Policy

National Education Policy : Recommendations and the current scenario

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was released on July 30, 2020.  It will replace the National Policy on Education, 1986.  Key recommendations of the NEP include: (i) redesigning the structure of school curriculum to incorporate early childhood care and education, (ii) curtailing dropouts for ensuring universal access to education, (iii) increasing gross enrolment in higher education to 50% by 2035, and (iv) improving research in higher education institutes by setting up a Research Foundation.  In this blog, we examine the current status of education in the country in view of some of these recommendations made by the NEP.

Universal access to Education

The NEP states that the Right to Education Act, 2009 has been successful in achieving near universal enrolment in elementary education, however retaining children remains a challenge for the schooling system.  As of 2015-16, Gross Enrolment Ratio was 56.2% at senior secondary level as compared to 99.2% at primary level.  GER denotes enrolment as a percent of the population of corresponding age group.  Further, it noted that the decline in GER is higher for certain socio-economically disadvantaged groups, based on: (i) gender identities (female, transgender persons), (ii) socio-cultural identities (scheduled castes, scheduled tribes), (iii) geographical identities (students from small villages and small towns), (iv) socio-economic identities (migrant communities and low income households), and (v) disabilities.  In the table below, we detail the GER in school education across: (i) gender, and (ii) socio-cultural identities.  

Table 1: GER in school education for different gender and social groups (2015-16)

Level

Male

Female

SC

ST

All

Primary (I-V) 

97.9%

100.7%

110.9%

106.7%

99.2%

Upper Primary (VI-VIII) 

88.7%

97.6%

102.4%

96.7%

92.8%

Secondary (IX-X) 

79.2%

81%

85.3%

74.5%

80%

Senior Secondary (XI-XII) 

56%

56.4%

56.8%

43.1%

56.2%

Sources: Educational Statistics at Glance 2018, MHRD; PRS.

Data for all groups indicates decline in GER as we move from primary to senior secondary for all groups.  This decline is particularly high in case of Scheduled Tribes.  Further, we analyse the reason for dropping out from school education.  Data suggests that the most prominent reason for dropping out was: engagement in domestic activities (for girls) and engagement in economic activities (for boys). 

Table 2: Major reasons for dropping out (Class 1-12) for 2015-16

Reason for dropping out

Male

Female

Child not interested in studies 

23.8%

15.6%

Financial Constraints 

23.7%

15.2%

Engage in Domestic Activities 

4.8%

29.7%

Engage in Economic Activities 

31.0%

4.9%

School is far off 

0.5%

3.4%

Unable to cop-up with studies 

5.4%

4.6%

Completed desired level/ Class 

5.7%

6.5%

Marriage

 

13.9%

Other reasons

5.1%

6.2%

Note: Other reasons include: (i) timings of educational Institution not suitable, (ii) language/medium of Instruction used unfamiliar, (iii) inadequate number of teachers, (iv) quality of teachers not satisfactory, (v) unfriendly atmosphere at school. For girl students, other reasons also include: (i) non-availability of female teachers, (ii) non-availability of girl’s toilet.
Sources: Educational Statistics at Glance 2018, MHRD; PRS.

The NEP recommends strengthening of existing schemes and policies which are targeted for such socio-economically disadvantaged groups (for instance, schemes for free bicycles for girls or scholarships) to tackle dropouts.   Further, it recommends setting up special education zones in areas with significant proportion of such disadvantaged groups.  A gender inclusion fund should also be setup to assist female and transgender students in getting access to education. 

Increasing GER in Higher Education to 50% by 2035

The NEP aims to increase the GER in higher education to 50% by 2035.  As of 2018-19, the GER in higher education in the country stood at 26.3%.  Figure 2 shows the trend of GER in higher education over the last few years.  Note that the annual growth rate of GER in higher education in the last few years has been around 2%.    

Figure 1: GER in Higher Education (2014-15 to 2018-19)

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Sources: All India Survey on Higher Education, MHRD; PRS.

Table 3: Comparison of GER (higher education) with other countries

Country

GER (2017-18)

India 

25%

Brazil

51%

China

49%

Indonesia

36%

South Africa

22%

Pakistan

9%

Germany

70%

France 

66%

United Kingdom

60%

Sources: UNESCO; PRS.

The NEP recommends that for increasing GER, capacity of existing higher education institutes will have to be improved by restructuring and expanding existing institutes.  It recommends that all institutes should aim to be large multidisciplinary institutes (with enrolments in thousands), and there should be one such institution in or near every district by 2030.   Further, institutions should have the option to run open distance learning and online programmes to improve access to higher education.  

Foundational literacy and numeracy

The NEP states that a large proportion of the students currently enrolled in elementary school have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy (the ability to read and understand basic text, and carry out basic addition and subtraction).  It recommends that every child should attain foundational literacy and numeracy by grade three.  

Table 4 highlights the results of the National Achievement Survey 2017 on the learning levels of students at Grade 3 in language and mathematics.  The results of the survey suggest that only 57% students in Grade 3 are able to solve basic numeracy skills related to addition and subtraction.  

Table 4: NAS results on learning level of Grade-3 students

Learning level (Grade 3)

Percentage of students

Ability to read small texts with comprehension (Language)

68%

Ability to read printed scripts on classroom walls such as poems, posters (Language)

65%

Solving simple daily life addition and subtraction problems with 3 digits (Mathematics)

57%

Analyses and applies the appropriate number operation in a situation (Mathematics)

59%

Sources: National Achievement Survey (2017) dashboard, NCERT; PRS.

To achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy, the Policy recommends setting up a National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy under the MHRD.  All state governments must prepare implementation plans to achieve these goals by 2025.  A national repository of high-quality resources on foundational literacy and numeracy will be made available on government’s e-learning platform (DIKSHA).   Other measures to be taken in this regard include: (i) filling teacher vacancies at the earliest, (ii) ensuring a pupil to teacher ratio of 30:1 for effective teaching, and (iii) training teachers to impart foundational literacy and numeracy.

Effective governance of schools

The Policy states that establishing primary schools in every habitation across the country has helped increase access to education.  However, it has led to the development of schools with low number of students.  The small size of schools makes it operationally and economically challenging to deploy teachers and critical physical resources (such as library books, sports equipment).  

With respect to this observation, the distribution of schools by enrolment size can be seen in the table below.  Note that, as of September 2016, more than 55% of primary schools in the country had an enrolment below 60 students.   

Table 5: Distribution of schools by enrolment size

Strength (Grade)

Below 30

31-60

61-90

91-120

121-150

151-200

More than 200

Primary schools (Class 1-5)

28.0%

27.5%

16.0%

10.3%

6.3%

5.6%

6.4%

Upper primary schools (Class 6-8)

14.8%

27.9%

18.7%

15.0%

8.4%

7.2%

8.0%

Upper primary schools (Class 1-8)

5.7%

11.6%

13.0%

12.1%

10.4%

13.4%

33.8%

Sources: Flash Statistics on School Education 2016-17, UDISE; PRS.

While nearly 80% primary schools had a library, only 1.5% schools had a librarian (as of September 2016).  The availability of facilities is better in higher senior secondary schools as compared to primary or upper primary schools. 

Table 6: Distribution of schools with access to physical facilities

Facilities

Primary schools (Class 1-5)

Upper primary schools (Class 1-8)

Higher senior secondary
 schools (Class 1-12)

Library

79.8%

88.0%

94.4%

Librarian

1.5%

4.5%

34.4%

Playground

54.9%

65.5%

84.3%

Functional computer

4.4%

25.2%

46.0%

Internet connection

0.9%

4.2%

67.9%

Sources: Flash Statistics on School Education 2016-17, UDISE; PRS.

To overcome the challenges associated with development of small schools, the NEP recommends grouping schools together to form a school complex.  The school complex will consist of one secondary school and other schools, aanganwadis in a 5-10 km radius.  This will ensure: (i) adequate number of teachers for all subjects in a school complex, (ii) adequate infrastructural resources, and (iii) effective governance of schools.

Restructuring of Higher Education Institutes

The NEP notes that the higher education ecosystem in the country is severely fragmented.  The present complex nomenclature of higher education institutes (HEIs) in the country such as ‘deemed to be university’, ‘affiliating university’, ‘affiliating technical university', ‘unitary university’ shall be replaced simply by 'university'.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, India has 993 universities, 39,931 colleges, and 10,725 stand-alone institutions (technical institutes such as polytechnics or teacher training institutes).  

Table 7: Number of Universities in India according to different categories

Type of university

Number of universities

Central University

46

Central Open University

1

Institutes of National Importance

127

State Public University

371

Institution Under State Legislature Act

5

State Open University

14

State Private University

304

State Private Open University

1

Deemed University- Government

34

Deemed University- Government Aided

10

Deemed University- Private

80

Total

993

Sources: All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19; PRS.

The NEP recommends that all HEIs should be restructured into three categories: (i) research universities focusing equally on research and teaching, (ii) teaching universities focusing primarily on teaching, and (iii) degree granting colleges primarily focused on undergraduate teaching.  All such institutions will gradually move towards full autonomy - academic, administrative, and financial.  

