Ministry of Home Affairs has written to States to ensure availability of Essential Goods, by invoking provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Act 1955, under Lockdown to fight COVID-19
As part of maintaining smooth supply of essential items in the country, Union Home Secretary, Shri Ajay Kumar Bhalla has written to all State Chief Secretaries to take urgent steps to ensure availability of essential goods, by invoking provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Act 1955. These measures include fixing of stock limits as given u/s 2(f), capping of prices as given u/s 2(c), enhancing production u/s 3, inspection of accounts of dealers u/s 2(i) of the Essential Commodities Act.
There have been reports of loss of production due to various factors, especially reduction in labour supply. In this situation, there is a possibility of inventory building/hoarding and black marketing, profiteering, and speculative trading, resulting in price rise of essential goods. The States have been asked to take urgent steps to ensure availability of these commodities at fair prices for public at large.
Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), with its orders under the Disaster Management Act, has allowed manufacture/production, transport and other related supply-chain activities in respect of essential goods like foodstuff, medicines and medical equipment.
Further, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food &Public Distribution, Government of India, is 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.
Offences under EC Act are criminal offences and may result in imprisonment of 7 years or fine or both. 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. Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act provides for the penalties and it states in the case of any other order, with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine. Also it is given in proviso that the court may, for any adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than three months.
India is now in last week of the lockdown announced by PM Modi on March 24 to contain the spread of Coronavirus disease in the country. The number of Covid-19 cases has crossed 5000 as per data of Union Health Ministry and cases are scattered in different States due to which national lockdown was necessary. It is noteworthy that States have also requested the Centre to extend the date of lockdown and to not withdraw restrictions immediately.
-India Legal Bureau