The Consumer Affairs Ministry is proposing to drop criminal charges against those committing repeat offences under the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, but increase the amount of fine to be paid by the offenders.

While there is no provision for arrest when an offence committed contravening the provisions of the Legal Metrology Act such as using non-standard weights and measures or tampering or altering these instruments of measurement, but the offender can be jailed if he or she fails to turn up in court if it is escalated to the level. Especially, when the offender commits the offence for the second time or more.

The government, however, would like to remove this prison term from the provisions of the Act and has invite comments from civil society groups, experts, and industry through a consultation process commenced this week.

“Criminal offence often requires the standard of proof to be beyond reasonable doubt, a much higher threshold than the standard adopted for civil wrongs. Many critics have, therefore, questioned the efficiency of criminal law in dealing with misconduct; many offences which are of technical nature could be shifted to civil liability from criminal liability,” the Consumer Affairs Ministry consultation paper said.

The Ministry, on the other hand, is for increasing the quantum of penalty several fold, up to ₹10 lakh in some cases, for repeat offences.

Experts’ take

“This is very much needed measure and this process is initiated in other legislations also. For instance, the Companies Act. When the lapses do not have criminal intent and they are more of genuine and bonafide lapses, you cannot put people behind the bars. These provisions are not investment or economy-friendly,” said Arvind Sharma, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, at Mumbai.

There is a lot of concern in industries and other various stakeholders when the word imprisonment is used. As there are a lot of foreign direct investments transactions these days, expats want to become directors of Indian companies.

“But before they take up the positions, they want to be aware of what are the kind of exposure and liabilities that they have. When they see the word “imprisonment” in the long list of liabilities, it becomes a major turn-off for them. They say that they are not fine with taking any personal liability but civil liability is fine for them as there are methods to compensate for that,” he said.

According to Sharma, the impact of these provisions is far-fetched. The standards of weights and measures Act has an imprint on almost on all industries, particularly that involve manufacturing. All of them need a certification under the Legal Metrology Act. “If I commit a mistake, and if no criminal intent is involved, I should be given a chance to make good. The punishment for it can’t be imprisonment. I am sure the industry will accept these proposed changes with open arms.”

Pinkairanjan Mishra, Partner and Leader, Consumer Products and Retail, at EY India, too, welcomed the proposed changes. “This is a logical and welcome change and will go a long way in making the penalties in the Act equitable to the offence and minimise harassment of individuals,” Mishra said.