Relevance: Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India has brought sanitizers and masks (2ply and 3ply surgical masks and N95 masks) under the purview of Essential Commodities Act till 30th June 2020. This has been done to overcome the supply shortages during the COVID-19 outbreak in India.
Objective of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955
The legislation was enacted in the year 1955. It empowers the government to control (regulate and prohibit) production, supply and distribution of those commodities which it deems essential. The power to ensure availability of an essential commodity at fair price is also included under the Act.
Key Features of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955
- Unethical trade practices including hoarding and black-marketing are kept under regular check.
- It ensures equitable and fair distribution of the essential commodities, especially during emergency or crisis situation.
- Any commodity can be added or removed from list of essential commodities by the government if it deems fit in public interest.
- This Act has been invoked most number of times to control the price rise in any food product. Whenever the price of an essential commodity rises, the government immediately limits the stock-holding. This ensures that the essential commodity is not hoarded. On violation of the stock-holding limit, the government initiates with penalty or imposes punishment against the violators.
- When the Essential Commodities Act is invoked, any violation of the provision empowers the State governments to initiate action under this Act as well as the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodites Act (PBMMSEC Act).
Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act deals with the provision of penalties. For committing any offense under this Act, an offender may be punished with fine or imprisonment up to seven years or with both. An offender may also be detained under PBMMSEC Act up to maximum of six months.
Criticism of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955
Indian farmers are currently facing problem of plenty. This legislation, on the other hand, discourages investment in storage facilities to accommodate the harvest produced in plenty by the farmers. The law itself has become a setback for the farmers. It severely hampers the fair and remunerative prices which ought to have been received by them otherwise. This is one of the prime reasons which has led many experts to criticize the Essential Commodities Act.
What are the “essential commodities” Under the EC Act of 1955?
- Drugs under Section 3(b) of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940
- Organic, inorganic or mixed fertilizers
- Foodstuffs which include edible oilseeds and oils
- Fully cotton-made hand yarn
- Petroleum & its products
- Seeds of fruits and vegetables
- Seeds of food crops
- Seeds of cattle fodder
- Seeds of jute, raw jute HI jute textiles.
Complaint for non-availability or higher prices of masks/sanitizers
Face masks and sanitizers have been declared as essential goods. If any consumer facing difficulty in buying these items can register a complaint with the National Consumer Helpline.
Helpline number: 1800-11-4000