Legal Metrology in India- All you need to know!
Legal Metrology refers to the application of legal procedures, regulations and requirements to measurements and measuring instruments. The very inception and introduction of the concept of legal metrology is to safeguard and promote the interests of the consumers in terms of security and accuracy w.r.t accuracy of weighments and measurements. Additionally, it also refers to the applicability of constitutional provisions in regard to the measurements and the necessary instruments.
LEGAL METROLOGY ACT, 2009
This piece of legislation came into effect more than a decade ago as a welfare-based legislation protecting and safeguarding the interests of the consumers. The Department of Consumer Affairs Acts as the nodal agency for implementation of the Act. A perusal of the objectives of the Act highlights certain pertinent aspects which are:
A. Establishing and enforcing standards of weights and measures;
B. Regulating trade and commerce in weights, measures and other goods which are sold or distributed by weight, measure or numbers;
C. Any other matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
At the outset, it is pertinent to note that the Act rationalises and provides uniformity w.r.t metric system (metre, kilogram) instead of the Imperial system of measurement. The Act also extensively covers the different customs, practices or usages to the standard weight, measurement or numeration to be void. Furthermore, the Act also grants power to the Central Government to appoint Directors, Controllers and Legal Metrology Officers encompassing a wide range of powers including inspection and seizure of non-standard weights and measures. The Act also tried to exhaustively list out various kings of malpractices and award stringent penalties and offences to the offenders.
LEGAL METROLOGY RULES
1. Legal Metrology (General Rules) 2011: These rules have laid down specifications in relation to the standards of weights and measures and the rules lay a list of down 40 kinds of weighs and measurements such as electronic weighing instruments, weighbridges, petrol pumps, water meter, sphygmomanometer, clinical thermometer etc.
2. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011: These rules are specifically applicable towards the dealers which are engaged in buying, selling, supplying or distributing of packaged products. Furthermore, the rules state the distinction between provisions applicable to packages intended on retail sellers, wholesale sellers and export and import of packaged products. The rules also lay down certain mandatory declarations to be made on every package.
3. The Legal Metrology (Approval of Models) Rules, 2011: Certain manufacturers/ packers/ retailers importing weighing and measuring equipment have to take approval of the government of the products which are specified in the Legal Metrology Act and the accompanies rules and procedures. Furthermore, the rules also specify the setting up of laboratories to carry out the tests for the approval of the models which will be notified by the government time to time. There are certain equipments like cast iron, brass, bullion, or carat weight or any beam scale, length measures (not being measuring tapes) which are ordinarily used in retail industry which are exempted and will not be required the model approval.
4. The Legal Metrology (National Standards) Rules, 2011: These rules specify the general use base units for different kinds of measurements, for e.g. base units of length, time, mass and electricity etc. The rules also specify a provision related to National Prototypes/various standards are kept at National Physical Laboratory. Furthermore, the rules also state that various reference standards of weights and measurements are kept at Regional Reference Standard Laboratory at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Faridabad, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati. There are certain working standard weights and measures kept at the district level which are used for verification of the standards against manufacturer and traders for transaction and protection purposes.
5. The Legal Metrology (Numeration) Rules, 2011: These rules stipulate the procedure of numeration and the manners in which the numbers are to be written.
6. Indian Institute of Legal Metrology Rules, 2011: Through these rules, the Indian Institute of Legal Metrology is established in Ranchi which will provide training to Legal Metrology officers of states and UT’s which will be administratively controlled by the Department of Consumer Affairs. The rules also state the courses being offered at the Institute, obligatory functions of the institute, qualification for persons eligible for admission in the institute.
7. The Legal Metrology (Government Approved test Centre) Rules, 2013: These set of rules are drafted to approve certain test centres established by private persons working in tandem with the government test centres for verification of some of the weights and measures in addition to the verification carried out by the government test centres.
IMPORTANT CASE LAWS
a. State of Telangana v Himjal Beverages Pvt. Ltd.
This is one of the landmark cases pertaining to Legal Metrology in India as the Telangana High Court in this matter has examined the nature, scope and object of several provisions of the Legal Metrology Act 2009 and the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011. In the present case, certain Kinley water bottle were being seized from the respondent’s storage who is an authorised contract packer of M/s Hindustan Coco-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. The respondent also prepares packaged beverages in authorised containers under the trademark of Coco-Cola company and sells under Kinley brand name with full authorisation. The officers of Legal Metrology Department had conducted inspections and found violation and non-compliance of requirement under Rule 6(2) of the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 which states that every package shall bear the name, address, telephone, number, email address of the person who can be or of the office which can be contacted in case of consumer complaints. Subsequently, the department seized the packaged bottles and prepared a Panchnama report. The learned single judge had passed an order setting aside the order made by the Legal Metrology department by interpreting the provisions of the Act and rules purposely.
This was a landmark case as the Telangana High Court had found interpreted various provisions of the Act and the rules and in lieu of the same the Court perused the history, statement and reasons of the Act and the objectives in detail in order to conclude on the correct manner of interpretation for the Act. The Court followed the “Literal Interpretation” while interpreting Rule 6(2) stating that the same is drafted by the Legislature in public interest and intended for the benefit of the consumers. The Court held that the Rule 6(2) holds a mandatory nature and the case at hand is a clear violation of the compliance requirements under Rule 6.
b. Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India v Union of India and Ors.
