News Excerpt
Recently, the government has put masks and hand sanitizers under the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) up to June 30, 2020 to ensure proper availability of these items in the market at the correct price in view of the outbreak of CoronaVirus.

●    The ECA was first passed by the Parliament in 1955.
●    The Act empowers the central government to add new commodities to the list of Essential Commodities as and when the need arises, and to remove them from the list once the crisis is over or the situation improves.
●    The Central Government has sweeping powersto define “essential commodities”. The Act defines an “essential commodity” as simply “a commodity specified in the Schedule”.
●    Once the Union government issues notification, the State government implements it.

Why is an object placed under this act?
→    To essentially protect consumers from unreasonable and exploitative increases in prices of commodities in times of shortage. Like Mask and sanitizer has been placed in the list because of hoarding and sudden price rise.
→    Over the years, a long list of items has been designated as essential commodities, including various drugs, fertilizers, cereals, pulses, sugar, edible oils, petroleum and petroleum products, and certain crops.

Implication of an object being placed under this act
→    Anybody trading or dealing in the essential commodity, including wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, and importers, is barred from stocking it beyond the specified quantity.
→    Agencies of state governments and Union Territory administrations are empowered to conduct raids to catch violators.
→    The government can also fix themaximum retail price (MRP) of any packaged product that it declares an “essential commodity”.
→    Violators termed as illegal hoarders or black-marketeers can be prosecuted. Besides penalties, the violation may lead to imprisonment for a maximum period of seven years.

Economic Survey’s criticism of Essential Commodities Act
✔    The Centre’s imposition of stock limits, in the aftermath of heavy rain which wiped out a quarter of the kharif crop, in a bid to control the soaring prices of onions over the last few months actually increased price volatility.
✔    The Survey argued that if the government had not reduced the stock limits, traders would have stored part of their produce to ensure smooth availability of the commodity at stable prices throughout the year.
✔    ECA act fails to differentiate between hoarding and Storage.
✔    In the long term, the Act disincentives development of storage infrastructure, thereby leading to increased volatility in prices following production/ consumption shocks — the opposite of what it is intended for.

How washing hand with shop and sanitizer helps fight coronavirus
    The grime on our hands contains innumerable viruses and bacteria. Washing with water without using soap helps reduce the amount of microbes but does not remove most of the virus and bacteria completely. Using soap, therefore, becomes far more effective in removing microbes.
    Viruses such as coronavirus, influenza-causing viruses, Ebola, Zika have their genetic material encased in a layer of fat called the lipid envelope. Oleophilic (oil loving) tail portion of the molecule tends to have an affinity for and ‘competes’ with the lipids in the virus envelope.
    Due to weak chemical bonds holding the virus together, the long oleophilic tail gets inserted into the envelope and breaks the lipid envelope of the virus. The tail also competes with the bond that binds the RNA and the lipid envelope thus dissolving the virus into its components which are then removed by water.
    Like soap, the alcohol present in hand sanitizers dissolve the lipid envelope, thus inactivating the virus. To be effective, the sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol.

Centre State Relation, Black Marketing