Anya Bharat Ram's blog

English translation unavailable for .

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Apr 7-13, 2020)

As of April 13, 2020, there are 9,152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.  Of these, 857 patients have been cured/discharged and 308 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 7 and April 13, 2020. 

image

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, PRS.

Health

Supreme Court orders free testing for COVID-19 and provision of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers

  • Free testing for COVID-19: The Supreme Court held that COVID-19 tests should be free of cost for persons belonging to economically weaker sections as notified by the government and those covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, irrespective of whether they are conducted in private or public laboratories. Further, it held that COVID-19 tests may only be carried out in laboratories accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories, or any agencies approved by the World Health Organisation or Indian Council for Medical Research.  Prior to this order, tests were free of cost in government laboratories.  However, private laboratories were permitted to charge up to Rs 4,500 per test.  

  • Personal protective equipment for healthcare workers: The Supreme Court held that availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line healthcare workers must be ensured by the government.  PPE includes gloves, masks, goggles, face shields, and shoe covers. Usage of PPE must be based on guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the World Health Organisation.   Further, it directed the government to promote domestic production of PPE by means such as allowing movement of raw material.  Restriction on exports of PPE may also be instituted.
     

  • Security for healthcare workers: The Court also noted that healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients were facing violence by the public due to stigma associated with their potential exposure to COVID-19.  The Court held that states and union territories should direct police authorities to provide security to doctors and medical staff in hospitals, places where persons have been quarantined, and while conducting screening visits.  Necessary action must be taken against persons who obstruct and commit any offence in respect to performance of duties by doctors, medical staff and other government officials working to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Exemptions from customs duty and health cess for certain items

The central government has exempted the levy of basic customs duty and health cess on certain items.  These include ventilators, face masks, PPE, COVID-19 testing kits, and items necessary to manufacture these items.  The exemptions will remain in force until September 30, 2020.

Financial Assistance 

COVlD-19 emergency response and health system preparedness package

The central government approved the COVlD-19 emergency response and health system preparedness package.  It will be implemented in three phases from January 2020 to March 2024.  The objectives of the package include: (i) strengthening national and state health systems, (ii) support preparedness for COVID-19, (iii) procure essential medical equipment and drugs, (iv) setting up laboratories for surveillance, and (v) biosecurity. 

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has initiated release of funds for phase 1 of the programme which will last until June 2020.  These funds will be utilised for activities such as: (i) developing hospitals and isolation wards for COVID-19 patients, (ii) providing ventilators, (iii) expansion of diagnostic capacities, and (iv) community surveillance for the disease.  

Permission granted for partial withdrawal from National Pension System

Subscribers of the National Pension System may make partial withdrawals to fulfil their financial needs.   Withdrawals will be permitted on formal request by the subscriber.  Funds may be utilised for the treatment of the illness of a subscriber, his spouse, children (including adopted children), or dependent parents.

All pending income tax refunds up to five lakh rupees to be issued 

To provide immediate relief to businesses and individuals, all pending income-tax refunds up to five lakh rupees, will be issued immediately.  This is estimated to benefit approximately 14 lakh taxpayers.  Further, all pending GST and Customs refunds will be issued.  This will benefit around one lakh business entities.  The total refund granted will be approximately Rs 18,000 crore.

Compensation for Food Corporation of India Employees in case of death due to COVID-19

The central government has approved the proposal for monetary compensation to 1.08 lakh workers of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) including 80,000 labourers who are working to supply food grains across the country. Currently, families of FCI employees are entitled to compensation in the event of death due to terrorist attack, bomb blast, mob attack or natural disaster.  However, the regular and contractual labour of FCI are not covered. Under this proposal, all workers on duty will be insured in the event of death due to COVID-19 between March 24, 2020 and 23 September, 2020.  Regular labour will be entitled to 15 lakh rupees, contractual labour will be entitled to 10 lakh rupees, category 1 officers will be entitled to 35 lakh rupees, category 2 officers will be entitled to 30 lakh rupees, and category 3 and 4 workers will be entitled to 25 lakh rupees.

NGOs permitted to buy food grains directly from FCI for relief operations

The government noted that NGOs and charitable organisations are playing an important role in providing food to thousands of poor people during the lockdown.  To ensure uninterrupted supply of food grain to these organisations, the central government has directed FCI to provide wheat and rice to NGOs at the Open Market Sale Scheme rate.  These rates are generally reserved for state governments and registered bulk users.  This implies that these organisations can purchase one to ten metric tonnes of wheat and rice at a time from FCI at the predetermined reserve prices. 

