A view of Islamabad Image Credit: Supplied

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan government has promulgated a new law to fine and jail traders who hoard essential items and create artificial shortage of goods.

According to COVID-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Ordinance, 2020, hoarders could be sent to jail for up to three years.

The ordinance, which came into effect with signature of President Dr Arif Alvi, also stipulates a fine equal to 50 per cent of the value of seized items on the hoarders.

Currently, the maximum punishment for hoarding basic items is three months jail term and a fine of Rs99,000 (Dh2,181) only.

According to the Ordinance, hoarding of the following 32 consumer items will be a punishable act: tea, sugar, milk, powdered milk, milk and food for infants, edible oil, aerated water, fruit juices and squashes, salt, potato, onion, mutton, eggs, gur, pulses, fish, beef, spices and vegetables, red chili, medicinal drugs, kerosene, rice, wheat, flour, chemical fertilisers, poultry food, surgical gloves, face masks, N95 masks, sanitisers, surface cleaning products, pesticides, match stick and isopropyl alcohol.

Pakistan, according to the figures shared by the Ministry of National Health Services on Saturday reported 7,481 coronavirus cases. The tally of those recovered and returned to their houses was 1,832, while the death toll stood at 143.

Islamabad saw an unprecedented increase of 18 cases in last 24 hours jumping from 145 to 163 while Punjab was still ahead of other provinces with 3,391 cases (more than 1,000 of them Tableeghi Jamaat members). Sindh recorded 2,217, KP 1,077 and Balochistan registered 337 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Since outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan in February this year, the government has been receiving complaints of shortage of essential food items and medical products — wheat flour, hand sanitisers, surgical masks, antiseptics, etc — and Prime Minister Imran Khan had repeatedly warned those behind this artificial shortage of stern action.

A number of raids have also been conducted by the Islamabad police and the district administration on big businesses and police seized huge quantities of masks and sanitisers, but now the government by promulgating the ordinance has taken one step forward to bring the culprits to justice.

Even before coronavirus crisis, shortage of sugar had hit the country hard and owing to the sugar and wheat flour shortage prices of these two particular items had skyrocketed across the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan too had promised the nation a thorough probe into disappearance of the commodity from the markets.

The prime minister while presiding over a meeting directed the law enforcing agencies to identify smugglers and hoarders.

During the meeting, he said that stern action against smugglers and hoarders was necessary as these crimes ultimately resulted in the poor paying a heavy price.