The Ministry of Home Affairs has written to States to take urgent steps to ensure the availability of essential goods, and invoke provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Act, 1955, if needed, against hoarders.

The direction comes amid speculations that the lockdown might be extended in view of a surge in the number of Coronavirus cases in the country.

Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has directed states and Union Territories to take steps to prevent hoarding and black marketing and ensure essential items are available at fair prices to the public at large.

These measures include fixing of stock limits, capping of prices, enhancing production, an inspection of accounts of dealers and other such actions, a notification from the MHA stated.

Offences under the Essential Commodities (EC) Act are criminal offences and may result in imprisonment of 7 years or fine or both.

The state governments can also consider detention of offenders under the prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980.

The MHA also clarified on ground level issues being faced by states in ensuring smooth flow of supply chain of essential items during the lockdown to fight COVID-19.

It further advised states to inform district authorities and field agencies regarding the clarifications so as to avoid any ambiguity at the ground level.