Increasing financial resources

Reduction in salaries and benefits to Members of Parliament

The centre issued two Ordinances to amend: (i) the Salary, Allowances, and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 to reduce the salaries of MPs by 30% for a period of one year, and (ii) the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers Act, 1952, to reduce the sumptuary allowance of Ministers by 30% for one year.  The government also amended the rules notified under the 1954 Act to reduce certain allowances of MPs for one year, and suspended the MPLAD Scheme for two years. The MPLAD scheme enables members of parliament to recommend developmental work in their constituencies.  These changes are being made to supplement the financial resources of the centre to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed reduction to the salaries and allowances of MPs and Ministers amounts to savings of around Rs 55 crore, and the suspension of the MPLAD scheme is expected to save Rs 7,800 crore.  These measures comprise 0.03% and 4.5% respectively, of the estimated amount required to fight the immediate economic distress unleashed due to COVID.

For more information on the implications of the reduction of salaries and benefits to MPs, please see here

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

English translation unavailable for .

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Jan 2020 - Apr 7, 2020)

On January 17, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare acknowledged the emergence of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) that was spreading across China.[1]  On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 disease to be a global pandemic. As of April 7, 2020, there are 4,421 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.[2]   Of these, 326 patients have been cured/discharged and 114 have died.1   

As the spread increased and more information about the virus was uncovered, the central government announced several policy decisions to contain it.  Further, measures were also announced to support citizens and businesses who were affected by such containment measures.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard as of April 7. 

 image

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, PRS.

Movement restrictions

21-day lockdown in the country

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 from March 25, 2020 to April 14, 2020.[3]   During the lockdown, all establishments, other than those providing essential goods and services, and those involved in agricultural operations, have been closed.   Essential goods include items such as food, medicine, and electricity.  Essential services include banking services, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals.  Transportation of all goods (essential or non-essential) will remain functional. [4],[5],[6],[7],[8]   

All state/UT governments have been directed to: (i) arrange for shelter and food for the needy, including migrant workers, (ii) quarantine migrant workers for at least 14 days, (iii) direct employers to pay wages during the lockdown, and (iv) ensure landlords do not demand rent from workers and students for one month.[9]  

Financial aid

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to provide relief against COVID-19

On March 26, the Finance Minister announced a relief package of 1.7 lakh crore rupees under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor.[10]  Key features of the package are:10,[11]

  • Insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh will be provided to health workers (such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers) who are treating patients of COVID-19.[12]

  • Five kilograms of wheat or rice and one kilogram of preferred pulses will be provided for free every month to poor families for the next three months.  

  • Women account holders under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana will get Rs 500 per month between April and June, and poor families will be given three free gas cylinders over the next three months.  

Extension and relaxation in payment of taxes

The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on March 31, 2020.10  The Ordinance provides certain relaxations, such as extension of time limits and waivers of penalties, in relation to specified laws.  These include the Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act), some Finance Acts, and the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988.  Key provisions under the Ordinance include:

  • Extension of time limits:   The Ordinance extends the time limits (for the period between March 20, 2020 to June 29, 2020) for compliance of certain actions such as: (i) issuing notifications, completing proceedings, and passing orders by authorities and tribunals, (ii) filing of appeals, replies, and applications, and furnishing documents, and (iii) making any investment or payment for claiming deductions or allowances under the IT Act.  

  • Interest and penalty:  Payment of any tax, made before June 30, 2020 (or any further date specified by the government), will not be liable for prosecution or penalty.  Also, the rate of interest payable for the delay in payment will not exceed 0.75% per month.

  • Donations to PM CARES Fund:  Donations made by a person to the PM CARES Fund will be eligible for 100% tax deduction.

  • GST compliances:  The central government may notify extension to time limits for various compliances under the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017.

Measures by RBI to address the financial stress caused by COVID-19

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also announced several measures to address the stress in the economy caused by COVID-19.[13],[14],[15]  Key measures are detailed below:

  • Cutting Policy Rates:  The repo rate (the rate at which RBI lends money to banks) was reduced from 5.15% to 4.4%.   The reverse repo rate (the rate at which RBI borrows money from banks) was reduced from 4.9% to 4.0%.  

  • Liquidity management: Measures are being taken to expand liquidity in the market to ensure that financial markets and institutions can function normally.  These measures include the reduction of the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) for all banks from 4% to 3% till March 26, 2021.  CRR is the amount of liquid cash that banks have to maintain with the RBI, as a percentage of their total deposits.  These steps are expected to inject total liquidity of Rs 3.74 lakh crore. 

  • Relief to borrowers in repayment of loans:  All banks and financial institutions (including NBFCs) are permitted to grant a moratorium of three months on payment of all term loan instalments (including agricultural, retail and crop loans) and interest on working capital loans (such as overdraft facilities), which are due between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020.  

