A Maharashtra government-appointed expert committee, set up to fix the market price of masks, has proposed ceiling prices that are well below the rates fixed by the Centre.
The committee has proposed a ceiling price for an N-95 mask at Rs 19, down from Rs 135; for 3-ply meltblown mask at Rs 4, down from Rs 16; and for 2-ply mask at Rs 3, down from Rs 10.
The report was submitted to the government by the four-member committee on Tuesday.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi —“earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”— the report sequenced events of how mask manufacturers profiteered since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and criticised the Union government for the “irrational price capping”.
The committee visited major mask manufacturers and inspected their books before and after the pandemic. The report observed that the manufacturers made between 2.5 per cent to 12 per cent profit in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. But this year, the profit margin ranged between 20 per cent and 60 per cent.
The central government had declared masks and sanitisers as essential commodities in March but excluded N-95 masks from this. The report pointed that this gave manufacturers an opportunity to profiteer. “The books inspected showed that one company increased MRP in March and then in May. The price was increased by six times from Rs 25 to Rs 150,” a member said.
In June, the Centre removed masks from the essential commodity list. The same month, the Bombay High Court had come down heavily on the Union government and directed it to pass appropriate orders to cap prices of N-95 masks.
On July 31, the state health department formed an expert committee to fix prices for masks. As per the committee’s proposal, N-95 will now be priced between Rs 19 to Rs 49. A cup-shaped mask manufactured by Venus Limited, which earlier cost Rs 130, will now cost Rs 29. A V-shaped mask manufactured by Magnum Limited, which earlier cost Rs 135, will cost Rs 19, if the new prices are approved by Maharashtra government. Also, the committee has fixed price for face filteration piece 2 mask at Rs 12, earlier capped at Rs 140.
“We have received the report. But no decision has been taken by the government yet,” said Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas.
While observing that prices of masks rose by six times, the committee has indicated that the central government fixed a high ceiling price allowing manufacturers to earn huge profit margin.
When contacted, Dr Sudhakar Shinde, chairman of the committee, declined to comment. “The report has been submitted to the government for a final call to be taken,” he said.
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