Essential Commodities Act, 1955: Meaning, Objectives, and Punishment

The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 is a law which prohibits shopkeepers from storing and black marketing of essential commodities. Recently, the Central Government has notified order under the Essential Commodities Act to declare masks and hand sanitizers as Essential Commodities up to 30th June 2020. This notification will prohibit the black marketing and hoarding of these two essential commodities.
Created On: Mar 27, 2020 16:26 IST
Modified On: Mar 27, 2020 16:26 IST
Essential Commodities Act, 1955
Essential Commodities Act, 1955

Every country and individual are taking necessary measures to fight the COVID-19 across the world. Masks and hand sanitizers have been considered as essential items in fighting this virus. 

But there were reports from all over the country that hand sanitizers and masks are either not available with the shopkeeper or the shopkeepers are selling these things at higher prices than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP).

Therefore, taking strict steps in this direction, the central government has declared masks (2 ply and 3 ply surgical masks, N95 masks) and hand sanitizer as essential items till June 30, 2020.

In such a situation, many people think that what is this Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and what items have been declared essential items under this act and what kind of business activities are prohibited under this.

Let us know the answers to all these questions in this article.

What is the Essential Commodities Act,1955)

The Essential Commodities Act,1955 is a law that prohibits hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities. It is applicable throughout the country including Jammu and Kashmir. The list of the essential item under the Act include; pulses and edible oils, drugs, fertilisers, and petroleum and petroleum products etc.

If the Central government finds that the price of a certain commodity is shooting up due to short supply, it orders the State Governments and Union Territories to fix the stock-holding limit of that commodity for a fixed period. 

Whoever sells this item, be it a wholesaler, a retailer or an importer, is prevented from stocking more than a certain quantity so that black marketing does not occur and price does not rise.

As it is done in case of shooting onion prices some time ago. The Central government had set the maximum limit of storage through state and UTs. If the police receive a complaint or suspect the hoarding, it can raid the warehouses/shop of the above-mentioned businessmen.

Worth to mention that Food and civil supply authorities execute the provisions of the Act.

Recently, the Central Government (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution) has issued notifications under this Act. The Central Government has declared hand sanitizer and masks as essential Commodities up to 30th June 2020. This notification will prohibit the hoarding and overcharging of these two essential items.

Aims and Objectives of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955

1. Maintaining an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities in the country.

2. The government (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution) tries to keep the price of essential commodities stable. The central government also fixes the maximum retail price for such goods. As in the case of masks, the maximum retail price of 2 ply masks has been fixed at Rs 16.

3. Preventing unnecessary storage of essential commodities

4. Stop black marketing of essential commodities

What are the Essential Commodities in India?

The list of essential goods can be changed according to economic conditions, weather, natural calamities, etc. States can change it according to their needs. From 15 February 2002, the Central government removed 12 commodities from the essential list completely while one commodity is removed partially. Some of the names in the list of essential commodities are as follows;

1. Petroleum and its products, including petrol, diesel, kerosene, solvents, Naphtha, etc

2. Food items, edible oils and seeds, vegetables, pulses, paddy, sugarcane and its products such as khandasari and sugar, etc.

3. Jute and Textiles

4. Fertilizer (Restrictions on transfer and stock of fertilizers apart from prices)

5. Hand Sanitizer and Mask

The center can add new items whenever needed and remove them from the list if the situation improves. Therefore, the commodities mentioned above can also be deleted.

Punishment under the Essential Commodities Act,1955

The States or Union Territories may take action against the offenders under the Essential Commodities Act,1955 and Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, (PBMMSEC Act), 1980. 

An offender under the Essential Commodities Act,1955 may be punished with imprisonment up to 7 years or fine or both and under the PBMMSEC Act, he can be detained for a maximum of 6 months.

Where to complain about higher Prices

If the shopkeeper is charging more money than the Maximum Retail Price for any essential item, then the consumer may complain against him on the National Consumer Helpline number 1800-11-4000 and online complaints, Department website www. 

You can also register at consumer, and,

Hopefully, after reading this article you will have come to know what is the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and what are its objectives. To read more such articles, click on the link below;


Why are Ventilators important to fight COVID-19?

Coronavirus Helpline India: List of Official Phone Numbers