Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to all State Chief Secretaries to ensure the availability of essential goods at a fair price by invoking the provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Act 1955.
On 26th March Home Secretary issued the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for maintaining a smooth supply of essential goods through retailer, wholesaler, local stores and e-commerce platforms. He allowed e-commerce companies to remain operational and encourage home delivery of essential goods during the 21-day lockdown.
There was a need of taking further action to ensure smooth availability of essential goods, which could be reflected from the present step taken by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). There is a loss of production due to lockdown. In this pathetic situation, there are many who might want to take advantage of it and make unseen profits, as a result, the menace of hoarding and black marketeering may proliferate. Therefore, the centre has allowed all the state governments to take appropriate measures, including fixing of stock limits, capping of prices, enhancing production, an inspection of accounts of dealers etc. ensure availability of goods at a fair price.
“There have been reports of loss of production due to various factors, especially reduction in labour supply. In this situation, there is a possibility of inventory building/hoarding and black marketing, profiteering, and speculative trading, resulting in price rise of essential goods. The States have been asked to take urgent steps to ensure availability of these commodities at fair prices for the public at large,” said MHA in a Press release.
Under section 2A of the EC Act, the Central Government is empowered to declare a commodity as ‘essential commodity’, to ensure its equitable distribution and availability at a fair price. Section 3 of the EC Act gives power to the Central Government to control production, supply, distribution, etc., of essential commodities. Pursuant to powers under section 5 of EC Act, which allows the Central Government to delegate its power under section 3 to State government, the Center relaxed requirement of ‘prior concurrence’ until June 30.
Offences under the EC Act are criminal offences and may result in imprisonment of seven years or fine or both. The State and Union Territory governments may also consider detention of offenders under the Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980, MHA said.