Setting up a National Research Foundation to boost research

The NEP states that investment on research and innovation in India, at only 0.69% of GDP, lags behind several other countries.   India’s expenditure on research and development (R&D) in the last few years can be seen in the figure below.   Note that the total investment on R&D in India as a proportion of GDP has been stagnant at around 0.7% of GDP.   In 2018-19, the total expenditure on R&D in India was Rs 1,23,848 crore.  Of this, Rs 72,732 crore (58%) of expenditure was by government, and the remaining (42%) was by private industry. 

Figure 2: R&D Expenditure in India (2011-12 to 2018-19) 

image     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: S&T Indicators Table 2019-20, Ministry of Science and Technology, March 2020; PRS.

Figure 3: Comparison of R&D expenditure in India with other countries (2017)

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Sources: S&T Indicators Table 2019-20, Ministry of Science and Technology, March 2020; PRS.

To boost research, the NEP recommends setting up an independent National Research Foundation (NRF) for funding and facilitating quality research in India.  The Foundation will act as a liaison between researchers and relevant branches of government as well as industry.  Specialised institutions which currently fund research, such as the Department of Science and Technology, and the Indian Council of Medical Research, will continue to fund independent projects.  The Foundation will collaborate with such agencies to avoid duplication.

Digital education

The NEP states that alternative modes of quality education should be developed when in-person education is not possible, as observed during the recent pandemic.  Several interventions must be taken to ensure inclusive digital education such as: (i) developing two-way audio and video interfaces for holding online classes, and (ii) use of other channels such as television, radio, mass media in multiple languages to ensure reach of digital content where digital infrastructure is lacking.

In this context, we analyse: (i) the availability of computer and internet across households in India, and (ii) ability to use computer or internet by persons in the age group of 5-14.  As of 2017-18, the access to internet and computer was relatively poor in rural areas.  Only 4.4% of rural households have access to a computer (excludes smartphones), and nearly 15% have access to internet facility.  Amongst urban households, 42% have access to internet. 

Table 8: Access to Computer and Internet across households (2017-18)

Access to ICT

Rural

Urban

Overall

Households having computer

4.4%

23.4%

10.7%

Households having internet facility

14.9%

42.0%

23.8%

Note: Computer includes desktop, laptop, notebook, tablet.  It does not include smartphone. 

Sources: Household Social Consumption on Education (2017-18), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, July 2020; PRS.

Table 9: Ability to use Computer and Internet across persons in the age group 5-14 (2017-18)

Ability to use ICT

Rural

Urban

Overall

Ability to use computer

5.1%

21.3%

9.1%

Ability to use internet

5.1%

19.7%

8.8%

Note: Ability to use computer means to be able to carry out any of the tasks such as: (i) copying or moving a file/folder, (ii) sending emails, (iii) transferring files between a computer and other devices, among others. Ability to use internet means to be able to use the internet browser for website navigation, using e-mail or social networking applications.

Sources: Household Social Consumption on Education (2017-18), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, July 2020; PRS.

Public spending on education to be increased to 6% of GDP

The recommendation of increasing public spending on Education to 6% of GDP was first made by the National Policy on Education 1968 and reiterated by the 1986 Policy.  NEP 2020 reaffirms the recommendation of increasing public spending on education to 6% of GDP.  In 2017-18, the public spending on education (includes spending by centre and states) was budgeted at 4.43% of GDP.  

Table 10: Public spending on Education (2013-2018)

Year

Public expenditure (Rs crore)

% of GDP

2013-14

4,30,879

3.84%

2014-15

5,06,849

4.07%

2015-16

5,77,793

4.20%

2016-17

6,64,265

4.32%

2017-18

7,56,945

4.43%

Sources: 312th Report, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, March 2020; PRS.

Figure 4: Comparison of public spending on Education in India with other countries as % of GDP (2015)

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Sources: Educational Statistics at Glance 2018, MHRD; PRS.

In the figure below, we look at the disparities within states in education spending.  In 2020-21, states in India have allocated 15.7% of their budgeted expenditure towards education.  States such as Delhi, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have allocated more than 18% of their expenditure on Education for the year 2020-21.  On the other hand, Telangana (7.4%), Andhra Pradesh (12.1%) and Punjab (12.3%) lack in spending on education, as compared to the average of states. 

Figure 5: Budgeted allocation on Education (2020-21) by states in India

image

Note: AP is Andhra Pradesh, UP is Uttar Pradesh, HP is Himachal Pradesh and WB is West Bengal.
Sources: Analysis of various state budget documents; PRS.

For a detailed summary of the National Education Policy, see here

Migration in India and the impact of the lockdown on migrants

India has been in lockdown since March 25, 2020.  During this time, activities not contributing to the production and supply of essential goods and services were completely or partially suspended.  Passenger trains and flights were halted.  The lockdown has severely impacted migrants, several of whom lost their jobs due to shutting of industries and were stranded outside their native places wanting to get back.  Since then, the government has announced relief measures for migrants, and made arrangements for migrants to return to their native place.  The Supreme Court of India, recognising the problems faced by migrants stranded in different parts of the country, reviewed transportation and relief arrangements made by the government.  On June 9, the Court directed central and state governments to complete transportation of remaining stranded migrants and expand focus of relief measures to facilitate employment for returning migrants.  In this blog, we highlight some facts about migration in India, summarise key relief measures announced by the government and directives issued by the Supreme Court for the migrant population in relation to the lockdown.

Overview of Migration

Migration is the movement of people away from their usual place of residence, across either internal (within country) or international (across countries) borders.  The latest government data on migration comes from the 2011 Census.  As per the Census, India had 45.6 crore migrants in 2011 (38% of the population) compared to 31.5 crore migrants in 2001 (31% of the population).   Between 2001 and 2011, while population grew by 18%, the number of migrants increased by 45%.  In 2011, 99% of total migration was internal and immigrants (international migrants) comprised 1%.[1] 

Patterns of migration

Internal migrant flows can be classified on the basis of origin and destination.  One kind of classification is: i) rural-rural, ii) rural-urban, iii) urban-rural and iv) urban-urban.  As per the 2011 census, there were 21 crore rural-rural migrants which formed 54% of classifiable internal migration (the Census did not classify 5.3 crore people as originating from either rural or urban areas).  Rural-urban and urban-urban movement accounted for around 8 crore migrants each.   There were around 3 crore urban-rural migrants (7% of classifiable internal migration).

Another way to classify migration is: (i) intra-state, and (ii) inter-state.  In 2011, intra-state movement accounted for almost 88% of all internal migration (39.6 crore persons).1 

There is variation across states in terms of inter-state migration flows.  According to the 2011 Census, there were 5.4 crore inter-state migrants.  As of 2011, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the largest source of inter-state migrants while Maharashtra and Delhi were the largest receiver states.  Around 83 lakh residents of Uttar Pradesh and 63 lakh residents of Bihar had moved either temporarily or permanently to other states.  Around 60 lakh people from across India had migrated to Maharashtra by 2011. 

Figure 1: Inter-state Migration (in lakh)

image 

Note: A net out-migrant state is one where more people migrate out of the state than those that migrate into the state.  Net in-migration is the excess of incoming migrants over out-going migrants.   

Sources: Census 2011; PRS.

Reasons for internal migration and size of migrant labour force

As of 2011, majority (70%) of intra-state migration was due to reasons of marriage and family with variation between male and female migrants.  While 83% of females moved for marriage and family, the corresponding figure for males was 39%.  Overall, 8% of people moved within a state for work (21% of male migrants and 2% of female migrants). 

Movement for work was higher among inter-state migrants- 50% of male and 5% of female inter-state migrants.  As per the Census, there were 4.5 crore migrant workers in 2011.  However, according to the Working Group Report on Migration, the Census underestimates the migrant worker population.   Female migration is recorded as movement due to family since that is the primary reason.  However, many women take up employment after migrating which is not reflected in the number of women moving for work-related reasons. [2]  

According to the Economic Survey, 2016-17, Census data also underestimates temporary migrant labour movement.  In 2007-08, the NSSO estimated the size of India’s migrant labour at seven crore (29% of the workforce).  The Economic Survey, 2016-17, estimated six crore inter-state labour migrants between 2001-2011.  The Economic Survey also estimated that in each year between 2011-2016, on average 90 lakh people travelled for work. 

Figure 2: Reasons for intra-state migration 

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Sources: Census 2011; PRS.

Figure 3:Reasons for inter-state migration 

Sources: Census 2011; PRS.

Issues faced by migrant labour

Article 19(1)(e) of the Constitution, guarantees all Indian citizens the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India, subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the general public or protection of any scheduled tribe.  However, people migrating for work face key challenges including: i) lack of social security and health benefits and poor implementation of minimum safety standards law, ii) lack of portability of state-provided benefits especially food provided through the public distribution system (PDS) and iii) lack of access to affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas. 2    

Poor implementation of protections under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 (ISMW Act) 

The ISMW Act provides certain protections for inter-state migrant workers.  Labour contractors recruiting migrants are required to: (i) be licensed, (ii) register migrant workers with the government authorities, and (iii) arrange for the worker to be issued a passbook recording their identity.  Guidelines regarding wages and protections (including accommodation, free medical facilities, protective clothing) to be provided by the contractor are also outlined in the law. 

