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Bottle-cost brawl hits court trail
- Bars chafe at restraint order on packaged goods sale

It’s a battle over a bottle and it threatens to spill over from the city’s bars into the portals of Calcutta High Court.

Angry over the state government’s announcement of slapping fines for selling a Rs-40 bottle of beer for Rs 100, or a Rs-10 bottle of mineral water for Rs 40, the city’s bar and restaurant lobby has decided to move court against the rein-on-prices order.

The suit has a precedent, say representatives of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of India, referring to a battle in Delhi between the government and the capital’s hoteliers. “A similar situation occurred in Delhi last month, over a similar order,” said the association’s eastern region secretary Rajesh Mishra. “And, happily, Delhi High Court granted our colleagues a stay.”

Amber’s owner S.K. Khullar said on Wednesday: “The government move restraining us from fixing the prices for packed or sealed items is not fair.”

Kwality (Park Street) manager Abhijit Ghatak concurred: “We are not retail outlets that have to go by the maximum retail price printed on the labels.”

The state consumer affairs department’s order restrains bar-owners from “duping and harassing” clients. “How can they charge Rs 30 for a bottle of soda that costs Rs 5'” asked an official of the department.

Prices of the 650-ml bottles of beer vary between Rs 35 and Rs 45 at off-shops. Officials say, supported by evidence, that these same bottles — seals of which are broken in front of the consumer — end up costing anything between Rs 60 (at the popular bars) and Rs 200 (at the star hotels). The 300-ml bottles of soft drinks, Rs 7 at roadside shops, cost anything between Rs 20 and Rs 30 after a journey to the neighbouring bar.

“How long can we allow customers to be fleeced'” asked Ashok Bhattacharya, controller of the legal metrology section, department of consumer affairs, explaining why the state government had clamped down on the exorbitant pricing of sealed bottles of beer, mineral water, soft drinks, soda and fruit juice.

“Any packed or sealed item, sold in its container, comes under the purview of the Packaged Commodities Act,” he added.

A minimum fine of Rs 1,000 will be charged if bar-owners are found to charge more than the printed price for packed and sealed items, officials said. Bar-owners, however, are adamant. “The government is confusing people and saddling us with a potential law-and-order problem,” Khullar said, explaining the shift to court.

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