New Delhi: Masks and sanitisers are no longer in the list of the Essential Commodities as there are no reports of their shortage, said the Centre on Wednesday.
The items were brought under the purview of the Essential Commodities Act in March when their demand exceeded the supply and the prices shot up, reported Hindustan Times (HT).
“There are no adverse reports with respect to price or availability to continue (to treat) face masks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities,” a Union Consumer Affairs ministry order said last week.
Apart from the existing companies increasing their production, new ones have also entered the business. The acceptance of three-ply cloth masks as good enough protection as opposed to N95 masks, has also ensured there is adequate supply, the report said.
Officials allayed fears that the move may lead to a spike in prices citing their adequate supply. “Usually retail prices go up when there is more demand than supply. A few months ago, there was a shortage of these items, which is why they were brought under the Act… Now there is indigenous manufacturing also of these items. We are comfortably placed, and experts reviewing the matter did not find the need to continue the restrictions,” said an official in the pharmaceuticals department, who asked not to be named, reported Hindustan Times (HT).
Abhishek Aggrawal, an analyst with commodities trading firm Comtrade, was quoted by HT as saying that if supply is equal to or more than demand, then there is no legal justification for treating any item as essential. “The original notification declaring these items as essential was till June-end.”
However, Dr Deepak Baid, president, Association of Medical Consultants, Mumbai was quoted by HT as saying, “Even after four months of the pandemic, we are still not getting adequate number of sanitisers in our hospitals and clinics. With this new rule, the essential materials will once again be sold at a higher price, which will add to to the ongoing the crisis and patient bills. Unless these items are easily available in chemist stores at reasonable rates, its removal from the list of essential items is not the right step.”
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade on March 20 banned exports of masks, textile raw material used for making them, and ventilators in view of the pandemic. The order denotifying masks and sanitisers as essential items will have no bearing on the export ban, an official said. That means they can’t be exported, HT further reported.