In December 2011, a report by the Standing Committee on Labour observed that registration of workers under the ISMW Act was low and implementation of protections outlined in the Act was poor.   The report concluded that the Central government had not made any concrete and fruitful efforts to ensure that contractors and employers mandatorily register the workers employed with them enabling access to benefits under the Act.  

Lack of portability of benefits

Migrants registered to claim access to benefits at one location lose access upon migration to a different location.  This is especially true of access to entitlements under the PDS.  Ration card required to access benefits under the PDS is issued by state governments and is not portable across states.  This system excludes inter-state migrants from the PDS unless they surrender their card from the home state and get a new one from the host state.  

Lack of affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas

The proportion of migrants in urban population is 47%.1  In 2015, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs identified migrants in urban areas as the largest population needing housing in cities.  There is inadequate supply of low-income ownership and rental housing options.  This leads to the spread of informal settlements and slums.  The Prime Minister Awaas Yojana (PMAY) is a central government scheme to help the economically weaker section and low-income group access housing.  Assistance under the scheme includes:  i) slum rehabilitation, ii) subsidised credit for home loans, iii) subsidies up to Rs 1.5 lakh to either construct a new house or enhance existing houses on their own and iv) increasing availability of affordable housing units in partnership with the private sector.  Since housing is a state subject, there is variation in approach of States towards affordable housing.2 

Steps taken by the government with regard to migrant labour during the lockdown

During the lockdown, several inter-state migrant workers tried to return to their home state. Due to the suspension public transport facilities, migrants started walking towards their home state on foot.  Subsequently, buses and Shramik special trains were permitted by the central government subject to coordination between states.[3],[4]  Between May 1 and June 3, more than 58 lakh migrants were transported through specially operated trains and 41 lakh were transported by road.  Measures taken by the government to aid migrants include-

Transport:  On March 28, the central government authorised states to use the State Disaster Response Fund to provide accommodation to traveling migrants.  States were advised to set up relief camps along highways with medical facilities to ensure people stay in these camps while the lockdown is in place.  

In an order issued on April 29, the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed states to co-ordinate individually to transport migrants using buses.  On May 1, the Indian Railways resumed passenger movement (for the first time since March 22) with Shramik Special trains to facilitate movement of migrants stranded outside their home state.  Between May 1 and June 3, Indian Railways operated 4,197 Shramik trains transporting more than 58 lakh migrants.  Top states from where Shramik trains originated are Gujarat and Maharashtra and states where the trains terminated are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.[5]  Note that these trends largely correspond to the migration patterns seen in the 2011 census data.  

Food distribution:  On April 1, the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs directed state governments to operate relief camps for migrant workers with arrangements for food, sanitation and medical services.  On May 14, under the second tranche of the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, the Finance Minister announced that free food grains would be provided to migrant workers who do not have a ration card for two months.  The measure is expected to benefit eight crore migrant workers and their families.   The Finance Minister also announced that One Nation One Ration card will be implemented by March 2021, to provide portable benefits under the PDS.  This will allow access to ration from any Fair Price Shop in India.  

Housing:  The Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan also launched a scheme for Affordable Rental Housing Complexes for Migrant Workers and Urban Poor to provide affordable rental housing units under PMAY.  The scheme proposes to use existing housing stock under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Housing Mission (JnNURM) as well as incentivise public and private agencies to construct new affordable units for rent.  Further, additional funds have been allocated for the credit linked subsidy scheme under PMAY for middle income group. 

Financial aid:  Some state governments (like BiharRajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) announced one-time cash transfers for returning migrant workers.  UP government announced the provision of maintenance allowance of Rs 1,000 for returning migrants who are required to quarantine. 

Directions by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court reviewed the situation of migrant labourers stranded in different parts of the country, noting inadequacies and lapses in government response to the situation.  

  • On May 26, the Court issued an order to the central and state governments to submit a response detailing all measures taken by the respective governments for migrant labourers.  
  • On May 28, the Court provided interim directions to the central and state/UT governments for ensuring relief to the migrant workers: i) no train or bus fare should be charged to migrant workers, ii) free food should be provided to stranded migrants by the concerned State/UT government and this information should be publicised, iii) States should simplify and speed-up the process of registration of migrants for transport and those registered should be provided transportation at the earliest and iv) the state receiving migrants should provide last-mile transport, health screening and other facilities free of cost. 
  • Reiterating their earlier directions, on June 5 (full order issued on June 9), the Supreme Court further directed the Central and state/UT governments to ensure: i) transportation of all stranded workers wanting to return to their native place is completed within 15 days, ii) identification of migrant workers is immediately completed and the process of migrant registration be decentralised to police stations and local authorities, iii) records of returning migrant labourers are kept including details about place of earlier employment and nature of their skills, and iv) counselling centres are set-up at the block level to provide information about central and state government schemes and other avenues of employment.  The Court also directed the state/UT governments to consider withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of Disaster Management Act filed against migrant labourers who allegedly violated lockdown orders. 

 

[1] Census, 2011, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs.

[2] Report of Working Group on Migration, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, January 2017, http://mohua.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/1566.pdf.

[3] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I (A), Ministry of Home Affairs, April 29, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/4233.IND_Movement_of_Persons_April_29.pdf

[4] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I (A), Ministry of Home Affairs, May 1, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/IND_Special_Trains_May_1.jpeg

[5] “Indian Railways operationalizes 4197 “Shramik Special” trains till 3rd June, 2020 (0900hrs) across the country and transports more than 58 lacs passengers to their home states through “Shramik Special” trains since May 1”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, June 3, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1629043

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (May 23 - May 29, 2020)

As of May 29, 2020, there are 1,65,799 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.  47,352 new cases have been registered in the last week (since May 22).  Out of the confirmed cases so far, 71,106 patients have been cured/discharged and 4,706 have died.  Most cases are in the state of Maharashtra (59,546) followed by the states of Tamil Nadu (19,372), Delhi (16,281) and Gujarat (15,562).  

With the spread of COVID-19, the central government initially undertook many measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, including restrictions on travel and movement through national lockdown.  With gradual resumption of activities, the central government has recently announced measures to ease restrictions on travel and movement.   Further, the government has continued to announce policy decisions to ease the financial stress caused by the pandemic, and to contain further spread of the pandemic.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between May 23 and May 29, 2020.

Figure 1: Day wise number of COVID-19 cases in the country

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Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; PRS.

Finance

RBI announces additional measures to ease financial stress caused by COVID-19

On May 22, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a statement with various development and regulatory policies to ease the financial stress caused by COVID-19.   These measures include: (i) improving liquidity in the market; (ii) support to exports and imports; and (iii) easing capital financing.  Subsequently, following measures have been notified by the RBI: 

  • In March 2020, the RBI had permitted all lending institutions to grant a moratorium of three months on payment of all term loans outstanding as of March 1, 2020.   This has been extended by another three months (till August 31, 2020).  Such deferment will not result in downgrade in asset classification.
     
  • For working capital such as cash credit or overdraft as well, lending institutions are permitted to allow a deferment of another three months on recovery of interest (till August 31, 2020). 
     
  • Currently, the exposure limit of a bank to a group of connected counterparties is 25% of the eligible capital base of the bank.  As a one-time measure to ease difficulty in raising funds, this limit has been relaxed to 30% of capital base of bank. 

Travel and Movement 

Domestic Air travel resumes; fare limits set by government

Domestic passenger air travel has been resumed in a phased manned (with one-third capacity of operations) from May 25, 2020 based on the announcement of the Ministry of Civil Aviation on May 21.  To ensure that airlines do not charge excessive fare and to ensure that journey is only for essential purposes, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an order to limit the minimum and maximum fare that airlines can charge from the passenger.   The routes have been divided in seven sectors based on the approximate duration of the flight.  For routes with shortest duration (for example, Delhi to Chandigarh), the minimum and maximum fare will be Rs 2,000 and Rs 6,000, respectively.  For routes with the longest duration (for example, Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram), the minimum and maximum fare will be Rs 6,500 and Rs 18,600, respectively. 

Further, the Ministry announced that all operational routes under the Regional Connectivity (UDAN) Scheme with up to 500 km of length or operational routes in priority areas (North East region, hilly states or islands) are permitted to resume operations.  This is in addition to the one-third capacity of operations announced earlier. 

Health

Guidelines for international arrivals issued

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines for international arrivals.  All travellers are required to give an undertaking that they will undergo a 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine at their own cost (7 days in institutional quarantine followed by a 7-day isolation at home).  In emergency cases (such as pregnancy or death in the family), home quarantine will be permitted.  Use of Aarogya Setu app will be mandatory in such cases.  Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board (flight/ship) after thermal screening.  On arrival, thermal screening will be carried out for all passengers.  The passengers found to be symptomatic will be isolated and taken to a medical facility. 

