New Delhi, March 15

Pitching for the small traders and retailers, Union Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday said that there is a need for protecting them from unnecessary harassments which vitiate the investment climate.

Speaking at the World Consumer Rights Day event, Goyal said several consumer organisation had opposed his efforts to decriminalise the Legal Metrology Act.

The Legal Metrology Act, 2009 enforces standards related to weights and measures. In its present form, the law prescribe imprisonment, in addition to fine, for the second or subsequent offences.

Disparity in numbers

Goyal pointed out that under three main sections 25, 33 and 36(1) of LM Act, the cases of first offence were 89,724 and the second offence are only 11 in 2018-19. Similarly, in 2019-20, the first offence cases were 92,000, while the second offence were only two. In 2020-21, the first offence cases were 85,000 and the second offence zero.

He sought to know how small businessmen and shopkeepers did not engage in unfair trade practice after committing their first offence, particularly when the number of cases are so high. “You can very well understand its meaning as what could have happened between first and second offence. I wanted to decriminalise this law as I myself had also suffered. When I started doing, several consumers organisations, probably prompted (by some), opposed the move. Also majority of States opposed it,” said Goyal while requesting the gathering to debate over the larger issue.

The minister appealed to the officials as well as States to take decision on this matter at the earliest to stop harassment of small shopkeepers. He said the government’s priority is to protect consumers against unfair trade practices, but at the same time want to ensure that the law should not become a “tool of harassment”.

In 2020, the Consumer Affairs Ministry had floated a draft amendment Bill for public consultations, proposing decriminalisation of offences under the Legal Metrology Act. There are three Sections under which most of the cases are filed.

The first is section 33- penalty for use of unverified weights or measures in which 60 per cent of the cases under this act are filed. The second u/s Section 36 (1) penalty for selling of non-standard packages, in which, about 25 per cent of the cases are filed. The third is Section 25, dealing with penalty for use of non-standard weights and measures, in which, about 8-10 per cent cases are filed. While the first among the three sections talk only about penalty, the second can put one behind the bars as it is criminal.