On 14th March, Union consumer affairs ministry of India had listed hand sanitizers and face masks (2-ply and 3-ply surgical masks, N95 masks) in the ‘essential commodities’ list under The Essential Commodities Act 1955, empowering the states to regulate production, distribution and prices of these items to control hoarding and black-marketing, through a notification for 100 days, which was up till 30th June, and has now decided to not extend it further. Officials have told that this decision has been taking keeping in consideration the surplus supply, and also that government has allowed their exports.
Ms. Leena Nandan, Consumer Affairs Secretary, said on Tuesday, 7th July that, “These two products were declared as essential items till June 30. We are not extending further as there is enough supply in the country” and “We have checked with all states and got information from them that there is sufficient supply of these two items. There is no supply concern”. She also told that the decision in this regard was taken after consultation with the state governments.
The Union consumer affairs ministry had included face masks and sanitizers in the essential commodities list in March, just after significant shortage was reported from across the country, when the novel coronavirus cases were stating to rise and the use of face masks and hand sanitizers showed utility in protection against COVID-19. The production of both was then hiked subsequently by a large scale with several new producers jumping into the industry.
The primary implication of this decision will be that companies will now freely price, store and market face masks and hand sanitizers. The removal of both items from the essential commodities list will allow companies to perform price differentiation once again on the basis of materials and specifications.