By Akhil Oka:
I am a postgraduate student at the University of Mumbai. Recently, an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said, “There cannot be two sets of MRPs except in accordance with the Law.” It created a lot of buzz in the media. Furthermore, the Legal Metrology Organisation has been pursuing complaints regarding the same. While most of the focus has been on multiplexes and airports, what is pertinent to note is that a college canteen is not far behind either. This is what some friends and I encountered last week at the ICSSR cafeteria in Kalina Campus, University of Mumbai.
On December 19, I happened to visit the ICSSR cafeteria with a friend. This place is generally accessed not just by the students, but also researchers, visiting scholars and professors. In the process, we ordered for a Maaza and two other food items.
When we asked for the bill, later on, a closer look at it surprised us. While the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) for the bottle was ₹37, the canteen had charged ₹3 extra, i.e., ₹40. When we pointed out the discrepancy, the waiter started to argue with us. Consequently, we went to the cashier table and told the concerned person about the issue. It was made clear to him that, in no possible way, such overpricing is allowed. Finally, he relented and deducted ₹3 from the bill.
After careful research, we came to know that there exists a University of Mumbai circular dated May 3, 2016, which categorically states that cold drinks have to be sold only at the MRP. This implies that students are very much protected and authorised to complain against canteens which overcharge.
Now, we wanted to check whether the said canteen was regularly engaged in such practices or whether it was a mistake. So, on December 22, some friends visited the place and ordered the same drink and a couple of other things. Initially, the bill given to them stated another food item instead of Maaza, which cost ₹40, which was done clearly to cover up for the overpricing. However, my friends were careful enough to notice it and asked for the correction in the bill. Again, they were charged ₹40 for the drink. After another argument, the person reluctantly gave back ₹3.
This simply proves that the ICSSR cafeteria is blatantly violating the MRP rule. ₹3 might seem like a small amount for one consumer, but when one looks at the macro picture of the number of people visiting every day, it becomes a very substantial amount. And, this is the case of just one packaged item that we are talking about. The malaise can be way larger and applicable to other packaged drinks and items being sold in the canteen as well. The key point here is that if we had not checked the bill properly, we too would have shelled out the extra money. Several of us hardly examine it carefully and thus, stand at a risk of getting duped in this manner. I have written about this to the VC, Registrar, Director of ICSSR, Department of Students’ Welfare, Legal Metrology Organisation, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat and many others. The Mumbai Grahak Panchayat has acknowledged these efforts as well.
Update: We are really happy to let our readers know that after this piece got published, there was a letter from the Controller of Legal Metrology to the Registrar, University of Mumbai regarding overcharging in college canteens. Below is the copy of the letter dated 30.12.2016.