Movement of migrant labourers

Supreme Court gives an interim order regarding problems of migrant labourers

The Supreme Court of India took cognisance of the problems of migrant labourers who have been stranded in different parts of the country.  In its order, the Court observed that there are lapses being noticed in the process of registration, transportation and in providing food and shelter to the migrant workers.  In view of these difficulties, the Court issued the following interim directions:  

  • Free of cost food should be provided to the migrant workers who are stranded at different places in the country by the concerned state governments.  This information should be publicised and also notified to workers when they are waiting for their turn to board the train or bus.
     
  • The states should speed up the process of registration of migrant workers and provide help desk for registration.  Complete information regarding the modes of transport must be publicised to the workers.  
     
  • Fare should not be charged from migrant workers for travel by train or bus. The railway fare shall be shared by the states as per their arrangement.  The originating state of travel must provide water and meal during transportation.   In case of a train journey, Railways must provide water and meal during the journey. 
     
  • After the migrant workers reach their native place, the receiving state must provide health screening, transport and other facilities free of cost. 
     
  • Migrant workers found walking on highways or roads must be provided transportation to their destination and all facilities including food and water.

The Court directed the central and state governments to produce record of all necessary details such as the number of migrant workers, the plan to transport them to their destination, and the mechanism of registration. 

Other measures

PM CARES Fund included in the list of CSR eligible activities

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs notified the inclusion of PM CARES fund in the list of activities eligible for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under the Companies Act, 2013.  Under the Act, companies with net worth, turnover or profits above a specified amount are required to spend 2% of their average net profits in the last three financial years towards CSR activities. This measure will come into effect retrospectively from March 28, 2020, when the fund was setup

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (May 11 – May 22, 2020)

As of May 22, 2020, there are 1,18,447 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India, which is 76% higher than the cases on May 11, 2020 (67,152). Out of total confirmed cases, there are 66,330 active cases, 48,354 patients have been cured/discharged and 3,583 have died (Figure 1). As the spread of COVID-19 has increased across India, the central government has continued to announce several policy decisions to contain the spread, and support citizens and businesses who are being affected by the pandemic.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between May 11 and May 22, 2020.

Figure 1: Number of day wise COVID 19 cases as on May 22, 2020

 image

Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan

On May 12, the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced a special economic package of Rs 20 lakh crore (equivalent to 10% of India’s GDP) aimed towards making the country ready for the tough competition in the global supply chain and empowering the poor, labourers, migrants who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.   Following this announcement, the Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, in five press conferences, announced the detailed measures under the economic package.  The economic package includes earlier measures taken by the government to support the citizens and businesses of India.  A break-up of the package is presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Break-up of stimulus from Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan package

Item

Key Topics covered

Amount (in Rs crore)

Stimulus from earlier measures

 Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, Tax Concessions, and the Prime Minister's announcement for health sector

1,92,800

Part 1

Business including Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)

5,94,550

Part 2

Poor people including migrants and farmers.

3,10,000

Part 3

Agriculture and allied sectors.

1,50,000

Part 4 and Part 5

Part 4: Coal and mineral sectors, defence sector, civil Aviation, airports and aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), power sector, social infrastructures, space, atomic energy.

Part 5: Government reforms and other provisions including public health and education, additional allocation to MGNREGS

48,100

Sub Total

 

1,295,400

RBI Measures (Actual)

Reduction in Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), Special Liquidity Facility (SLF) for mutual funds, Special refinance facilities for NABARD, SIDBI and NHB at policy repo rate

8,01,603

Grand Total

 

20,97,053

Note: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the table above represents the five press conferences conducted by the Finance Minister to announce the details of the economic package.

Source:   Presentation made by Union Finance & Corporate Affairs Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman under Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan to support Indian economy in fight against COVID-19, Ministry of Finance, May 13, 2020, PRS.

For more information on the details of the announcements made under Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, please see here.

Finance

Following the Prime Minister’s and Finance Minister’s announcements, further announcements were also made. 

  • Cabinet approved the additional funding of Rs three lakh crore to eligible MSMEs and interested MUDRA borrowers under the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme.  The funding will be covered under 100% guarantee coverage by the National Credit Guarantee Trustee Company Limited in the form of a Guaranteed Emergency Credit Line facility.
     
  • Cabinet also approved the special liquidity scheme for Non-Banking Finance Companies (NBFCs)/Housing Finance Companies (HFCs).  The details of the scheme were shared by the Finance Minister in May 2020 under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan.
     
  • Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) revised the post-default curing period for credit rating agencies (CRAs) in their circular dated May 21, 2020.  Now, once the default is cured and payments are regularised, CRAs will upgrade the rating from default to non-investment grade after a period of 90 days based on the satisfactory performance by the company during the period.  As of now, after the entity corrects the default, the CRAs upgrade the rating from default to speculative grade in 90 days and from default to investment grade in 365 days.
     
  • On May 22, the Monetary Policy Committee of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), reduced the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) by 40 bps to 4% from 4.4%.  The marginal standing facility (MSF) and the bank rate have been reduced to 4.25% from 4.65%.  The reverse repo rate has been also reduced from 3.75% to 3.35%.
     
  • The Reserve bank of India (RBI) issued a statement with various development and regulatory policies.  The policies specify details on measures (i) to improve the functioning of market; (ii) to support exports and imports; (iii) to ease financial stress; (iv) for debt management.  The cash reserve ratio (CRR) of all banks will be reduced by 100 basis points to 3%, which will provide a liquidity support of Rs 1,37,000 crore across the banking system. The policy extends the moratorium on payment of instalments of all type of loans as on March 1, 2020 by another three months (up to August 2020).   This is applicable to loans from all commercial banks including Non-Banking Finance Companies (NBFCs) and co-operative banks.   

Lockdown 4.0

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) passed an order extending the lockdown till May 31, 2020. This lockdown will have more relaxations compared to earlier lockdowns.

Zoning of areas

The new guidelines have authorised states/union territories (UTs) to define the red, green and orange zones based on the parameters prescribed by the Health Ministry.  The states/UTs can define a district, or a municipal corporation/ municipality or even smaller administrative units such as sub-divisions, etc. as a red or green or orange zone.

  • Red and Orange Zones: Within red and orange zones, the local authorities will identify containment and buffer zones based on the guidelines from the Health Ministry.  Buffer zones are areas adjacent to containment zones which have a high probability of cases.
     
  • Containment Zones: Movement of individuals will not be allowed in containment zones to ensure strict perimeter control except for medical emergencies and supply of essential goods and services.

The prohibition of certain activities or restrictions in various zones within a state will be at the discretion of the state/union territory as deemed necessary.

Prohibited Activities

Some activities will continue to remain prohibited throughout the country.  These include:

  • all international air travel of passengers, except for domestic medical services, domestic air ambulance and for security purposes or purposes as permitted by MHA;
     
  • metro rail services;
     
  • running of schools, colleges, educational and training/coaching institutions;
     
  • hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services, except for the running of canteens in bus depots, railway stations and airports;
     
  • places of large public gatherings such as cinemas, shopping malls, and gymnasiums entertainment parks;
     
  • social, political, cultural, and similar gatherings and other large congregations; and access to religious places/places of worship for the public. 

Online/ distance learning is encouraged and permitted; and, restaurants will be allowed to operate kitchens for home delivery of food items.

National Directives for COVID Management

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued the National Directives for COVID Management, which apply to public places and work places. As per these guidelines:

  • wearing of face covers is compulsory; 
     
  • spitting will be punishable with fine as may be prescribed in accordance with its laws, rules or regulations by the State/ UT local authority; 
     
  • social distancing is to be followed by all persons in public places and in transport;  
     
  • marriage related gathering has been limited to 50 guests;  
     
  • for funerals/ last rites, the maximum number of persons allowed is 20;  
     
  • consumption of liquor, paan, gutkha and tobacco etc., is not allowed in public places.  

Guidelines for workplaces include:

  • employers will encourage practice of work from home to the extent possible; 
     
  • staggering of work hours will be adopted in respect of all offices and other establishments.  
     
  • there will be provision for thermal scanning, hand wash and sanitizers at all entry and exit points and common areas;
     
  • all work places and other sensitive locations are to be sanitized regularly.  
     
  • social distancing will have to be ensured through adequate distance between workers, adequate gaps between shifts, staggering the lunch break of staff and so on.

Aarogya Setu

The District authorities will ensure installation of the Aarogya Setu application on compatible mobile phones of all individuals and will have to regularly update their health status on the app.

Aarogya Setu Data access and knowledge sharing protocol, 2020

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India issued a notification on the data access and knowledge sharing protocol, 2020 in reference to the Aarogya Setu mobile application.  The protocol will: (i) ensure secure collection of data by the mobile application, (ii) protect the personal data of individuals, and (iii) ensure efficient use and sharing of personal or non-personal data of the application users.  The protocol provides principles for: (i) collection and processing of response data, (ii) sharing of response data, (iii) obligations of entities with whom the data will be shared, and (iv) sharing of data for research purpose.  A sunset clause is applicable to the protocol subjecting it to a review after 6 months unless there is any extension of sunset clause in wake of the pandemic.

