A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed at the Karnataka high court against the alleged attempts of the Union government to privatise the weights and measures department.
Two activists, Chandrahasa and Panduranga Nayak, filed the PIL stating that the privatisation of this department would unleash a new reign of corruption across the country. According to the legal counsel of the petitioners, Padma Prasad Hegde, the PIL was the first in the country on this subject.
“But then, it is also the first time after Independence that the government of India has decided to entrust this task of verifying and stamping weights and measures to private persons,” Hegde said, in conversation with dna.
The PIL cites various moves by the Union government, including the extraordinary discretionary powers given to the joint secretary of the department of consumer affairs, who will be the sole competent authority to issue licences to any private person to set up testing centres anywhere in India.
Hitherto, the task of verifying and approving the weights and measures across India has been vested with governmental bodies. But the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution has issued a notification on September 5, 2013, called the Government Approved Test Centres (GATC) Rules. Hereafter, private testing centres will be set up across the nation and they will be the sole authorities empowered to check weights and measures.
The GATCs can approve and stamp any number of weights and measures, thereby earning large sums of money every year, according to the activists. The uncontrolled discretion given to government officials to give licences to the GATC applicants will lead to corruption, nepotism and mal-practices, the petitioners have argued in the PIL.
The petitioners say that a few multinational companies and organisations, mainly from Italy and Germany, have spent several millions lobbying to privatise the department. One of the former.
According to Hegde: “The losses incurred by the nation by privatising test centres is more than Rs1,000 crore per year.”
The law of the land
While introducing the Legal Metrology Act in 2009, the minister had assured the nation that testing centres will not be privatised. Some MPs had expressed their doubts regarding his assurance, says Padma Prasad Hegde, legal counsel.