This case holds utmost importance in the Legal Metrology jurisprudence in India and at the outset tries to set the tone for the applicability of the Legal Metrology Act 2009 and the accompanied rules. The Hon’ble Supreme Court was deliberating on the definition of “sale” as per Section 2(r) & (i) and whether the definition would encompass split up sales of goods from services in composite contracts. The Hon’ble Supreme Court extensively deliberated on the statement of objects and reasons of the 2009 Act. The appellant’s main concern in this case was that the Controller of Weights and Measures went ahead and proceeded against the hotels and restaurants of the appellant association for charging a price higher than the printed Maximum Retail Price (MRP) for supply of packaged water bottles during the services offered to the customers in the hotels and restaurants.
The Court had held that the definition of “sale” both contained in the 1976 Act the 2009 Act goes to show that composite indivisible agreements for supply of services and food and drinks will not come under the purview of either Act. The Court further held that neither Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 read with the Standards of Weights and Measures (Enforcement) Act 1985 nor the Legal Metrology Act 2009 will not apply so as to interdict or prohibit the sale of mineral water in hotels and restaurants at prices above the MRP. The Court had held that on reading of the Legal Metrology Act 2009, it is crystal clear that the definition “sale” remains to be the same as that contained in the 1976 Act and noticed that according to the Act sale is defined as the transfer of property in goods by one person to another for cash or for deferred payment or for any other valuable consideration. Hence, the Court noted that ambit of sale as per this definition it is not possible to divide the “service element” from “sale element” and ultimately concluding that composite indivisible agreements will not be mandated by the above-mentioned legislations.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE ACT
At the outset it is imperative to note that the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India case has succinctly pointed out a big lacuna in the Legal Metrology Act 2009 in terms of the restrictive definition of sale mentioned under the legislation which limits the very scope and applicability of the Act. Instead of catering to public interest, protecting and safeguarding the interests of the consumers, the applicability of the Legal Metrology by the enforcement authorities is causing harassment to genuine business in some cases. It has been noted that since large businesses are dealing with lakhs of packaging products and other kinds of products, genuine errors are bound to arise. However, the Legal Metrology imposes heavy penalties and violations of the Legal Metrology Act and the accompanying rules on such businesses. One such instance of the same was found to be present in the case of Cadbury India Limited v Controller of Legal Metrology before the Karnataka High Court wherein a usage of the word “Angula” in the T.V advertisement by Cadbury in its Five Star campaign was challenged by the respondents. It was contended in the case that the word “angula” which means an “inch” and is used in the non-metric system and hence alleged that it violated Section 11(1)(c) of the Legal Metrology Act. However, the Court dismissed the averment by stating that the advertisement had a humorous tone and there was no violation. On a concluding note, it can be noted that in certain cases the Legal Metrology department has diverted from the very object and purpose of the legislation which is to protect and promote the best interests of the consumers.
It is pertinent to note that the offences under the LM Act for violation of the PC Rules are penal offences, although under section 48 certain offences are compoundable. However, if a business entity is found to have violated the PC Rules a second time within a period of three years, the second offence is not compoundable and the business entity and its directors or partners must face criminal trial.
Therefore as an Industry, the expectation from the legislations are as follows:
Minor or non-material/inconsequential deviations should not be treated as violations in the strict sense and hence should not be categorized penal offences. The entire scheme of PC Rules should be re-examined and minor and inadvertent errors or technical deviations that do not compromise consumer interest, but are otherwise non-compliant with the rules, should be allowed to be compoundable.
There should be a mechanism to pre-approve packaging declarations, instead of the present scenario where, due to ambiguity and multiple interpretations of rules, business entities end up facing Action under the LM Act for violations despite compliance in accordance with their understanding.There is a tendency in the Legal Metrology Department to send notices regarding purported violations to even independent directors of a company in order to sensationalize a matter, though independent directors are not in charge of, and are not responsible for, the conduct of its business and ought not to be accused.
The interpretation of rules across various states is sometimes different and implementation varies. It would be helpful if the Legal Metrology Department conducts regular training and sensitization programmes for small businesses to help improve trust and understanding of the PC Rules.
Various amendments to the PC Rules have been made in a piecemeal fashion causing great difficulty to businesses. For instance, the rules relating to the size of numerals on the declaration was first amended and later the rules relating to the size of letters was amended causing a waste of packaging material. Due to these frequent amendments in the regulations, companies are bearing additional costs.
The Legal Metrology Department also tends to give unrealistic deadlines to implement amendments in the PC Rules and then extends them several times at the last moment, leaving the industry in a state of uncertainty and making it liable prone to completely unintended violations.
While the LM Act and PC Rules are heading in the right direction to ensure consumer protection from false, missing or wrong declarations, the interpretation and implementation of the Act and the rules should not be done in a draconian manner simply to penalize and prosecute businesses for even minor typos or missing information that are not material or are unintentional.