Masks & hand sanitizers declared essential commodities, govt can cap storage quantity & fix price

March 13, 2020

With masks and hand sanitisers flying off the shelves, the government on Friday notified them as essential commodities till June 30 and the pharmaceutical pricing regulator asked states to ensure there was no black marketing or hoarding of such products. The notification as essential commodities will ensure crackdown on those selling masks and hand sanitisers above the maximum retail price (MRP) or hoarding them.

The applicability of Essential Commodities Act also gives allows state governments to regulate prices amid reports that manufacturers have increased the MRP printed on such items. In a statement, the consumer affairs ministry said hand sanitisers were either unavailable with most vendors or were available with great difficulty at exorbitant prices. Prices went up exorbitantly in the past two weeks as demand peaked.

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The ministry said under the EC Act, states can ask manufacturers to enhance their production capacity while under the Legal Metrology Act, states can ensure sale of items at MRP. The decision will empower the government and states/ UTs to regulate production, quality and distribution of masks (2 ply & 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks) and hand sanitisers and ensure availability of these items, it added.

Offenders under the EC Act can be jailed for up to seven years or fined or both. They can also be booked under anti-black marketing law and can be detained for six months.

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The government also invoked the Disaster Management Act to ensure price regulation and availability of masks and hand sanitisers. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) asked states to be vigilant to check that these items were not sold at rates higher than MRP. It also asked states to ensure there was no hoarding of essential medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients used in medicines.

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