Travel and Movement

  • The Ministry of Railways announced to run Shramik special trains from all districts connected by railways in the country.  The ministry is awaiting details on migrants from each district to operationalise the trains.
     
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has written to Chief Secretaries of all states allowing them to arrange special buses to carry people from railway stations to their home.  This provision is applicable, with condition of maintaining proper social distancing norms, only at places where public or personal transport is not available.
     
  • On May 11, 2020, MHA passed an order permitting movement of individuals by trains.   Following the order, 15 pair of trains are being run   connecting New Delhi to Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi.
     
  • The Ministry of Railways in consultation with the MHA and the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, issued guidelines on partial restoration of train services (other than the Shramik trains) from June 1, 2020.  200 passenger trains with AC, Non-AC and general classes will be operationalised.   Booking for these trains commenced on May 21, 2020.  The guidelines contain detailed information on (i) booking of tickets and charting, (ii) quota permitted, (iii) catering, and (iv) linen and blankets.  All passengers will have to download and use the Aarogya Setu mobile application.
     
  • On May 19, 2020, MHA issued a Standard operating Procedure (SOP) for movement of stranded workers by trains.   As per the SOP, the Ministry of Railways will permit the movement of stranded workers by trains in consultation with MHA.  The Ministry of Railways will finalise the schedules for trains including the stoppages and destinations and will communicated it to state/UTs.  On arrival at the destination, the travelling passengers will have to adhere to the health protocols as prescribed by the destination state/UT.  The inter-state movement of stranded persons by bus and vehicles will be allowed subject to mutual consent of the concerned States/UTs.  The intra-state movement of vehicles will be at the discretion of the states/UTs.
     
  • The MHA amended the order on Lockdown 4.0 to facilitate domestic air travel for stranded persons.  Following the amendment, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued the order for commencement of domestic air travel of passengers from May 25, 2020.  The passengers will have to show a self-declaration, using the Aarogya Setu mobile application, that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms and those with Red status will not be allowed to travel.  The order contains three annexures with (i) general instructions for commencement of domestic air travel, (ii) the detailed guidelines to be followed by air passengers, and (iii) specific operating guidelines for major stakeholders.

Health

  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued: (i) updated containment plan on COVID-19, and (ii) updated containment plan for large outbreaks of COVID 19.   These plans provide information on various scenarios of COVID-19 and strategies to control the spread of the disease including definitions, action plans and specific details on (i) identification of containment zones and buffer zones; (ii) perimeter control; (iii) support from various stakeholders such as testing laboratories and hospitals; (iv) pharamaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions; and (v) risk communication.

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Relaxation of labour laws across states

To contain the spread of COVID-19 in India, the central government imposed a nation-wide lockdown on March 24, 2020.  Under the lockdown most economic activities, other than those classified as essential activities, were suspended.  States have noted that this loss of economic activity has resulted in a loss of income for many individuals and businesses.  To allow some economic activities to start, some states have provided relaxations to establishments from their existing labour laws.  This blog explains the manner in which labour is regulated in India, and the various relaxations in labour laws that are being announced by various states. 

How is labour regulated in India?

Labour falls under the Concurrent List of the Constitution.  Therefore, both Parliament and State Legislatures can make laws regulating labour.  Currently, there are over 100 state laws and 40 central laws regulating various aspects of labour such as resolution of industrial disputes, working conditions, social security, and wages.  To improve ease of compliance and ensure uniformity in central level labour laws, the central government is in the process of codifying various labour laws under four Codes on (i) industrial relations, (ii) occupational safety, health and working conditions, (iii) wages, and (iv) social security.  These Codes subsume laws such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Payment of Wages Act, 1936.   

How do state governments regulate labour?

A state may regulate labour by: (i) passing its own labour laws, or (ii) amending the central level labour laws, as applicable to the state.   In cases where central and state laws are incompatible, central laws will prevail and the state laws will be void.  However, a state law that is incompatible with central laws may prevail in that state if it has received the assent of the President.  For example: In 2014, Rajasthan amended the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.  Under the Act, certain special provisions with regard to retrenchment, lay-off and closure of establishments applied to establishments with 100 or more workers.  For example, an employer in an establishment with 100 or more workers required permission from the central or state government prior to retrenchment of workers.  Rajasthan amended the Act to increase the threshold for the application of these special provisions to establishments with 300 workers.  This amendment to the central law prevailed in Rajasthan as it received the assent of the President. 

Which states have passed relaxations to labour laws?

The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet has approved an ordinance, and Madhya Pradesh has promulgated an ordinance, to relax certain aspects of existing labour laws.  Further, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh have notified relaxations to labour laws through rules.

Madhya Pradesh:  On May 6, 2020, the Madhya Pradesh government promulgated the Madhya Pradesh Labour Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.  The Ordinance amends two state laws: the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1961, and the Madhya Pradesh Shram Kalyan Nidhi Adhiniyam, 1982.  The 1961 Act regulates the conditions of employment of workers and applies to all establishments with 50 or more workers.  The Ordinance increases this threshold to 100 or more workers.  Therefore, the Act will no longer apply to establishments with between 50 and 100 workers that were previously regulated.  The 1982 Act provides for the constitution of a Fund that will finance activities related to welfare of labour.  The Ordinance amends the Act to allow the state government to exempt any establishment or class of establishments from the provisions of the Act through a notification.  These provisions include payment of contributions into the Fund by employers at the rate of three rupees every six months. 

Further, the Madhya Pradesh government has exempted all new factories from certain provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.  Provisions related to lay-off and retrenchment of workers, and closure of establishments will continue to apply.  However, the other provisions of the Act such as those related to industrial dispute resolution, strikes and lockouts, and trade unions, will not apply.   This exemption will remain in place for the next 1,000 days (33 months).  Note that the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 allows the state government to exempt certain establishments from the provisions of the Act as long as it is satisfied that a mechanism is in place for the settlement and investigation of industrial disputes.

Uttar Pradesh

The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet has approved the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020.  According to news reports, the Ordinance seeks to exempt all factories and establishments engaged in manufacturing processes from all labour laws for a period of three years, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions.  These conditions include:

  • Wages:  The Ordinance specifies that workers cannot be paid below minimum wage.  Further, workers must be paid within the time limit prescribed in the Payment of Wages Act, 1936.  The Act specifies that: (i) establishments with less than 1,000 workers must pay wages before the seventh day after the last day of the wage period and (ii) all other establishments must pay wages before the tenth day after the last day of the wage period.  Wages must be paid into the bank accounts of workers. 

  • Health and safety:   The Ordinance states that provisions of health and safety specified in the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 and Factories Act, 1948 will continue to apply.  These provisions regulate the usage of dangerous machinery, inspections, and maintenance of factories, amongst others. 

  • Work Hours:  Workers cannot be required to work more than eleven hours a day and the spread of work may not be more than 12 hours a day. 

  • Compensation:  In the case of accidents leading to death or disability, workers will be compensated as per the Employees Compensation Act, 1923. 

  • Bonded Labour: The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 will continue to remain in force.  It provides for the abolition of the bonded labour system.   Bonded labour refers to the system of forced labour where a debtor enters into an agreement with the creditor under certain conditions such as to repay his or a family members debt, due to his caste or community, or due to a social obligation.  

  • Women and children:  Provisions of labour laws relating to the employment of women and children will continue to apply.  

It is unclear if labour laws providing for social security, industrial dispute resolution, trade unions, strikes, amongst others, will continue to apply to businesses in Uttar Pradesh for the period of three years specified in the Ordinance.  Since the Ordinance is restricting the application of central level labour laws, it requires the assent of the President to come into effect. 

Changes in work hours

The Factories Act, 1948 allows state governments to exempt factories from provisions related to work hours for a period of three months if factories are dealing with an exceptional amount of work.  Further, state governments may exempt factories from all provisions of the Act in the case of public emergencies.  The Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Assam and Uttarakhand governments passed notifications to increase maximum weekly work hours from 48 hours to 72 hours and daily work hours from 9 hours to 12 hours for certain factories using this provision.  Further, Madhya Pradesh has exempted all factories from the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 that regulate work hours.  These state governments have noted that an increase in work hours would help address the shortage of workers caused by the lockdown and longer shifts would ensure fewer number of workers in factories allowing for social distancing to be maintained.   Table 1 shows the state-wise increase in maximum work hours. 

Table 1: State-wise changes to work hours

State

Establishments

Maximum weekly work hours

Maximum daily work hours

Overtime Pay (2x ordinary wages)

Time period

Gujarat

All factories

Increased from 48 hours to 72 hours 

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Not required

Three months

Himachal Pradesh

All factories

Increased from 48 hours to 72 hours 

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Required

Three months

Rajasthan

All factories distributing essential goods and manufacturing essential goods and food

Increased from 48 hours to 72 hours 

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Required

Three months

Haryana

All factories

Not specified  

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Required

Two months

Uttar Pradesh

All factories

Increased from 48 hours to 72 hours 

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Not required

Three months*

Uttarakhand

All factories and continuous process industries that are allowed to function by government

Maximum 6 days of work a week

Two shifts of 12 hours each.

