New Delhi, April 15: Amid concerns over the availability of essential items in view of rising COVID-19 cases, the Centre on Thursday directed state governments to take steps to stop panic buying by people and ensure there is no hike in prices of key supplies.

In a letter written to state governments, Additional Secretary in Union Consumer Affairs Ministry Nidhi Khare said due to sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, concerns have been raised about the "availability of essential commodities to the common man at fair prices." India Hits a Record High of Over 2 Lakh COVID-19 Cases in A Day, 1,038 Deaths in Past 24 Hours.

To maintain smooth supplies, the states have been asked to keep operations of grocery stores/warehouses and chemist shops outside the restrictions under Section 144. "It should also be ensured that the prices of all essential supplies are not increased and they are at fair prices, unless necessitated by cost enhancement due to raw material costs and exchange rates fluctuations," she said.

States have been asked to undertake awareness activity and sensitise public at large to address their concerns so as to "mitigate panic buying" of essential supplies, she added.

That apart, states have been asked to set up joint teams of food and civil supplies, legal metrology, food safety, health and policy at state/district level for effective surveillance and enforcement in order to avoid demand-supply mismatch, hoarding and exorbitant pricing of essential supplies.

States have also been directed to set up helplines for consumers to enable them to register complaints for redressal by the public authorities on issue of maintaining essential supplies.

The states have been asked to review the situation and take appropriate action based on exigencies. India added a record over 2 lakh new COVID-19 infections in a day pushing the total tally of cases to 1,40,74,564, while the active cases surpassed the 14-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday.

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