April 2017 is marked as an important day as government declared service charge in the restaurants to be totally voluntary and not mandatory. This newly arrived law on Service charge attracted support as well as criticism. Months before the talked about Goods and services tax (GST) bill, Jan ki baat tried to probe into ‘whether the service providers are following the rules or do they even recognize the presence of the newly formed law on service charge? After receiving information that some restaurants are mandatorily charging for the service even after such announcement by the government itself, Jan ki baat tried to probe into the matter and found some results that are no less than startling. To comprehend the importance of this probe let’s first understand what service charge really is before moving forth. In simple words, this service charge is the charge for service in restaurants, it’s service that is being charged apart from other taxes included. The new declaration aims at making it easier for consumer to understand how is he paying for what and of course it will help tackle the issue of extra (mandatory) pressure on consumer. That means providers don’t get to make any money taking advantage of confusing plus complex mechanism making it easy to deceive customer/consumer for profit. This makes the matter a lot serious today as these entities working against the laws can injure the national economy. Thankfully, service charge is barred to be mandatory and government made it voluntary, that means the consumer will have to pay only if he is satisfied with the services otherwise he doesn’t have to pay the service charge. Majority are happy with the decision except some political parties that are trying to play with it (and it doesn’t seem to go well), and those who used to steal bucks under the nose of the government. Minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution has clearly stated that “if a person goes to restaurant he must know how much service charge is he going to pay In the menu and not when the bill comes”. Our team probed into the matter and checked if restaurants are actually following the rules or still trying to deceive the consumer? We started it with restaurants in Delhi and turned out while many are swearing by the new law, others just don’t care. The Jan ki baat team witnessed restaurants being gutsy enough to put notices outside their premises stating “With separate service charge” etc.
There are offenses that specifically concern with matters like these, and not following the guidelines/laws is dealt with in the consumer protection laws. The punishment for these offenses starts with imprisonment of 1 year or fine or both (depending upon the amount of charge being mandatorily imposed).
Today, when the nation wants to grow and is thriving to prosper, new laws and changes are being made, some seem reluctant to change with time because how do we leave something that has become our habit? And which, of course had given us profits for solong? It is tough to get out of that comfort zone and leave that money; money which doesn’t even belong to them, which is the hard earned income of that class of nation, the consumer. A team member describing the scenario of these restaurants being stubbornas “their one last try to secure some of it (profit)” for it’s difficult to accept rules that just take their advantageous position from them and put them at par with everyone. While it’s just not fair to charge extra for the services for the amount is already included in the food items, looks like some restaurants will learn it the other way.
However, it’s just the beginning, we are determined and we shall expose such activities of those elements which are eating our taxes as well as our nation like termite.
Stay tuned for exclusive on-ground coverage on service charge levy, sting operations, panel discussions and campaign attempting to do away with the practice, only on Jan Ki Baat.
By Pradip Bhandari.