The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (Department of Consumer Affairs) in its order dated 13th March 2020 notified masks (2ply & 3ply surgical masks, N95 masks) & hand sanitizers as essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. This was done to regulate the production, quality, distribution, logistics of masks (2ply & 3ply surgical masks, N95 masks) & hand sanitizers for the effective management of COVID-19. This notification shall remain in force for a period up to 30th June, 2020.
The addition of masks and hand sanitizers in the Schedule of essential commodities will enable the government to protect the interest of the general public as it will be able to control the production, supply and distribution of and trade and commerce in such commodities and their prices and quality standard. The government has also issued an advisory under the Legal Metrology Act. Under the Essential Commodities Act, the states can ask the manufacturers to enhance their production capacity of these commodities and under the Legal Metrology Act the states can ensure sale of both the masks and the sanitizers at MRP.
Section 2A of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 defines essential commodity to mean the items listed in the Schedule which, inter alia includes drugs, fertilizers, food stuff etc. It further empowers the Central Government to add or remove a commodity from the Schedule in the public interest and for reasons to be specified in the notification published in the Official Gazette amending the Schedule. Any such notification shall also specify that the commodity added to the Schedule shall be deemed to be an essential commodity for a period of up to 6 months. However, the Central Government may extend such period beyond the said 6 months in public interest.
Given the spree of panic buying and hoarding that spread through the public, this is an essential move to ensure that sufficient protective equipment is available for those who need it most – healthcare workers and infected patients.