Just a few hours before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the nation that there will be no shortage of essential items because of the 21 day lockdown ordered by his government, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch had busted a racket where over 25 lakh face masks were being hoarded to be sold on the black market at exhorbitant prices. Similar stories were reported from almost all parts of the country, of black marketeers taking advantage of the Coronovirus and the fear that it has instilled in people’s minds.
Hand sanitizers and face masks were deemed by the government as “essential commodities” in the wake of COVID-19, but the announcement also triggered a black market leading to a countrywide shortage of these basic necessities to protect life. The demand supply ration also saw the prices going through the roof.
In an effort to ensure fairness in supply and retail in hand sanitizers and masks, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court by Justice for Rights Foundation, an NGO, through its president Satyam Singh Rajput who along with co petitioners have also sought free distribution of these commodities.
The petitioners prayed to the Court to issue directions to the authorities to ensure fair and equitable distribution of surgical/N95 masks, hand sanitizers and liquid soap and make them available to the public. They also prayed for the creation of a special task force to effectively implement the notifications of the government.
The writ petition has been referred before the Court mainly on the grounds that widespread infection and growing cases required effective precautionary methods and the government must ensure availability. Failure on the part of the government was tantamount to the the administration not discharging its duties, it said.
The petitions also said that right to life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution is sacrosanct and should not be made a part of a trade in hands of a nefarious few. Also, it was well-settled that the State is the custodian of the welfare and well-being of its citizens. Their life cannot be allowed to hang in the balance, it said.
While the government and various departments have issued notifications declaring hand sanitizers and masks as essential commodities, further notices have been put in place, empowering the concerned authorities to check the menace of illegal hoarding which has led to a surge in prices. Most of the items have run out of stock despite the government saying that there was no shortage.
Earlier this month, the government had capped the MRP of a hand sanitiser at Rs 100 per 200ml bottle till June 30. Similarly, the price of a 2 ply (surgical) mask was capped at Rs 8 and that of a 3 ply (surgical) mask at Rs 10 till June 30, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had said. “The price cap has been imposed taking into account the sharp increase in prices of raw materials used in making of face masks and hand sanitiser,” he said. But as everyone knows, for black marketeers, even the sky is no limit.
Pic Credit: UNI