Tipping the scales

  • Weighing goods has become easier thanks to digital scales—but so has cheating
- Nirajan Pudasaini

Feb 7, 2017-

In most of the shops we see digital scales today. It was only a few years ago that most shopkeepers used the two-pan balance for weighing. Generally, two types of pan balances were used in Nepal: the two-pan hanging scale and the two-pan counter or table balance. These balances have three knife edges which lie on the same plane. They should be in a perfect right angle while measurements are being done. To weigh something with these mechanical scales, masses are needed. In Nepal, masses of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 kilograms and 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 milligrams are often used for business purposes. These mechanical scales work on the principle of equilibrium and gravitational force. 

Making life easier

A few years ago, digital scales were very expensive and only large businesses could afford them. Weighing with a digital scale is very easy in comparison with the two-pan balances. There is a digital display which shows the weight and even the corresponding rate, if available. The measurement process is almost instantaneous. With two-pan balances, it is difficult to bring the central knife edge (or pointer) to rest in a balanced position. And the final reading is only as exact as the available weights allow.

Consumers are very happy to see the exact amount of materials they are purchasing. Some digital balances, mostly used in meat shops, also show the corresponding cost. Consumer protection in Nepal has increased a lot due to the wide use of digital scales. But fraudulent businesses can cheat more easily with digital scales than with the traditional two-pan balance. It is very difficult to cheat using a two-pan balance unless you use faulty weights. 

Digital scales can be calibrated easily. The manufacturers usually explain the calibration method in the catalogue and in the help forums on their websites. One can calibrate a digital scale to show different readings. For example, one can (correctly) calibrate it in such a way that it will show a zero kilogram reading when no weight is placed on it. But digital scales can also be manipulated easily to show an incorrect weight. 

Verification is key

To eliminate this type of cheating, the Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology has made it mandatory for busineses that use digital balances to keep masses equaling at least 10 percentage of the maximum capacity of their scales. Because of this provision, an owner of a digital scale of 100kg capacity should at least keep 10kg of verified masses. 

Consumers who doubt the measurement of a digital scale can confirm the accuracy of the device by first weighing the available verified mass on the scale. Only then the transaction should be done. These digital balances also have a government issued sticker on which the verification details are mentioned. To be safe, one should check these details before paying.

Gold buyers beware

Gold and silver transactions require precise measurements, as small deviations can change prices considerably. Gold and silver sellers can use two types of balances in our country: a two-pan type ‘kha’ balance or a 600-gram electronic scale. The two-pan type balance has the capacity to weigh accurately up to 200 grams. Some higher capacity balances up to 500 grams are also available. Traditionally, traders of gold and silver who used two-pan balances, used to use lalgedi, tola, coins and other metal pieces for weighing instead of verified masses. After the introduction of the Standard Weights and Measures Rules in 2025, only the metric system of weights and measurements is allowed for business dealings. So sellers need to use metric-based masses. 

Shops that use a 600-gram digital scale for gold and silver business can cheat customers by calibrating the instrument wrongly. A little alteration may yield much more profit because gold and silver are precious metals. The digital scale can be calibrated wrongly so that it shows the false weight while, at the same time, showing zero grams when all weights are removed. So customers who want to buy or sell their gold or silver need to first check the accuracy and precision of the balances by confirming them with verified weights.


Pudasaini is an inspector at the Standards and Metrology Office, Pokhara

Published: 07-02-2017 09:00

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