April 9, 2020
by Sharvari Lohakare
On Wednesday, The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs authorized the States/Union Territories to notify orders under the essential Commodities Act, 1955. The Centre also relaxed the requirement of ‘prior concurrence’ of the Central Government till June 30, 2020. The decision was taken to ensure smooth supply of essential items throughout the country amid lockdown.
The Union Home Secretary wrote to all the State Chief Secretaries, asking them to take urgent steps to ensure wide availability of essential goods at reasonable prices by invoking the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Intimating the same, a press release was issued in this regard by the ministry of Home Affairs states.
The Centre took note of the fact that hoarding and black marketeering might proliferate as there is low production during the lockdown. To curb this issue, state governments have been advised to take appropriate actions against such dealers by fixing of stock limits, capping of prices, enhancing production in some ways possible and inspection of accounts.
The production has reportedly reduced due to mainly lack of labour supply. Under such circumstances where demand is high due to lockdown but production is low, there are high chances of thriving of illegal activities such as hoarding, black marketeering, profiteering and speculative trading resulting in price rise of essential goods and making it difficult for the ordinary man to bear the brunt during lockdown. To address such issues the states have been asked and authorized to make sure the availability of these goods at reasonable and fair prices to public at large.
Section 2A of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the Central Government to declare certain commodity as an ‘essential commodity’, to ensure its equitable distribution and availability at fair prices. The central Government has the power to regulate the production, supply, distribution et cetera of essential commodities under Section 3 of the Act or to delegate such powers to the State Governments under Section 5 which is done in the present scenario. Violation of any such direction made under the Act is a cognizable offence which may attract a penalty of imprisonment up to 7 years.
It should also be considered that earlier the Central Government had allowed manufacturing/ production, transport and other related supply-chain activities in respect of essential goods like foodstuff, medicines and medical equipment.