Face Masks, Hand Sanitisers Declared Essential Commodities

A visitor uses a hand sanitiser during the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce in London, Britain, March 5, 2020. Reuters

NEW DELHI – The government on Friday declared face masks and hand sanitisers 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.

The Centre has also invoked the Disaster Management Act to ensure price regulation and availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitisers and gloves.

Both masks (2-ply and 3-ply surgical masks, N95 masks) and hand sanitisers have been brought under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, empowering states to regulate production, distribution and prices of these items and also crack down on hoarding and black-marketing.

“The 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,” the Consumer Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

The decision will empower the government and states and Union Territories to regulate production, quality and distribution of masks and hand sanitisers for their smooth sale and availability. It also empowers to carry out operations against speculators and those involved in over-pricing and black-marketing.

“It will enhance the availability of both the items to the general people at reasonable prices or at MRP (maximum retail price),” the ministry said.

The government pointed out that masks and hand sanitisers 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. It 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 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 Blackmarketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act), 1980.

An offender under the EC Act can be punished with an imprisonment of up to seven years or fine, or both. Under the PBMMSEC Act, one can be detained for maximum six months.

Meanwhile, the Centre has also invoked the Disaster Management Act to ensure price regulation and availability of surgical and protective mask, hand sanitiser and gloves.

Amid reports of non-availability and black marketing of surgical and protective masks, sanitisers and gloves and as a measure of preparedness to address the challenge of 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 sanitisers and gloves,” the pharmaceuticals department under the Chemicals and Fertilisers Ministry said.

The NPPA has directed all states and Union Territories to take necessary steps to ensure sufficient availability of surgical and protective masks, hand sanitisers and gloves at prices not exceeding the MRP on the pack size.

State 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.


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