By Barrister Pirzada Aurang Zaib –
With the promulgation of the Punjab Prevention of Hoarding Ordinance, 2020, the government of Punjab has undertaken a necessary and crucial step towards ensuring necessary supply of the essential commodities in the emergent situation of COVID 19.
The purpose of the Punjab Prevention of Hoarding Ordinance, 2020 is to prevent hoarding of goods, especially essential food and sanitary items, by means of making the same an offence under law and devising a mechanism for reporting of hoarding, scheme of adjudication and penalty thereof. The Ordinance aims at preventing speculative dealings, market manipulation, or other forms of artificially high pricing. The law also encourages and incites the general public to report such acts of hoarding to the authorities and for the purpose, a monetary incentive is offered to the whistle blower. Before detailing the scheme of law, it is important to note here that the law has been brought into force by means of promulgation of an Ordinance under Article 128 of the Constitution of Islamic republic of Pakistan. Article 128 of the Constitution of Pakistan empowers the governor of the province to promulgate ordinance if he is satisfied that such circumstances exit which render it necessary to take immediate action; and such Ordinance shall stand repealed on the expiration of ninety days subject to conditions laid down in the article 128 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
It is first and foremost important to mention here that the Ordinance is specifically and empathically directed to curtail and meet the challenges posed by the COVID 19, especially to ensure constant uninterrupted supply of essential items. The Ordinance details a specified list of goods/articles in Schedule 1 of the Ordinance and makes stocking of which is offence under this Ordinance. Section 2 of the Ordinance defines hoarding as stocking or storing of the anything in excess of the maximum quantity allowed or accumulation of the same without offering such articles for sale, despite there being demand by the consumer. Section 4 of the Ordinance empowers the authorized officer to enter and search premises, provided he has reasonable ground to suspect or has such information; and if satisfied the officer may seize the hoarded articles and further auction the goods as provided under section 5 of the Ordinance. It is important to note that Section 6 declares that the offence under the Ordinance as non-bailable thus making it extremely excruciating upon the offender and making it a considerately strong deterrent per se. The Ordinance stipulates for a summary trial by a special magistrate who then shall decide the matter within thirty days and if convicted, Section 3 of the Ordinance provide for stringent punishment of three years imprisonment with a fine of fifty percent of the value of the articles hoarded.
Further, section 11 makes it mandatory upon the dealer/owner to make all the necessary declaration to the officer as and when required by the officer, regarding the stock record, production, import, exports amongst other, and in failure to do so, the Ordinance provides for an imprisonment upto three years and a fine upto one million. It is important to highlight that the stratagem devised under section 7 of the Ordinance encompasses all beneficiaries of the hoarding as offenders. Under the said Ordinance, if any company, corporation, partnership, body corporate commits an offence under the Ordinance; in such case every owner, director, partner, manager, member, principal, primary or beneficial owner, agent or any other officer, shall be liable to punishment, unless it is proved that the contravention took place without his knowledge after all due diligence. Section 10 of the Ordinance provides for an incentive to the whistleblowers / informant who provide information regarding hoarding/stocking of articles; an award equaling to ten percent of the amount received by the Government. Further section 13 also shelters such person from any prosecution or legal proceedings generated as a consequence.
In proper to the aforesaid, the Ordinance provides a comprehensive mechanism to check and prevent hoarding of the essential items and to curb profiteering by means of artificial shortages. The paramount aspect of the law is that if an offence is committed under the Ordinance, the same provides for a mechanism to examine and adjudicate the actions and inactions of the highest in the management i.e. the real beneficiaries along with the lower hierarchy of management and that may at the end turn out to be the game changer deterrent. Similar to Punjab, a comparable law, Covid-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Ordinance, 2020, has been promulgated for Islamabad Capital Territory; however, the real success in the implementation of the law shall be dependent on the cooperation of the general public in identifying the hoarders thus for the law to take its course.
The writer is a Barrister-at-Law from the Hon’ble Society of Lincoln’s Inn. He is based in Lahore and is a partner at Ibrahim & Ibrahim-Barristers and Legal Consultants. He tweets @pirzada_