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Sale of Carry Bags at Retail Stores – An explainer

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There have been multiple cases of big retail stories being fined by the Consumer forums for charging consumers for branded carry bags. But, what do the rules say about explicit pricing of these carry bags?

In April this year, Bata was penalized Rs. 5,000 by the District Consumer Forum in Chandigarh for charging a consumer 3 rupees for the paper carry bag. The practice of selling these carry bags was treated as an unfair trade practice by the consumer forum. In a similar case, Lifestyle was also penalized Rs. 10,000 in January 2019 by the same consumer forum. Similar cases were also reported across the country. The Telangana Consumer forum has also penalized big retail stories in multiple cases. But, what is the crux of the issue? Here is an explainer.

Branded carry bags & the issue of Unfair Trade Practice
All the above mentioned orders by the various consumer fora have concluded that the practice of selling carry bags (plastic or otherwise) is an unfair trade practice. Such unfair & restrictive trade practices are covered under Section 2(1)(r) and 2(1)(nn) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Hence, any consumer who has been charged for branded carry bags can approach the relevant consumer forum in their jurisdiction with a formal written complaint. The procedure for filing complaints can be found on the websites of the respective state consumer forum.

The Plastic Waste Management Rules
The other issue is with plastic carry bags. In order to deal with the issue of plastic waste & reduce its usage, the Government of India notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. These rules super-ceded the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011. Among other things, the 2016 rules broadly mandated the following.

  • Ban on new or recycled plastic of less than 50 microns
  • Registration of all manufacturers producing plastic with the State Pollution Control Board
  • Mandatory marking & labelling of every plastic carry bag
  • Shopkeepers & retailers cannot provide carry bags unless they are registered.

What about unbranded (plain) plastic carry bags?
Of particular interest from these rules is Rule 15 that talks about explicit pricing of plastic carry bags. In the 2016 rules, this is the provision that mandates registration with the local body (like municipalities, municipal corporations etc.), for any retailer or vendor wanting to provide plastic carry bags. The minimum registration fee was fixed at Rs. 4,000 per month or Rs. 48,000 per year. The rules also mention that such registered shopkeepers shall display at prominent place about the sale of such plastic carry bags. Further, the rules bar unregistered vendors from providing plastic carry bags. The local bodies are supposed to utilize this amount exclusively for sustainability of waste management.

While these rules were notified in 2016, there is no information on any local body having opened up these registrations. While state pollution control boards did notify these rules, there is no visible mechanism of registration at the local body level.

The 2018 amendment removed explicit pricing of plastic carry bags
In 2018, the government amended the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 based on the recommendations of a committee setup for the purpose of deliberating issues/challenges faced in implementation of these rules. In the amended rules, Rule 15 about explicit pricing of plastic bags has been omitted. Hence vendors & retailers are not supposed to explicitly price plastic carry bags.

So, what is the status now?
Here is a summary of the current status and what you as a consumer can do.

Charging for Branded Carry Bags (Plastic or Paper): Multiple consumer forums have concluded that this is an unfair trade practice. Hence, any consumer who has been charged for branded carry bags can approach the relevant consumer forum in their jurisdiction with a formal written complaint. The procedure for filing complaints can be found on the websites of the respective state consumer forum.

Charging for Unbranded (plain) Plastic Carry Bags : Since the rule that allowed explicit pricing of carry bags (Rule 15) is now removed through the 2018 amendment, retailers or vendors cannot charge for even unbranded plastic carry bags. If any vendor or retailer is still charging for unbranded plastic carry bags, consumers can protest and appraise the vendors of the rules or consumers can can approach the relevant consumer forum in their jurisdiction with a formal written complaint. The procedure for filing complaints can be found on the websites of the respective state consumer forum.

Charging for Unbranded (plain) paper Carry Bags : Paper bags per se are not covered in the plastic management rules. And none of the consumer forum decisions were about unbranded paper bags. But then, even might be treated as a restrictive trade practice if one approaches the consumer forum. So the best way to tackle this is also to approach the consumer forum.

It also remains to be seen if decisions of the consumer forums stand scrutiny in the courts.

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