Even though the country is ranked No. 3 in the world for the most number of corona cases -- 6,97,836 and counting -- the Central government has dropped masks and hand sanitisers from the list of essential commodities.
These two products, the first line of defense in the fight against the virus, had been declared as essential items until June 30. Doctors and health experts are alarmed by this decision to take them out of the essential list, saying citizens will have to bear the brunt and blackmarketeers will once again have a field day.
The notification issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs on July 1 states that there are no adverse reports from the States/UTs with respect to price or availability of face masks and hand sanitisers. Therefore, it has been decided to discontinue these items as essential commodities under the Epidemic Act 1955 beyond June 30, the notification adds.
On March 13, the Union Consumer Affairs Ministry had declared masks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities for 100 days, to boost supply and prevent hoarding of these items, in its fight against coronavirus. “These two products were declared as essential items till June 30. We are not extending this date further, as there is enough supply in the country,” said Leena Nandan, secretary, Consumer Affairs.
A decision in this regard was taken after consultation with the state governments, she said. “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 added.
The notification has come even as the Maharashtra government is planning to cap the prices of masks and sanitisers, which have become an essential part of the ‘new normal’. “We have received complaints of people selling these items at inflated prices. We have decided to cap their prices, like we did for hospital charges and ambulance services. A notification will be issued in eight days,” said Rajesh Tope, state health minister.
Dr Deepak Baid, president of Association of Medical Consultants, said the masks (2-ply and 3-ply surgical masks, N95 masks) and hand sanitisers had been brought under the Essential Commodities Act, empowering states to regulate production, distribution and prices of these items and also crack down on hoarding and blackmarketing. “It is not the right decision of the Central government, as India continues to be in the grip of coronavirus and masks and sanitisers are most important in keeping people safe. Citizens will now have to bear the brunt of this decision. However the state government is yet to decide on it,” he said.