Required

Three months

Assam

All factories

Not specified

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Required

Three months

Goa

All factories

Not specified

Increased from 9 hours to 12 hours 

Required

Approximately three months

Madhya Pradesh

All factories

Not specified

Not specified

Not specified

Three months

Note: *The Uttar Pradesh notification was withdrawn

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (May 4 – May 11, 2020)

As of May 11, 2020, there are 67,152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.   Since May 4, 24,619 new cases have been registered.  Out of the confirmed cases so far, 20,917 patients have been cured/discharged and 2,206 have died.  As the spread of COVID-19 has increased across the country, the central government has continued to announce several policy decisions to contain the spread, and support citizens and businesses who are being affected by the pandemic.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between May 4 and May 11, 2020.

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; PRS.

Industry

Relaxation of labour laws in some states

The GujaratHimachal PradeshRajasthanHaryana, and Uttarakhand governments have passed notifications to increase maximum weekly work hours from 48 hours to 72 hours and daily work hours from 9 hours to 12 hours for certain factories.  This was done to combat the shortage of labour caused by the lockdown.  Further, some state governments stated that longer shifts would ensure a fewer number of workers in factories so as to allow for social distancing.

Madhya Pradesh has promulgated the Madhya Pradesh Labour Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.  The Ordinance exempts establishments with less than 100 workers from adhering to the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1961, which regulates the conditions of employment of workers.  Further, it allows the state government to exempt any establishment or class of establishments from the Madhya Pradesh Shram Kalyan Nidhi Adhiniyam, 1982, which provides for the constitution of a welfare fund for labour.  

The Uttar Pradesh government has published a draft Ordinance which exempts all factories and establishments engaged in manufacturing processes from all labour laws for a period of three years.  Certain conditions will continue to apply with regard to payment of wages, safety, compensation and work hours, amongst others.  However, labour laws providing for social security, industrial dispute resolution, trade unions, strikes, amongst others, will not apply under the Ordinance. 

Financial aid 

Central government signs an agreement with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank for COVID-19 support

The central government and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) signed a 500 million dollar agreement for the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project.   The project aims to help India respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen India’s public health system to manage future disease outbreaks.  The project is being financed by the World Bank and AIIB in the amount of 1.5 billion dollars, of which one billion dollars is being provided by World Bank and 500 million dollars is being provided by AIIB.  This financial support will be available to all states and union territories and will be used to address the needs of at-risk populations, medical personnel, and creating medical and testing facilities, amongst others.   The project will be implemented by the National Health Mission, the National Center for Disease Control, and the Indian Council of Medical Research, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Travel 

Restarting of passenger travel by railways

Indian Railways plans to restart passenger trains from May 12 onwards.  It will begin with 15 pairs of trains which will run from New Delhi station connecting Dibrugarh, Agartala, Howrah, Patna, Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, Secunderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Madgaon, Mumbai Central, Ahmedabad and Jammu Tawi.  Booking for reservation in these trains will start at 4 pm on May 11.  Thereafter, Indian Railways plans to start more services on new routes.  

Return of Indians stranded abroad

The central government will facilitate the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad in a phased manner beginning on May 7.  The travel will be arranged by aircraft and naval ships.  The stranded Indians utilising the service will be required to pay for it.  Medical screening of the passengers will be done before the flight.  On reaching India, passengers will be required to download the Aarogya Setu app.  Further, they will be quarantined by the concerned state government in either a hospital or a quarantine institution for 14 days on a payment basis.  After quarantine, passengers will be tested for COVID-19 and further action will be taken based on the results.    

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Apr 27 – May 4, 2020)

As of May 4, 2020, there are 42,533 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.   Since April 27, 14,641 new cases have been registered.  Out of the confirmed cases so far, 11,707 patients have been cured/discharged and 1,373 have died.   As the spread of COVID-19 has increased across India, the central government has continued to announce several policy decisions to contain the spread, and support citizens and businesses who are being affected by the pandemic.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between April 27 and May 4, 2020.

image

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; PRS.

Lockdown

Extension of lockdown until May 18, 2020

The Ministry of Home Affairs passed an order extending the lockdown for two weeks from May 4, 2020 (until May 18, 2020).  Activities that remain prohibited in the extended lockdown include: 

  • Travel and movement: Passenger movement by: (i) air (except for medical and security purposes), (ii) trains (except for security purposes), (iii) inter-state buses (unless permitted by central government), and (iv) metro, remains prohibited.  Inter-state movement of individuals is also prohibited except for medical reasons or if permitted by the central government.  Intra-state movement of persons for all non-essential activities will remain prohibited between 7pm and 7am. 

  • Education:  All educational institutions such as schools and colleges will remain closed except for online learning. 

  • Hospitality services and recreational activities:  All hospitality services such as hotels will remain closed except those being used as quarantine facilities, or those housing persons such as healthcare workers, police, or stranded persons.  Further, recreational facilities such as cinemas, malls, gyms, and bars will remain closed. 

  • Religious gatherings:  All religious spaces will remain closed and congregation for religious purposes will remain prohibited. 

The revised guidelines for the lockdown include risk-profiling of districts into red, green and orange zones.  Zone classifications will be decided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and shared with states on a weekly basis.  States may include additional districts as red or orange zones.   However, they may not lower the classification of any district.  For a district to move from a red zone to an orange zone, or from an orange zone to a green zone, it must have no new cases for 21 days.  Classification of and activities permitted in the zones include: 

  • Red zones or hotspots: These districts will be identified based on the total number of active cases, doubling rate of confirmed cases, and testing and surveillance feedback.  Additional activities prohibited in red zones include: (i) cycle and auto rickshaws, (ii) taxis, (iii) buses, and (iv) barber shops, spas and salons.  Activities that are permitted include: (i) movement of individuals (maximum two persons in four wheelers, and one person in two wheelers), (ii) all industrial establishments in rural areas and certain industrial establishments in urban areas such as manufacturing of essential goods, and (iii) all standalone and neighbourhood shops. 

  • Green zones: These zones include districts with no confirmed cases till date or no confirmed cases in the last 21 days.  No additional activities are prohibited in these zones.  In addition to activities permitted in red zones, buses can operate with up to 50% seating capacity. 

  • Orange zones: These zones include all districts that do not fall in either red or green zones.  Inter and intra-state plying of buses is prohibited in these zones.  Activities that are permitted (in addition to those permitted in red zones) include: (i) taxis with a maximum of one driver and two passengers, (ii) inter-district movement of individuals and vehicles for permitted activities, and (iii) four wheeler vehicles with a maximum of one driver and two passengers.

Certain areas within red and orange zones will be identified as containment zones by the district administration. Containment zones may include areas such as residential colonies, towns, or municipal wards. In containment zones, local authorities must ensure 100% coverage of Aarogya Setu App, contract tracing, quarantine of individuals based on risk, and house to house surveillance.  Further, movement of persons in or out will be prohibited except for medical emergencies and essential goods, amongst other measures. 

Movement of stranded persons

The Ministry of Home Affairs has permitted the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students, and other stranded persons, by special trains.  To facilitate this, all states and union territories will designate nodal authorities for sending, receiving, and registering stranded persons.  The state sending persons and the state receiving persons both need to agree to the exchange.  Each train can carry up to 1,200 persons and no train may run at less than 90% capacity.  Passengers approved for travel by the state governments may be required to pay some part of the ticket fare. 

Education

UGC issues guidelines on examinations and the academic calendar for universities

The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued guidelines on examinations and the academic calendar for universities in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

  • Academic Calendar: Classes for the even semester in universities were suspended from March 16, 2020 onwards. The guidelines prescribe that online teaching must continue till May 31 through social media (WhatsApp / YouTube), emails, or video conferencing. The examinations for the current academic year should be held in July, 2020 and the results for the same should be declared by July 31 (for terminal year students) and by August 14 (for intermediate year students)

  • The Academic Session 2020-21 may commence from August 2020 for old students and from September 2020 for fresh students. The admission process for the fresh students can be done in August. Consequently, the commencement of even semester for 2020-21 can be from January 27, 2021. The commencement of academic session 2021-22 may be from August 2021. The universities may follow a 6-day week pattern to compensate the loss of teaching for the remaining session of 2019- 20 and the 2020-21 academic session.

  • Examination: The universities may conduct semester or yearly examinations in offline or online mode. This has to be done while observing the guidelines of “social distancing” and ensuring fair opportunity for all students. They may adopt alternative, simplified methods of examinations such as multiple choice questions based examinations or open book examination. If examinations cannot be conducted in view of the prevailing situation at the time, grading may be done on the basis of internal assessments and performance in previous semester. The universities may conduct the Ph.D viva examinations through video conferencing.

  • Other guidelines: Every University should establish a COVID-19 cell for handling student grievances related to examinations and academic activities during the pandemic and notify effectively to the students. Further, a COVID-19 cell will be created in the UGC for faster decision making.

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Protection of healthcare service personnel

Amidst news reports of violence against healthcare workers during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on April 22, 2020.  The Ordinance amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.  The Act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.  The Ordinance amends the Act to include protections for healthcare personnel combatting epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases.

