The Centre on Monday asked state governments to adopt zero tolerance against hoarding of essential supplies like food and drugs during the lockdowns and curfews imposed in some states to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The states have also been asked to ensure essential supplies remain available at fair prices, it said in a statement.
Besides, the states have been asked to create awareness so as to mitigate "panic buying" of essential commodities.
These issues were discussed with state government officials in a meeting called by Consumer Affairs Additional Secretary Nidhi Khare to review the availability and price situation of essential commodities across the country.
In the meeting, it was stressed upon all the states/ Union Territories to "adopt zero tolerance against the hoarders" so that the supplies of the essential commodities are maintained during the curfews and lockdowns imposed due to the pandemic.
States were informed that they are empowered to act against the unscrupulous traders and hoarders for maintenance of supplies of the essential commodities.
Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 gives powers to control production, supply and distribution of essential commodities and the same have been delegated to the states/UTs.
Under Section 3 of the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act 1980, any person may be detained, for a maximum period of 6 months, with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of supplies of commodities essential to the community.
Besides, it was emphasised in the meeting to ensure that prices of the essential supplies including food items/ drugs, hygiene products and essential services are not increased and they are available at fair prices.
States were also told to constitute joint teams of food and civil supplies, legal metrology controllers, food safety, health and police at state and district level for effective surveillance and enforcement activities in order to avoid a situation of demand/ supply mismatch.
The Union Consumer Affairs Ministry administers the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.
Both these Acts were enacted in order to ensure availability of essential commodities at reasonable prices to the consumers and to protect them from exploitation by unscrupulous traders and hoarders.
Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, some states like Delhi and Maharashtra have imposed curfews and lockdowns, leading to instances of panic buying of essential items.