Even though many customers know that it is illegal for brands to charge covers that carry the brand tags, many let it slide due to their helplessness or the lengthy procedures that follow in the consumer courts. Talking to consumers who have had to face similar experiences, The Logical Indian explores the rights of consumers and its accessibility.
Backdrop Of The Case
Ravikiran C, 34, an advocate in Bangalore, visited the Reliance Smart Point at Nandini Layout on July 10, 2022. He was doing his routine shopping with his wife and was in for a surprise when they were charged for a carry bag at the cash counter. The couple had purchased groceries and other household items worth over ₹2,000 and were asked to pay an additional ₹24.9 for the carry bag.
As an advocate, he was aware of the legal aspects and provisions under consumer rights and argued against paying for a bag carrying the brand tag. However, he was eventually forced to purchase the cover as he had to take the goods home. Soon after the incident, Ravikiran approached the Bengaluru urban district consumer disputes redressal commission and filed a complaint against Reliance Retail Limited and the Reliance Smart Point outlet manager for unfair trade practices.
Ravikiran’s Winning Argument
Ravikiran chose to present his case by himself in the litigation. A legal notice was issued against Reliance to appear in court for the case, but the retail failed to do so, and the court proceedings thereon were carried out as an ex-parte. Ravikiran quoted several provisions under the Customer Protection Act and instances of shopping malls providing carry bags for free as an intrinsic part of their customer satisfaction criteria.
He argued that retailers cannot expect customers to always carry bags with them and that stores are duty-bound to offer a carry bag when purchases are made. Furthermore, if a carrying bag with the brand logo is sold to the consumers, the brand is indirectly advertising its brand without spending a rupee on it. These statements built up the argument that the Reliance store indulged in a clear violation of consumer rights and unfair trade practices.
Adding on to his argument, he informed the court that many retailers are taking advantage of the plastic ban and are monetising by charging consumers for the carry bags. His case was analyzed for nearly four months, and the court concluded that it is an unfair practice to not grant customers free carry bags for their purchase when buyers are sometimes not even allowed to bring bags outside.
According to a report by Times Now News, the court also stated that it falls under the rights of the consumers to know beforehand their purchase if they will be additionally charged for the carry bags. So the retail stores would have to display messages stating that customers would have to purchase bags with an additional charge.
Final Verdict And Responses
The case’s final verdict was announced after nearly four months, and the court ruled in favor of the consumer who was wrongfully charged for a carry bag. The court ruled that Reliance Retail Limited would have to refund the ₹24.9 collected from the customer and additionally pay compensation of ₹5,000 and another ₹2,000 towards his court expenses within the next 60 days.
While consumer rights remain a widely talked-about legal aspect, people continue to hesitate to address violations of these rights legally. In this case, the consumer was an advocate who had the knowledge and other provisions to tackle this case legally, and it still took nearly four months for him to receive a favorable hearing. This duration could often go on for years for ordinary citizens who may not be entirely aware of the legal proceedings. A good share of consumers that The Logical Indian spoke to were of this view and stated that they would not spend thousands to fight a court case for months over a ₹5-₹20 bag.
Bangalore-based Aswathy Unnikrishnan, who works for a popular e-commerce platform, conveyed that she has often questioned the people at the cash counter over the carry bag charges, but it all went in vain. They would either brush it off or demand the consumer bring their carry bags next time if they would not want to pay for the ones provided by the store. Adding on to this, Aswathy said that many big brands do not charge for bags, but it is a common sight at grocery and everyday stores to be charged for them. Stating that she has not come across a provision store that does not charge for the goods they purchase, she sheds light on how everyday purchases continue to be additionally charged despite stringent consumer rights in place.
Sreekala SR, a homemaker who used to reside in Bangalore a few years back, said that many stores that sell everyday items find loopholes to charge consumers. They avoid branding the covers but would charge it above ₹20, claiming that plastic has been banned. Many consumers reluctantly go back to plastic due to the high rates charged by the stores for sustainable alternatives. While speaking to The Logical Indianshe also mentions a few popular food chains that have been charging extra for packaging way before the law came into place, and consumers continue to advertise them free of cost by carrying around the bags.
Know Your Rights
Back in 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, which stated “No (plastic) carry bags shall be made available free of cost by retailers to consumers.” The real intention behind this was to discourage consumers from purchasing plastic bags. However, many retailers saw the opportunity within this and switched to paper and cloth carry bags that were charged for a fee. Along with this came the statement from the Consumer Commission that companies providing environment-friendly bags should do so without charging the consumers.
Furthermore, under the existing laws, shopkeepers are not permitted to charge customers for bags that carry the brand name, as it accounts for advertising at the consumers’ cost. In fact, providing carry bags free of cost to the consumers forms an intrinsic part of the customer-satisfaction criterion under the Consumer Protection Act 1986. This order by the Commission is valid throughout India, and consumers can cite this order for the redressal of their grievances.
Also Read: World Consumer Rights Day: Here Are Some Common Problems Consumers Face In India