Department of Consumer Affairs administers ‘The Essential Commodities Act, 1955’ and ‘The Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act 1980’. At present there are 7 commodities scheduled under the EC Act as essential commodities. The powers of enforcement of both Acts have been delegated to the states. The prime objective of these acts is to ensure that essential commodities such as food stuffs including edible oils, drugs, fertilisers and petroleum products are available in adequate quantities and at fair prices. Foodstuffs include raw and prepared food and the ingredients required to prepare food.
Soon after the new government took over, urgent steps were initiated to moderate the price rise that had characterised the market for essential commodities. On 04.07.2014 a national conference of the Food Ministers of all States and Union Territories was held. The conference adopted a plan of action to mitigate the inflationary pressures particularly on food prices. Prices of perishable commodities do increase between July and December. States were urged to take action to prevent hoarding and black marketing as well as to strengthen the supply and distribution of essential commodities during this period.
This coordinated action by the Central Government and the States helped in keeping the prices of perishable essential commodities lower than in the corresponding period in 2013.
- Which commodity is to be termed as an essential commodity?
A commodity included in the schedule to the Essential Commodities Act 1955 is an essential commodity under the Act and for the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act 1980.
- Whether all essential commodities are covered under the stock limits and hoarding?
No. For the purpose of terming a stock as hoarding the State Government has to issue stock limits orders under the EC Act. Any quantity of a commodity covered in the order kept in violation of that order is termed as hoarding. If no stock limits are imposed, there is no question of hoarding in that commodity.
- Whether there is any inter-state restriction on the movement, distribution and trade of essential commodities?
No. As per the order of Union Government dated 15.02.2002, all kinds of restrictions on the trade of essential commodities have been removed under the powers provided in the EC Act. If any other Act provides any restriction, the issue is to be dealt with according to the provisions of the respective Act.
- Whether States can constitute Special Courts for the cases to be tried under the EC Act and PBMMSEC Act?
Yes. The States have inherent powers to constitute Special Courts for any kind of offences in consultation with the concerned High Court. In addition to it, any of the existing courts may be designated as special court for essential commodities.
- Which authorities should be approached to complain against hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities?
Under the EC Act and the PBMMSEC Act, the District Magistrate, the Commissioner of Police, the Secretary of the department concerned in the State/UT or any other authority notified by the State, District Police Superintendent are the authorities that ought to be approached.
- Whether Maximum Retail Price (MRP) is applicable to the essential commodities?
Yes. For non-perishable commodities MRP is decided. For perishable commodities, it is for the State/UT to regulate prices to ensure minimum gap between the selling price of producer/manufacturer and the retail price.