purchasing the bottle of water from over the counter, or at a departmental store then they cannot over-charge you.”
Pawan Soni, a popular food blogger says, “India still does not supply safe tap water for everyone to drink. Hence water is a necessity and cannot be treated as a luxury. The Government has made it mandatory to provide safe RO water free of cost at every restaurant. However, if someone wants to get bottled water, it should be completely discouraged since it adds to plastic waste. Having said that, one can’t compare the buying price of bottled water at a roadside Dhaba and a 5-star hotel.”
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