Govt to regulate sales, storage of hand sanitisers

A senior Delhi government official said that the administration may soon bring a rule making it mandatory for those selling and storing sanitisers to apply for a licence.
A medical professional wearing PPE coveralls sanitizes his hands after a colection during a blood donation camp at Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
A medical professional wearing PPE coveralls sanitizes his hands after a colection during a blood donation camp at Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Jun 15, 2020 02:23 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAnvit Srivastava & Abhishek Dey, New Delhi

The sale and storage of hand sanitisers — one of the most effective weapons against Delhi’s war against Covid-19 — may soon be monitored by the government.

A senior Delhi government official said that the administration may soon bring a rule making it mandatory for those selling and storing sanitisers to apply for a licence.

Currently, the production of hand sanitisers requires a license. However, no licence is required for storing and selling them.

“The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which regulates the import, manufacture and distribution of drugs in India is soon likely to include a provision concerning the requirement of a licence to store and sell hand sanitisers. Some guidelines are being drafted,” an official in the Delhi government said.

A senior officer from the government’s health department said, because of the current situation and high demand for hand sanitisers, the product has been listed under essential commodities, which also helps them crackdown on black marketing. “But better regulations demand licencing for storage and sales,” the official added.

Hand sanitisers are covered under Schedule K of Drugs and Cosmetics Act. They usually contain ethyl alcohol (a clear, colourless liquid and the principle ingredient in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine or brandy) and methyl alcohol (a light, volatile, colourless, flammable liquid with a distinctive alcoholic odour similar to that of ethanol [drinking alcohol]).

The license fee on production of hand sanitisers contributes to the revenue of the Delhi excise department under the category of medicinal and toiletry preparations containing alcohol. In 2018-19, the state government earned around Rs 20.70 crore under the revenues head, for 2019-20, the revised revenue estimate was pegged at Rs 18.95 crore and, in 2020-21, the projected earning under the head is Rs 19.80 crore, budget documents showed. Government officials said, roughly one-fourth of the revenue under the concerned head comes from the production fee levied on hand sanitisers.

“While they are used round the year in hospitals and clinics, their domestic usage has increased recently. Production has increased. Additional license fee on storage and sales is expected to add to the government’s revenue and, hence, a revision in the estimates for 2020-21,” said a second senior official.

The Delhi government has already asked local producers to keep their production capacity up till at least June 30, and the deadline can be further extended depending on the trajectory of cases in the city. “There are high chances that the period post-covid-management would witness a large amount of unsold stock, and that comes with its own risks. Hence, regulations will be necessary,” the second official said.

Experts believe that high amount of alcohol in a sanitiser may cause accidents if handled carelessly. Professor Ramesh Chandra, head of the chemistry department, University of Delhi, said because the presence of alcohol in sanitisers make them flammable, if stored in large quantity it must be in a regulated manner and with all due precautions.

Chandra said there are two kinds of alcohol in a sanitiser - ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol. “A sanitiser must ideally only have ethyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol is harmful if consumed or handled improperly. We also need to strictly regulate the composition of sanitisers when manufactured and I’m sure authorities concerned are doing their best,” he said.

Chandra further said that people must also take precautions while getting their vehicles sanitized. “I have heard that recently a man was getting his motorcycle sanitized, with its ignition on, and it caught fire. The vehicle was gutted. However, a bottle of sanitiser left in a car will not catch fire as the temperature inside the car will not go up so high. It will need a direct spark to catch fire,” he explained.

RISK AND QUALITY

Ashish Grover, secretary, Delhi Drug Trader’s Association, said all roadside vendors, food stall owners and tea sellers have switched to selling sanitisers.

“In Bhagirath Palace, they are selling it at much cheaper prices, which reflects on its quality. But if it causes some health complications in the future, the traders will be blamed. The government must sell these sanitisers only through authorized stores like Kendriya Bhandar or through license holding drug dealers,” Grover said.

He also said many of the roadside vendors who have resorted to selling sanitisers because they ran out of business during the pandemic. They are also hoarding sanitisers but are unaware of regulations. “Because vegetable vendors and local shopkeepers are not aware of such precautions, it may cause life-threatening accidents,” he said.

Atul Garg, director Delhi Fire Service, said improper storage of large quantities of hand sanitisers may be dangerous and can lead to fatal fire disasters, especially in residential areas.

“These days, because of the increased demand all shopkeepers are hoarding large quantities of hand sanitisers. These sanitisers have 70-75% alcohol and have a low flash point (highly flammable). Unaware of its disastrous properties, if someone stores alcohol-based highly flammable sanitisers close to an electric switch, or an air conditioner, or an inverter, a short circuit, which is one of the most common causes behind fires, may fuel the fire,” he said.

Garg said that sale and storage of hand sanitisers must be regulated. “Because most of these shops are in residential or market areas, in case of a fire, it may lead to loss of public life and property. There should be strict regulations on its storage and sales. Only authorised vendors should be allowed to store sanitisers beyond a quantity,” he said.

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