Who is considered a healthcare service personnel under the Ordinance?

The Ordinance defines healthcare service personnel as a person who is at risk of contracting the epidemic disease while carrying out duties related to the epidemic such as caring for patients.  They include: (i) public and clinical healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses, (ii) any person empowered under the Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease, and (iii) other persons designated as such by the respective state government.

What is considered an ‘act of violence’ under the Ordinance?

An ‘act of violence’ includes any of the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel: (i) harassment impacting living or working conditions, (ii) harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life, (iii) obstruction in discharge of his duties, and (iv) loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.  Property is defined to include a: (i) clinical establishment, (ii) quarantine facility, (iii) mobile medical unit, and (iv) other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic. 

What are the offences and penalties outlined under the Ordinance?

The Ordinance specifies that no person can: (i) participate in or commit an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel, or (ii) participate in or cause damage or loss to any property during an epidemic.  A person committing these two offences is punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees.  However, for such offences, charges may by dropped by the victim with the permission of the Court.  If an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel causes grievous harm, the person committing the offence will be punishable with imprisonment between six months and seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees.   All offences under the Ordinance are cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.

Do healthcare service personnel that face violence get compensation?

Persons convicted of offences under the Ordinance will be liable to pay a compensation to the healthcare service personnel whom they have hurt.  Such compensation will be determined by the Court.  In the case of damage or loss of property, the compensation payable to the victim will be twice the amount of the fair market value of the damaged or lost property, as determined by the Court.  

What protections did healthcare service personnel have prior to the promulgation of this Ordinance?

Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property.  The Code also prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual. 

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments in September 2019.  The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others.  It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances.   

Table 1 compares the offences and penalties under the Ordinance, the draft Bill, and Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Table 1:  Offences and penalties with regard to violence against healthcare service personnel 

Offences and Penalties

Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of violence and damage to property) Bill, 2019

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Violence

 

  • Violence against a healthcare service personnel is punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees.     (Act of violence includes harassment, hurt/harm, and damage to property)
  • Violence against a healthcare service personnel, is punishable with imprisonment between six months and five years, and a fine of up to five lakh rupees.     (Act of violence includes harassment, hurt/harm, and damage to property)
  • Causing voluntary hurt is punishable with imprisonment up to one year, or with fine up to Rs 1,000, or both.

Violence causing grievous harm

  • Violence against a healthcare service personnel causing grievous harm is punishable with imprisonment between six months and seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees.
  • Violence against a healthcare service personnel causing grievous harm is punishable with imprisonment between three years and ten years, and a fine between two lakh rupees and ten lakh rupees.
  • Voluntarily causing grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment up to seven years, and a fine.

Damage to property

  • Damage or loss to any property during an epidemic, is punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees. 
  • Damage or loss to any property of a clinical establishment, is punishable with imprisonment between six months and five years, and a fine of up to five lakh rupees.     
  • Loss or damage to the property worth Rs 50 or more is punishable with imprisonment up to two years, or fine, or both.

Sources: Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of violence and damage to property) Bill, 2019, and Indian Penal Code, 1860; PRS. 

Are there provisions for the safety of healthcare service personnel at the state level?

Several states have passed legislation to protect healthcare service personnel.  These states include: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.  

Most state Acts define healthcare service personnel to include registered doctors, nurses, medical and nursing students, and paramedical staff.   Further, they define violence as activities causing harm, injury, endangering life, intimidation, obstruction to the ability of a healthcare service person to discharge their duty, and loss or damage to property in a healthcare service institution.  

All state Acts prohibit: (i) any act of violence against healthcare service persons, or (ii) damage to property in healthcare service institutions.  In most of these states, sf a person partakes in these prohibited activities, he/she is punishable with imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to fifty thousand rupees.  However, in certain states such as Tamil Nadu the maximum prison sentence may be up to ten years. 

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Central Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Apr 20-27, 2020)

As of April 27, 2020, there are 27,892 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.  Since April 20, 10,627 new cases have been registered.  Out of the confirmed cases so far, 6,185 patients have been cured/discharged and 872 have died.  As the spread of COVID-19 has increased across India, the central government has continued to announce several policy decisions to contain the spread, and support citizens and businesses who are being affected by the pandemic.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between April 20 and April 27, 2020.

image

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; PRS.

Lockdown

Relaxation of lockdown for shops in specific areas

On April 25, the Ministry of Home Affairs passed an order allowing the opening of: (i) all shops in rural areas, except those in shopping malls, and (ii) all standalone shops, neighbourhood shops, and shops in residential complexes in urban areas.  Shops in markets, market complexes, or shopping malls in urban areas are not allowed to function.  Only shops registered under the Shops and Establishments Act of the respective state or union territory will be allowed to open.  Further, no shops can open in rural or urban areas that have been declared as containment zones.  The order also specifies that the sale of liquor continues to be prohibited. 

Functioning of Central Administrative Tribunals to remain suspended

The functioning of Central Administrative Tribunals will remain suspended until May 3, 2020.  Once functioning begins, certain days already declared as holidays may be reassigned as working days.  This decision was made keeping in mind that most of the Central Administrative Tribunals are located in COVID-19 hotspots. 

Financial measures

RBI announces Rs 50,000 crore special liquidity facility for Mutual Funds

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to open a special liquidity facility for mutual funds (SLF-MF) worth Rs 50,000 crore.  This will ease liquidity pressures on mutual funds.  Under the SLF-MF, RBI will conduct repo operations of 90 days tenor at the fixed repo rate.  The SLF-MF will be available for immediate use, and banks can submit their bids to avail funding.  The scheme is available from April 27 to May 11, 2020, or until the allocated amount is utilised, whichever is earlier.  RBI will review the timeline and amount of the scheme, depending upon market conditions.  Funds availed under the SLF-MF can be used by banks exclusively for meeting the liquidity requirements of mutual funds.  This can be done through: (i) extending loans, and (ii) undertaking outright purchase of and/or repos against collateral of investment grade corporate bonds, commercial papers, debentures, and certificates of deposits held by mutual funds.

RBI extends benefits of Interest Subvention and Prompt Repayment Incentive schemes for short term crop loans

The Reserve Bank of India has advised banks to extend the benefits of Interest Subvention of 2% and Prompt Repayment Incentive of 3% for short term crop loans up to three lakh rupees.  Farmers whose accounts have become due or will become due between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020 will be eligible. 

Protection of healthcare workers

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated 

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on April 22, 2020.  The Ordinance amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.  The Act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.  The Ordinance amends the Act to include protections for healthcare personnel combatting epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases.  Key features of the Ordinance include:

  • Definitions:  The Ordinance defines healthcare service personnel as a person who is at risk of contracting the epidemic disease while carrying out duties related to the epidemic.  They include: (i) public and clinical healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses, (ii) any person empowered under the Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease, and (iii) other persons designated as such by the state government.  

  • An ‘act of violence’ includes any of the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel: (i) harassment impacting living or working conditions, (ii) harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life, (iii) obstruction in discharge of his duties, and (iv) loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.  Property is defined to include a: (i) clinical establishment, (ii) quarantine facility, (iii) mobile medical unit, and (iv) other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic. 

  • Protection for healthcare personnel and damage to property:  The Ordinance specifies that no person can: (i) commit or abet the commission of an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel, or (ii) abet or cause damage or loss to any property during an epidemic.  Contravention of this provision is punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees.  This offence may be compounded by the victim with the permission of the Court.  If an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel causes grievous harm, the person committing the offence will be punishable with imprisonment between six months and seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees.  These offences are cognizable and non-bailable.

For more details on the Ordinance, please see here

Financial aid

Progress under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package 

According to the Ministry of Finance, between March 26 and April 22, 2020, approximately 33 crore poor people have been given financial assistance worth Rs 31,235 crore through bank transfers to assist them during the lockdown.  Beneficiaries of the bank transfers include widows, women account holders under Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, senior citizens, and farmers.  In addition to direct bank transfers, other forms of assistance have also been initiated. These include

  • 40 lakh metric tonnes of food grains have been provided to 36 states and union territories. 

  • 2.7 crore free gas cylinders have been delivered to beneficiaries.

  • Rs 3,497 crore has been disbursed to 2.2 crore building and construction workers from the Building and Construction Workers’ Funds managed by state governments. 

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Power Sector

The central government has enforced a nation-wide lockdown between March 25 and May 3 as part of its measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.  During the lockdown, several restrictions have been placed on the movement of individuals and economic activities have come to a halt barring the activities related to essential goods and services. The restrictions are being relaxed in less affected areas in a limited manner since April 20.  In this blog, we look at how the lockdown has impacted the demand and supply of electricity and what possible repercussions its prolonged effect may have on the power sector. 

Power supply saw a decrease of 25% during the lockdown (year-on-year)

As electricity cannot be stored in large amount, the power generation and supply for a given day are planned based on the forecast for demand.  The months of January and February in 2020 had seen an increase of 3% and 7% in power supply, respectively as compared to 2019 (year-on-year).  In comparison, the power supply saw a decrease of 3% between March 1 and March 24.  During the lockdown between March 24 and April 19, the total power supply saw a decrease of about 25% (year-on-year).

