he Ministry of Home Affairs has directed the states and union territories (UT) to ensure that essential goods are available to the public. It invoked the Essential Commodities (EC) Act, 1955 and asked them to take measures like fixing stock limit, capping prices, enhancing production and inspection of account of dealers among many more.
The statement said that under the Disaster Management Act, the government allows manufacture/production, transport and supply related activities for essential items like food, medicines and medical equipments.
"However, there are reports of loss of production due to various factors, especially reduction in labour supply," Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said in the letter to the chief secretaries of the states and UTs. It further warned that under such conditions building/hoarding, black marketing, profiteering, speculative trading and a price rise of essential items cannot be ruled out.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution are authorising states and UTs to notify orders under the EC Act of 1955. It has relaxed the requirement of the prior concurrence of the central government up to June 30.
"I would urge you to personally take urgent steps to ensure availability of these commodities at fair prices for the public at large," the statement read.
The statement also states that offences under the EC Act are criminal in nature and may result in fine or 7-year imprisonment or both. The states and UTs can also detain offenders under the Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a severe shortage of several products like masks and sanitisers as people rushed to stores to hoard up on these essential items. As a result, the prices of these items had shot up.
The central government itself had capped the prices of hand sanitisers and masks last month and listed both items as an Essential Commodity.