Context:As part of maintaining smooth supply of essential items in the country, the Union Home Secretary has recently written to all State Chief Secretaries to take urgent steps to ensure availability of essential goods during current lockdown.
More about the news:
- Current Lockdown and need of ensuring fair prices:
- During the COVID-19 outbreak there has been loss of production due to various factors such as unavailability of labour supply.
- There is a possibility of inventory building/hoarding and black marketing, profiteering, and speculative trading.This may result in price rise of essential goods.
- Ensuring availability of essential goods is to be done by invoking provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Act 1955.
- Advisories issued to states:
- The States have been asked to take urgent steps to ensure availability of these commodities at fair prices for the public at large.
- State/Union Territory Governments may also consider detention of offenders under the Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.
- Similar steps taken earlier for ensuring availability of Essential Goods :
- Earlier the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the Disaster Management Act, had allowed manufacture/production, transport and other related supply-chain activities in respect of essential goods like foodstuff, medicines and medical equipment.
- Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution is also authorizing States/Union Territories to notify orders under the EC Act, 1955 by relaxing the requirement of prior concurrence of the Central Government up to June 30, 2020.
Essential Commodities (EC) Act 1955
It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
Measures under this include fixing of stock limits, capping of prices, enhancing production, inspection of accounts of dealers and other such actions.
Drugs, fertilisers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.
The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and take them off the list once the situation improves.
Recently the central government brought masks and hand sanitisers under the mandate of the act.
Powers of Central and states governments
The Act empowers the Centre to order states to impose stock limits and bring hoarders to task, in order to smoothen supplies and cool prices.
Generally the Centre specifies upper limits in the case of stock holding and states prescribe specific limits.
However in case there is a difference between states and the Centre, the act specifies that the latter will prevail.
Offences under EC Act are criminal offences and may result in imprisonment of 7 years or fine or both.