Figure 1: % change in power supply position between March 1 and April 19 (Y-o-Y from 2019 to 2020)

Sources: Daily Reports; POSOCO; PRS.

If we look at the consumption pattern by consumer category, in 2018-19, 41% of total electricity consumption was for industrial purposes, followed by 25% for domestic and 18% for agricultural purposes.  As the lockdown has severely reduced the industrial and commercial activities in the country, these segments would have seen a considerable decline in demand for electricity. However, note that the domestic demand may have seen an uptick as people are staying indoors.

Figure 2: Power consumption by consumer segment in 2018-19

Sources: Central Electricity Authority; PRS.

Electricity demand may continue to be subdued over the next few months. At this point, it is unclear that when lockdown restrictions are eased, how soon will economic activities return to pre COVID-19 levels. India’s growth projections also highlight a slowdown in the economy in 2020 which will further impact the demand for electricity.  On April 16, the International Monetary Fund has slashed its projection for India’s GDP growth in 2020 from 5.8% to 1.9%.

A nominal increase in energy and peak deficit levels

As power sector related operations have been classified as essential services, the plant operations and availability of fuel (primarily coal) have not been significantly constrained. This can be observed with the energy deficit and peak deficit levels during the lockdown period which have remained at a nominal level.  Energy deficit indicates the shortfall in energy supply against the demand during the day.  The average energy deficit between March 25 and April 19 has been 0.42% while the corresponding figure was 0.33% between March 1 and March 24. Similarly, the average peak deficit between March 25 and April 19 has been 0.56% as compared to 0.41% between March 1 and March 24.  Peak deficit indicates the shortfall in supply against demand during highest consumption period in a day.

Figure 3: Energy deficit and peak deficit between March 1, 2020 and April 19, 2020 (in %)

Sources: Daily Reports; POSOCO; PRS.

Coal stock with power plants increases

Coal is the primary source of power generation in the country (~71% in March 2020).  During the lockdown period, the coal stock with coal power plants has seen an increase.  As of April 19, total coal-stock with the power plants in the country (in days) has risen to 29 days as compared to 24 days on March 24. This indicates that the supply of coal has not been constrained during the lockdown, at least to the extent of meeting the requirements of power plants.

Energy mix changes during the lockdown, power generation from coal impacted

During the lockdown, power generation has been adjusted to compensate for reduced consumption, Most of this reduction in consumption has been adjusted by reduced coal power generation. As can be seen in Table 1, coal power generation reduced from an average of 2,511 MU between March 1 and March 24 to 1,873 MU between March 25 and April 19 (about 25%).  As a result, the contribution of coal in total power generation reduced from an average of 72.5% to 65.6% between these two periods.

Table 1: Energy Mix during March 1-April 19, 2020

Sources: Daily Reports; POSOCO; PRS.

This shift may be happening due to various reasons including: (i) renewable energy sources (solar, wind, and small hydro) have MUST RUN status, i.e., the power generated by them has to be given the highest priority by distribution companies, and (ii) running cost of renewable power plants is lower as compared to thermal power plants.

This suggests that if growth in electricity demand were to remain weak, the adverse impact on the coal power plants could be more as compared to other power generation sources.  This will also translate into weak demand for coal in the country as almost 87% of the domestic coal production is used by the power sector.  Note that the plant load factor (PLF) of the thermal power plants has seen a considerable decline over the years, decreasing from 77.5% in 2009-10 to 56.4% in 2019-20. Low PLF implies that coal plants have been lying idle.  Coal power plants require significant fixed costs, and they incur such costs even when the plant is lying idle. The declining capacity utilisation augmented by a weaker demand will undermine the financial viability of these plants further.

Figure 4: Power generation from coal between March 1, 2020 and April 19, 2020 (in MU)

Sources: Daily Reports; POSOCO; PRS.

Finances of the power sector to be severely impacted

Power distribution companies (discoms) buy power from generation companies and supply it to consumers.  In India, most of the discoms are state-owned utilities.  One of the key concerns in the Indian power sector has been the poor financial health of its discoms.  The discoms have had high levels of debt and have been running losses. The debt problem was partly addressed under the UDAY scheme as state governments took over 75% of the debt of state-run discoms (around 2.1 lakh crore in two years 2015-16 and 2016-17).  However, discoms have continued to register losses owing to underpricing of electricity tariff for some consumer segments, and other forms of technical and commercial losses.  Outstanding dues of discoms towards power generation companies have also been increasing, indicating financial stress in some discoms. At the end of February 2020, the total outstanding dues of discoms to generation companies stood at Rs 92,602 crore.

Due to the lockdown and its further impact in the near term, the financial situation of discoms is likely to be aggravated. This will also impact other entities in the value chain including generation companies and their fuel suppliers. This may lead to reduced availability of working capital for these entities and an increase in the risk of NPAs in the sector.  Note that, as of February 2020, the power sector has the largest share in the deployment of domestic bank credit among industries (Rs 5.4 lakh crore, 19.3% of total).

Following are some of the factors which have impacted the financial situation during the lockdown:

  • Reduced cross-subsidy: In most states, the electricity tariff for domestic and agriculture consumers is lower than the actual cost of supply. Along with the subsidy by the state governments, this gap in revenue is partly compensated by charging industrial and commercial consumers at a higher rate.  Hence, industrial and commercial segments cross-subsidise the power consumption by domestic and agricultural consumers.

  • The lockdown has led to a halt on commercial and industrial activities while people are staying indoors.  This has led to a situation where the demand from the consumer segments who cross-subsidise has decreased while the demand from consumer segments who are cross-subsidised has increased.  Due to this, the gap between revenue realised by discoms and cost of supply will widen, leading to further losses for discoms.  States may choose to bridge this gap by providing a higher subsidy.

  • Moratorium to consumers: To mitigate the financial hardship of citizens due to COVID-19, some states such as RajasthanUttar Pradesh, and Goa, among others, have provided consumers with a moratorium for payment of electricity bills. At the same time, the discoms are required to continue supplying electricity. This will mean that the return for the supply made in March and April will be delayed, leading to lesser cash in hand for discoms.

  • Some state governments such as Bihar also announced a reduction in tariff for domestic and agricultural consumers. Although, the reduction in tariff will be compensated to discoms by government subsidy.

  • Constraints with government finances: The revenue collection of states has been severely impacted as economic activities have come to a halt. Further, the state governments are directing their resources for funding relief measures such as food distribution, direct cash transfers, and healthcare. This may adversely affect or delay the subsidy transfer to discoms.

  • The UDAY scheme also requires states to progressively fund greater share in losses of discoms from their budgetary resources (10% in 2018-19, 25% in 2019-20, and 50% in 2020-21).  As losses of discoms may widen due to the above-mentioned factors, the state government’s financial burden is likely to increase.

Capacity addition may be adversely impacted

As per the National Electricity Plan,  India’s total capacity addition target is around 176 GW for 2017-2022.  This comprises of 118 GW from renewable sources, 6.8 GW from hydro sources, and 6.4 GW from coal (apart from 47.8 GW of coal-based power projects already in various stages of production as of January 2018).  

India has set a goal of installing 175 GW of Renewable Power Capacity by 2022 as part of its climate change commitments (86 GW has been installed as of January 2020).  In January 2020, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy observed that India could only install 82% and 55% of its annual renewable energy capacity addition targets in 2017-18 and 2018-19. As of January 2020, 67% of the target has been achieved for 2019-20.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, the capacity addition targets for various sources is likely to be adversely impacted in the short run as:

  • construction activities were stopped during the lockdown and will take some time to return to normal,

  • disruption in the global supply chain may lead to difficulties with the availability of key components leading to delay in execution of projects, for instance, for solar power plants, solar PV modules are mainly imported from China, and

  • reduced revenue for companies due to weak demand will leave companies with less capacity left for capital expenditure.

Key reforms likely to be delayed

Following are some of the important reforms anticipated in 2020-21 which may get delayed due to the developing situation:

  • The real-time market for electricity: The real-time market for electricity was to be operationalised from April 1, 2020. However, the lockdown has led to delay in completion of testing and trial runs. The revised date for implementation is now June 1, 2020.

  • UDAY 2.0/ADITYA: A new scheme for the financial turnaround of discoms was likely to come this year. The scheme would have provided for the installation of smart meters and incentives for rationalisation of the tariff, among other things. It remains to be seen what this scheme would be like since the situation with government finances is also going to worsen due to anticipated economic slowdown. 

  • Auction of coal blocks for commercial mining: The Coal Ministry has been considering auction of coal mines for commercial mining this year. 100% FDI has been allowed in the coal mining activity for commercial sale of coal to attract foreign players. However, the global economic slowdown may mean that the auctions may not generate enough interest from foreign as well as domestic players.

For a detailed analysis of the Indian Power Sector, please see here.  For details on the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the country and across states, please see here.  For details on the major COVID-19 related notifications released by the centre and the states, please see here.