Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Piyush Goyal on Tuesday lambasted his own ministry officials for harassing small shopkeepers in the name of Legal Metrology Act and indicated that some of them are hand in glove with the wrong doers.
Recalling his own harassment 35 years ago when he started out as a young entrepreneur, Goyal listed out the number of cases registered under three different sections of the Legal Metrology Act and pointed out the vast difference between the number of cases under first and second offences.
Goyal was addressing the World Consumer Rights Awareness Day event organised by his ministry.
Of all the cases registered, 60 per cent of them are under section 33 penalty for use of unverified weights and measures; 25 per cent of them are under section 36 (1) penalty for selling of non-standard packaging and 8-10 per cent are under section 25 penalty for use of non-standard weights and measures, the Minister said.
Last three years' data shows that broadly 51,000-54,000 cases are registered under section 33, about 20,000-22,000 under section 36 (1) and about 8,000-10,000 cases are filed under section 25, all first offences, which is compoundable.
"I fail to understand that after the first offence, which is compoundable, how the number of cases for second offence, which can actually put you behind bars, which is criminal, comes down drastically," Goyal said.
"In 2018-19, first offence cases were 89,724 while second offence 11,000; in 2019-20, first offence 92,000 cases but second offence was just 2 (two) and in 2020-21, first offence cases was 85,000 but second offence was zero," the Minister rattled the numbers to a stunned audience comprising top officials from his own ministry, from the respective state departments and also those from the national and state level consumer forums.
"Now I want to ask - do you think none of these shopkeepers, small businessmen who you fined in thousands, did anything wrong, did they not commit any offence after you compounded the first one? You can imagine what all may have gone between the one first and the second offence? This is what I want to stop, want to de-criminalise. I myself have been a victim of this," he said.
The Minister also blamed the state government and the consumer organisations for opposing reforms. He gave an example of how an attempt to streamline sizes of cement bags was met with cement industry associations for a mere Rs 0.25 paise increase that they would incur per bag. "We wanted to change it in view of the environmental damage. But look at the opposition?"
Stating that the officials need to act responsibly along with exercising their rights, Goyal then ordered the officials present right from the Secretary, Additional Secretary, two Ministers of States, Joint Secretaries and a host of others apart from the state representatives - to have a meeting right next week and sort of the issues pertaining to the Legal Metrology Act.