How effective is Punjab’s anti-hoarding ordinance?

Published: May 14, 2020
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A Pakistani labourer carries crates of mangoes from a truck at a market in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

With the promulgation of the Punjab Prevention of Hoarding Ordinance, 2020, the Government of Punjab has undertaken a crucial step towards ensuring the necessary supply of essential commodities during the emergent situation as a result of Covid-19. The purpose of the 2020 ordinance is to halt the hoarding of goods, especially essential food and sanitary items, by means of making the same an offence under the law and devising a mechanism for reporting of hoarding, schemes of adjudication, and penalty thereof. The ordinance aims at preventing speculative dealings, market manipulation, or other forms of artificially manipulated high pricing. The law also encourages and incites the general public to report such acts of hoarding to the authorities and, for that purpose, a monetary incentive is offered to the whistle blower.

Before detailing the scheme of the law, it is important to note here that the law has been brought into force by means of the promulgation of an Ordinance under Article 128 of the Constitution of the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Article 128 of the Constitution of Pakistan empowers the governor of the province to promulgate ordinances if they are satisfied that such circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action; and such an ordinance shall stand repealed on the expiration of the stipulated 90 days subject to the conditions laid down in Article 128 of the Constitution of Pakistan.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 coronavirus, especially to ensure a constant uninterrupted supply of essential items. It details a specified list of goods/articles in Schedule 1 of the ordinance and makes stocking of these items an offence. Section 2 defines hoarding as stocking or storing of 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 an authorised officer to enter and search the premises, provided there is reasonable ground for suspicion or the officer has relevant information. Section 5 adds that if goods are indeed being hoarded, the officer may seize them and further auction them off.

It is important to note that Section 6 declares the offence under the ordinance to be non-bailable, thus making it a considerately strong deterrent. It stipulates for a summary trial by a special magistrate who shall then decide the matter within thirty days and if convicted, Section 3 of the ordinance provides stringent punishment of three years imprisonment with a fine of 50% of the value of the articles hoarded.

Furthermore, Section 11 makes it mandatory upon the dealer/owner to make all the necessary declarations to the officer as and when required, regarding the stock record, production, import, exports amongst other things. If there is a failure to do so, the offender can be imprisoned for up to three years and can be issued a fine of up to Rs1 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 or partnership commits an offence; in such a 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 their knowledge after due diligence.  Section 10 provides incentive to the whistle-blowers or informants who provide information regarding the hoarding and or stocking of articles; an award equaling to 10 per cent of the auction proceeds of the hoarded articles. Additionally, Section 13 also shelters such a person from any prosecution or legal proceedings generated as a consequence.

Hence, as evidenced by the explanation provided above, the ordinance presents a comprehensive mechanism to check and prevent hoarding of 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, it provides a mechanism to examine and adjudicate the actions and inactions of those in the highest management, i.e. the real beneficiaries, along with the lower hierarchy of management. In the end, this may turn out to be a game changing 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 allowing for the law to take its course.

Pirzada Aurang Zaib

Pirzada Aurang Zaib

The writer is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourableble Society of Lincoln’s Inn. He is based in Lahore and is a partner at Ibrahim and Ibrahim-Barristers and Legal Consultants. He tweets @pirzada_ (twitter.com/Pirzada_).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.