The government on Friday (March 13) declared face masks and hand sanitizers as essential commodities for the next 100 days as it stepped up efforts to boost supply and prevent hoarding of these items in its fight to check the spread of coronavirus disease.
The Centre has also invoked the Disaster Management Act to ensure price regulation and availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.
Both masks (2ply & 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks) and hand sanitizers have been brought under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, empowering States to regulate the production, distribution, and prices of these items and also crackdown on hoarding and black-marketing.
“Government has notified 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,” the Consumer Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
The decision would empower the government and States/UTs to regulate the production, quality, and distribution of masks and hand sanitizers for the smooth sale and availability of these items. It also empowers to carry out operations against speculators and those involved in overpricing and black marketing.
“It will enhance the availability of both the items to the general people at reasonable prices or under MRP (maximum retail price),” the ministry said.
The government pointed out that masks and hand sanitizers are either not available in the market or are available with great difficulty at exorbitant prices, in view of the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.
The government has also issued an advisory under the Legal Metrology Act.
Under the EC Act, state governments can ask manufacturers to enhance their production capacity of these items for augmenting supply, while States can ensure sale of both the items at MRP under the Legal Metrology Act.
States can now notify the central order in their official gazette and also issue their own orders under the EC Act depending on the situation, the ministry said.
They may take action against offenders under the EC Act and PBMMSEC Act (Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act) 1980.
An offender under the EC Act can be punished with imprisonment of up to seven years or fine or both. Under the PBMMSEC Act, one can be detained for a maximum six months.
Meanwhile, the Centre has also invoked the Disaster Management Act to ensure price regulation and availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitizers and gloves.
Amid reports of non-availability and black marketing of surgical and protective masks, sanitizers and gloves and as a measure of preparedness to address the challenge of the outbreak of COVID-19, the health ministry has mandated the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to notify these items as drugs.
“In pursuance of directions conveyed by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare vide order dated 13.03.2020 under clause (I) of sub-section (2) of section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has been mandated to regulate the availability and prices of the Surgical and protective masks, Hand sanitizers and Gloves,” the pharmaceuticals department under the Chemicals and Fertilisers Ministry said.
The NPPA has directed all State /UT Governments to take necessary steps to ensure sufficient availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitizers and gloves at prices not exceeding the MRP printed on the pack size.
State/UT Governments have also been directed to monitor the production and distribution of above-mentioned items by the Manufacturers/ Importers, Stockists, and Retailers and ensure that hoarding, black marketing, and profiteering may not happen.
The EC Act was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which, if obstructed owing to hoarding or black-marketing, would affect the normal life of people. This includes foodstuffs, drugs, fuels (petroleum products).
The Act itself does not lay out rules and regulations but allows the states to issue control orders related to dealer licensing, regulate stock limits, restrict movement of goods and requirements of compulsory purchases under a levy system.