In a civilized and progressive society consumer protection is an essential activity which cannot be achieved by regulations and regulator alone. Like no amount of policing can prevent crime unless the society at large is consciously willing and ready to follow the rules and engage in orderly and honest behaviour. Mostly regulator’s role is misunderstood to begin after the deviation has happened and it is the time to penalize the act and create general/specific deterrence. Prevention and reformation appear to be low in priority order. It is sometimes observed that a cop on duty at an intersection may appear suddenly from nowhere, when a driver jumps the red-light. Cop’s visibility otherwise, has a potential to prevent the violation.
When we talk about regulated measurements and measuring instruments, reference is made to Legal Metrology. Legal Metrology does not relate to public trading alone. Ensuring correct quantity of goods delivered in transaction and protecting consumer rights is one of its important roles. Legal Metrology in its ambit covers much more which also includes health sector, public safety and order, environment, consumer rights protection, sports and others.
For examples it has to ensure: –
- Accurate measurement of body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate through gadgets employed for the purpose.
- Accuracy of right doses in treatment. Preventive health care plan also relies a great deal on such accuracy.
- Accuracy delivered by Petrol/Diesel Dispensers, Water Meters, Auto and Taxi meters.
- Accuracy of measurement of nutrients added to soil and pesticides applied to crops for optimum dosage to avoid contamination and enhance effectiveness.
- Accuracy of designated weighbridges for checking overloaded road and rail traffic to ensure safety of roads, bridges, railway tracks, humans and animals.
- Accuracy of measurements linked to weight-based payments on account of royalty, toll tax and output.
- Compliance to Legal Metrology General Rules, Package and Commodities Rules, National Standard Rules, Approval of Models, Numeration Rules and Indian Institute of Legal Metrology Rules.
As per regulations in place no weighing instrument can be manufactured without a prior model approval. It is being done to conform to standards in terms of metrological characteristics, technical requirements and other parameters as stipulated in Rules. Once the machine is manufactured, it is verified and stamped before use. This is done principally to check that machines are made as per standards and perform within the specified parameters. Regulator does this job, although it can be done more economically, quickly and conveniently by the manufacturers themselves by way of self-certification. Not only will that save time and cost, it will also unblock capital and ease burden on already stretched resources. Thereafter reverification is undertaken annually by the regulator to ensure that machines are working accurately. As per estimation, ratio of legal metrology officers to machines is around 1: >110000. Glaringly this is a tremendous resource scarcity that may affect any regulatory capacity. Reverification is one of the job roles of legal metrology officers besides a dozen more related to measurements by mass.
Maintaining accuracy of machines and safeguarding interests of consumers can never be an annual affair. Ensuring sustained accuracy depends on how well the machines are maintained on daily, weekly, Monthly and quarterly basis. It depends upon degree of use, environmental conditions, way of handling and operation, age of the machine and much more. Any drift in calibration cannot wait for annual affair of stamping, it has to be attended and addressed then and there. For this purpose, legal metrology general rules mandate keeping of weights of 1/10th of machine capacity or 1 ton, whichever is less to carry out the accuracy checks. As a practice, in case of drift/ difference, qualified technicians are called to address the issue.
Nobody can undermine the requirement of consistent precision in lab weighing where scientific research is done. Likewise, precision is required in manufacturing of arms and ammunition for defence use. In both these cases there is no reverification and stamping of machines mandated as per Legal Metrology Act 2009. It is users in collaboration with service providers who do the job of maintaining sustained accuracy.
The food for thought is, why not to consider making users of weighing machines more accountable for delivering right and accurate quantity to consumers by vesting in them the responsibility of self-certification. This may make them more sensitive towards what is being delivered to consumers rather than limiting this accountability to once in a year event, at the time of reverification. Right to audit and inspection is always with the regulator as per the Act and there is no limit to such function. Regulator as per their flexible schedule can always check self-certified machines for right parameters, conforming to national standards and thus avoid disruption in operations at users end on account of long wait time for reverification. Any default may attract monetary penalty commensurate with the degree of violation. Revenue, on account of stamping fee may be replaced with charges payable for Legal Metrology officer’s visit and testing undertaken with working standard/ standard weights. LMOs may be authorised to generate a payment link and transmit to the customer for on the spot-on line payment to the Government.
To achieve mutual legal metrology objectives, manufacturers, users and regulator need to work together to deliver quantitative/qualitative accuracy by ensuring fair practices and safety. Optimum use of resources, saving costs, unblocking capital and reducing logistics and time need to be given due weightage.
Ultimately it is simplification, digitalization and reformation of redundant rules and mindsets that will lead us to progress and development. We are witness to reformist actions for the last many years that resulted in India’s rise to world’s fastest growing major economy for the three consecutive years. In 2022, India topped world ranking in digital payments and recorded 89.5 million transactions.
Digitization progresses dynamically. It involves big data, digitization of information, organising information, automating processes, stream lining of processes and the resultant transformation.
With the help of Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, block chains and telecommunications for transmitting the data, OIML is understood to be working on framing some draft recommendations that will eventually revolutionise the functioning of legal metrology, scientific metrology and applied metrology.
The areas of transformation being talked about include
- Remote– inspection, verification, calibration and surveillance
- Tamper proof system of traceability
- Digital certificate of confirmation (DCOC)
- Automated validation
- Certified measurements
Digitalisation will reduce human interface considerably which is feared to breed discrimination, subjectivity, non-uniformity and opportunities for rent seeking.
The process is already on with the launch of digital India, that focusses on development of digital infrastructure, delivery of services digitally and digital literacy. The progress is visible to one and all in the form of Aadhaar (a digital ID programme) responsible for delivery of benefits of government schemes to deserving Indians by short circuiting manipulators/mediators. Digital locker has more than 13.7 crore users and more than 562 crore documents are made available through it from 2311 user organisations. UMANG- unified mobile application for new age governance is already providing government services to citizens and much more. National Single window system is operational.
Cost saving, data based strategic decision making, enhancement of efficiency, more productivity, increased quality with consistency, increased transparency, less human error, improved collaboration and driving growth are the attributes of digitalisation that hold valid across the board. Human talent will always remain in demand but we have to free it to increase innovation.
Vijay Bhat 25th July 2023