In the wake of Covid-19, which has created a situation of strain in the market as the prices of masks and sanitisers are touching sky, the Government has included masks (N95), and hand sanitiser in the in the ‘essential commodities list’. Due to the shortage of these items, their prices soared which led to a situation that demanded an intervention by the Government.
The Government has acquaint this decision under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to declare masks (2/3 ply surgical masks, N95 mask) and hand sanitizer as essential commodities up to June 30, 2020 i.e. for the next 100 days.
Moreover, the prices of the alcohol and other raw materials used in the production of hand sanitisers are also capped under the same act. States can now ask the manufactures of these alcohols not to increase the prices of their produce without concurrence of the Central Government.
Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Industry has also amended the country’s Export Policy to prohibit the export of ventilators, surgical/disposable masks (2/3 ply), and textile raw material used for masks and coveralls with immediate effect.
The EC Act empowers states to regulate production, distribution, and prices of ‘essential’ items. For smooth sale and availability of these products, and to keep a check on black marketing and hoarding of such products, the State updates the list of essential items from time-to-time. The Consumer Affairs Ministry said, “Government has notified an order under the Essential Commodities Act to declare these items as essential commodities up to June 30, 2020, by amending the schedule of the Essential Commodities Act 1955.”
Under EC Act, the State can ask the manufactures to enhance production of these items to strengthen the supply chain and can also fix the MRP for the same. They can now notify the central order in their official gazette and issue their own order depending on the situation. The states\UT can take actions against the offenders under the EC Act and the Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, (PBMMSEC Act. They are notified to monitor the distribution of mentioned items by the manufacturers, stockists, and retailers.
An offence under EC act can lead to imprisonment up to 7 years, or fine, or both; and under PBMMSEC Act, detention for maximum 6 months can be awarded.
The consumer can also lodge complaints in this matter with the National Consumer Helpline No. 1800-11-4000, and online complaints at www.consumwehelpline.gov.in.
The step has been taken in view of the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and concerns of the logistic for COVID-19 management, particularly during last couple weeks. It has also been found that the masks which are usually sold at INR 40 and sanitizer at INR 100 are now being sold at INR 100 and INR 1200 respectively.