Sale of N95 Masks at a Markup of Over 150%: PIL Filed in Bombay High Court

A PIL is filed in the Bombay High Court alleging rampant black marketing and profiteering in case of N95 masks; that the entities sold at a markup of over 150%. Sucheta Dalal and Anjani Damania filed the PIL. Taking note of the seriousness of the issue, the Bombay High Court queried on why there is no cap on the prices of N95 masks, especially since it has been notified as an essential commodity under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

The PIL states, petitioner’s NGO decided to try arranging for the provision of N95 masks for health workers; following rising concern over the lack of personal protective gear for such personnel amid the pandemic. Venus Safety and Health Pvt. Ltd. and Magnum Health and Safety Pvt. Ltd. agreed to provide the masks. Venus sold 5,000 masks at the rate of Rs.40/- + GST per mask; whereas Magnum sold 3,200 masks at Rs.60/- + GST per mask.

However, when contacted again for another procurement of these masks, the two companies allegedly told the petitioners that the Government took over the entire stock of these masks. Thus, they denied further delivery of masks.

Petitioner’s Contentions

The petitioner alleges that multiple dealers and traders offering to sell the N95 masks at a markup of over 150% contacted them. Allegedly, the petitioner’s NGO received numerous messages with proofs of masks being available at Venus Ltd. The dealers were ready to provide the masks only at a price of one lakh rupees or @210/- +GST per mask.

The firms also offered to take bookings of N95 masks. Notably, Glance Production sold 16000 masks @ 225/- per piece. Whereas, Venus Ltd. sold 92,500 masks to Haffkine Bio Ltd. for just Rs. 17.33/- per mask.

Thus, the petitioner states that “.. these acts of hoarding and profiteering has worsened an already dire situation. While our frontline workers are forced to perform their duties without adequate protective gear and mask. A scarcity of protective gear is being compounded further by hoarders and profiteers seeking to make a windfall by jeopardizing the health of crores of people.”

Appallingly, the entities do this despite the notifications issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Ministry of Chemical and Fertilizers to prevent the black marketing, hoarding and profiteering of such notified essential commodities.

Relief Sought

In view of such allegations, the petitioners urge for the confiscation of the hoarded N95 Masks by the profiteers. They seek directions for compliance of the aforementioned notifications, ensuring adequate availability of masks at fair prices. The petitioner NGO also seeks initiation of prosecution against the companies and individuals indulging in hoarding and illegal profiteering.

Notably, the Government will respond to the concerns raised on Friday i.e. May 22, 2020.