The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought responses from the Centre and the Delhi government on a plea filed by an NGO seeking direction to ensure fair and equitable distribution of masks and also the sale and distribution of hand sanitisers and liquid soap among the public to deal with COVID-19.
A bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao, which took up the matter for hearing through video conferencing , issued notices to the Centre and the Delhi government and sought their replies on the plea filed by NGO 'Justice For Rights Foundation' and others.
The counsel, appearing for the NGO, told the bench also comprising Justice S Abdul Nazeer that after the spread of coronavirus across the world and in India, the government issued several notification and advisories to deal with the pandemic, which has resulted in increase in prices of masks and hand sanitisers.
The NGO said it seeks the court's indulgence for direction to the Centre and the Delhi government to provide adequate and effective mechanism for the implementation of various notification and orders issued by various agencies dealing with the price control and management of essential commodities in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.
"Governments around the world conjunction with health institutions around the world have issued various guidelines and precautionary methods that are required to be taken by individuals to effectively stop and curtail the spread of the said disease. "Amongst various guidelines and other steps required to be taken covering ones' face and sanitising hands have taken as the most important," the plea said.
It added that the sale of masks and hand sanitisers saw a great increase and with the rise in demand and several chemist and medical outlets in an attempt to defraud and profit from the present outbreak have started affixing their own prices over the minimum retail price (MRP), over which no product is allowed to be sold in India.
"The respondents (Centre and Delhi government) in the wake of such overpricing and profiteering decided to issue notifications and orders declaring face masks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities and further issuing price control to the same effect.
"However, even after the issuance of such notification and orders several chemists throughout the country have not reduced the price or deterred from the practice of selling the said essential commodities at a higher price than the government issued controlled price," the plea said.
The NGO alleged that police and other agencies have adopted a nonchalant and a non-serious approach and are not providing or effectively dealing with the issue at hand and thereby effectively causing and allowing a price surge in these essential commodities therefore risking the health and well being of people.
The plea also sought direction for setting up of a special task force for effective implementation of orders and notification of the government.