Kerala is supposed to be a 100% literate state in the Indian Union and hence one would expect the population there to be more sensitive to laws of the country which need to be respected by every citizen. The recent report that the hoteliers in that state are flouting the orders of the state High Court is some what disturbing. During the last two years the attitude and behavior of hoteliers all over the country have witnessed a sea change with prices of food preparations being hiked indiscriminately for no rhyme or reason. It defies logic as to why a cup of coffee should cost Rs 10 plus or an idli plate cost Rs 20-25 or a dosa cost Rs 25-30! Of course there is some inflation which is causing marginal rise in the market prices of raw materials but the prevailing prices do not justify such deep escalation, bordering almost on fleecing the customers. Added to this the food regulations are not being followed scrupulously with no one afraid of the law. Here is a take on this unfortunate development affecting millions of consumers who depend on hotel food for meeting their day to day needs.
Even as most of the hoteliers and restaurant owners in the city have started displaying price list of foods, they are yet to comply with the provisions of the Food Safety Regulations for exhibiting ingredients used in their food. As per the provision of the Act, the seller of the food articles is bound to display the ingredients used in foods being sold. High Court lawyer Basil Attipetty, who had obtained an order from the consumer court for enforcing the rules relating to display of price lists, said that the regulations had made it mandatory for sellers of any food stuff to display its ingredient list in their shops. He said that the High Court had recently emphasised the need for regulating the prices of even hotel foods and thereby preventing fleecing by hoteliers. Mr. Attipetty said that the Ernakulam Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum had also ordered displaying of price lists of food stuff in terms of the Kerala Food Stuffs (Display of Prices by Catering Establishment) Order, 1977. He said that some of the hotels were yet to exhibit the price list of food stuff in compliance with the forum's order. He had contended that as per the order, the police and local bodies and civil supplies department had the power to direct hotels and restaurants to display the price list of food stuffs. The forum had also directed the Kochi City Police Commissioner and Superintendent of Police, Aluva Rural, to file a report after implementing the order of the forum. He pointed out that the police officers were yet to file a report on the compliance of the directive. The High Court had also expressed its concern over the soaring prices of hotel foods and suggested bringing in a law to hold the price line of hotel food.
Price control is not a desirable step in a democracy, if it can be avoided. The hoteliers must have self restraint as well as sufficient sensitivity to the feelings of their customers. No body is holding a brief for the way the insipient FSSAI is functioning at present and there must be realistic moderation of rules equitable to both the consumer as well as the hotelier. The rules regarding display of prices along with quantity served must be enforced at any cost and violators must be meted out exemplary punishment. Same is true regarding the nature of ingredients used either through the Menu card or through display. Consumer has a right to know whether the preparations contain any ingredient not to his liking. For example use of ingredients like Garlic, Onion, Chilli and other spices may not be liked by some and such display will help them to avoid preparations containing these objectionable ingredients. While insisting on such practices the authorities must also look into the practical difficulties faced by the catering industry in meeting such aspirations of the consumer.