Despite repeated plea from the public and Consumer Protection Office, there have been numerous reports of shopkeepers charging unreasonable prices besides.  One of the effective remedies may be the mandatory display of prices of every good.   The right to know the price of goods on sale is fundamental to consumer rights.  Recognising this right, sections 4, 7, 8, 9, 30, and 31 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 2012 encapsulated numerous provisions to ensure this right.

First, the law gives the right to consumer to know the prices of the goods. Second, the prices must be competitive wherever possible. Third, the law requires that “goods displayed for sale and, wherever possible shall have the price affixed conspicuously” or a mandate to ensure price tag on the goods. Fourth the law prohibits the sellers or suppliers from misleading indications of price. This includes the requirement to disclose methods to determine the price, the prices determined based on the facts and circumstances of each good and if it reaches the court, the courts have duty to determine the validity of the price by comparing it with other sellers or suppliers or by implied indication.

Fifth, CPA recognises the implied guarantee of price. This means unless there exists an explicit agreement between the seller and buyer or shopkeeper and consumer, the consumer is not liable to pay the supplier more than the reasonable price of the goods. The reasonable price is “not synonymous with the lowest price available in the market nor fair market value”. Reasonable price is aimed to “make sure that the products or services evaluated are sufficiently similar to warrant comparison.”

For example, in India, Maximum Retail Price (M.R.P.) is calculated based on many factors including actual manufacturing cost, profit margin, marketing expenses, retailer margin, GST etc. Therefore, reasonable price means prices based on facts and circumstances such as prices at the source and other expenses.

The law provides such mandates on the suppliers or consumers or sellers because “for most consumers, the price is an important factor in deciding whether to buy goods or services.” This is extremely important in the current situation as many lost their jobs, unable to pay loans, and several struggling to meet the ends.

Article 7 (10) of our Constitution recognises that every Bhutanese “the right to practice any lawful trade, profession or vocation”, yet due to COVID-19 and with the national lockdown, few selected suppliers or sellers are given the opportunity to practice their trade. These few lucky ones must understand that unlike them, the vast majority are deprived of any form of income generation during the lockdown.

The OCP has already catalogued prices for most essential goods based on past many months of market rates. However, the inspection and monitoring of every shop is impossible and the practice of receipt in Bhutan is still new. Thus, the most appropriate redressal mechanism of pricing problem is imposing mandatory display of a price tag on every good or at least a price catalogue visible to consumers.

The mandatory display of prices of goods will benefit both now and future times. It will prevent misleading pricing, misleading advertisements as well as reduce time during shopping. Pricing of goods must be based on reasonable facts and circumstances. While it is understandable that shopkeepers expect no loss, they must charge reasonable prices and not take advantage of the situation.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.