Short term credit to states

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has constituted an Advisory Committee to review the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limits for states and UTs. WMA limits refer to temporary loans given by the RBI to state governments. Until the Committee submits its final recommendations, the WMA limit has been increased by 30% from the existing limit, for all states and UTs. The revised limits will be in force between April 1 and September 30, 2020.[16]

PM CARES Fund 

The central government has set up a national fund to deal with emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public charitable trust known as the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) will provide relief to those affected by COVID-19.  The trust is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes members such as the Defence Minister, Home Minister, and Finance Minister.[17]

Donations made by a person to the PM CARES Fund are 100% tax deductible.[18]  Non-residents can also contribute to the Fund through foreign inward remittances.[19] 

Health measures

COVID-19 testing 

Currently, government facilities are offering free of cost diagnosis to all individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.[20]  Further, the government has approved certain private laboratories to test individuals for COVID-19.  The cost of screening in private labs may not exceed Rs 4,500.[21]   As of April 7, there are 136 government testing centres for analysing samples of COVID-19 and 3 additional collection centres.[22]   Further, there were 59 private labs offering testing in 12 states.  These states are Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Gujarat.[23]

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also laid down guidelines for those who may be tested at these laboratories.   These include: (i) symptomatic contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and (ii) symptomatic persons with a travel history to COVID-19 affected countries, (iii) symptomatic healthcare workers, and (iv) persons with severe respiratory diseases.21

Containment plan for large outbreaks

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has created a plan to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease.  Some of the measures suggested in the plan include:[24] 

  • Geographic quarantine:   This strategy requires the restriction of movement of people to and from a defined geographic area where there is a large outbreak.  

  • Cluster Containment:  This strategy will contain the disease within a defined geographic area by early detection of cases.  Cluster containment will include geographic quarantine, social distancing, testing all suspected cases, and awareness amongst the public. 

Restrictions on export of medicines and medical equipment

The central government placed restrictions on the export of certain medical equipment and medication so as to ensure its availability in India.  For example, the export of ventilators, surgical masks, diagnostic kits, and medications such as paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine is restricted.[25],[26],[27],[28]

Travel restrictions

Domestic and international travel banned; issue of visas suspended

Civil Aviation:  All passenger domestic air travel within the country is banned from March 24 till April 14, 2020.[29],[30]  All international commercial passenger travel has been banned till April 14, 2020 (cargo and certain other flights are exempted).[31]  All existing visas issued to nationals of any country except those issued to diplomats, officials, UN/international organisations, employment and project visas are suspended from March 13 till April 15, 2020.[32] 

Railways:  Indian Railways suspended all passenger trains till April 14, 2020.[33]  Transportation of essential commodities will continue.[34]  Railways has also made parcel vans available for quick transportation for e-commerce companies and other customers including state governments to transport certain goods.   These include medical supplies, medical equipment, food, etc. in small parcel sizes.[35]  

For a detailed summary of the main policy decisions taken by the central government with regard to COVID-19, please see here.

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


[1] Novel coronavirus outbreak in China, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, January 17, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/TraveladvisorytotravelersvisitingChina17012020.pdf.

[2] Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website, last accessed on March 31, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/index.html.

[3] Order No. 1-29/2020-PP, National Disaster Management Authority, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/ndma%20order%20copy.pdf.

[4] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHAorder%20copy.pdf.

[5] “Guidelines on measures to be taken by Ministries/Department of Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities for containment of COVID-19 Epidemic in the Country”, Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/Guidelines.pdf.

[6] Second Addendum to Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 24, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_SecondAddendum_27032020.pdf.

[7] “Consolidated Guidelines on the measures to be taken by Ministries/Departments of Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities for containment of COVID-10 Epidemic in the Country, as notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 24.03.2020 and further modified on 25.03.2020 and 27.03.2020”, Ministry of Home Affairs, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_ConsolidatedGuidelinesofMHA_28032020.pdf.

[8] D.O. No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 29, 2020, http://164.100.117.97/WriteReadData/userfiles/3rd%20Addendum%20to%20Lockdown%20Guidelines%20on%20exempted%20Goods%20and%20Services.pdf.

[9] Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry of Home Affairs, March 29, 2020, https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHA%20Order%20restricting%20movement%20of%20migrants%20and%20strict%20enforement%20of%20lockdown%20measures%20-%2029.03.2020.pdf.

[10] “Finance Minister announces Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor to help them fight the battle against Corona Virus”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, March 26, 2020.

[11] “Monetary and Fiscal policy response by Government of Indian and Regulators”, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, March 27, 2020, https://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/India%20economic%20policy%20response%20on%20%20COVID%2019%20Fiscal%20and%20Monetary%20as%20on%2027032020.pdf.

[12] “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-19”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 29, 2020. 

[13] Seventh Bi-Monthly Policy Statement 2019-20”, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, March 27, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR2129F5E23A447E0F4A00955429716C53F5A2.PDF.

[14] “Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Practices”, Reserve Bank of India, Press Releases, March 27, 2020, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=49582.

[15] “COVID-19 – Regulatory Package”, Notifications, Reserve Bank of India, March 27, 2020, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11835.

[16] RBI announces further measures for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Reserve Bank of India, April 1, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PressRelease/PDFs/PR2167BA409AC37FA8460497BA0C9B283E5DD9.PDF.

[17] Appeal to generously donate to ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund)’, Press Information Bureau, Prime Minister’s Office, March 28, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1608851.

[18] The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Ordinance, 2020, Gazette of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, March 31, 2020, http://www.egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/218979.pdf.

[19] Rupee Drawing Arrangement – Remittance to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) Fund, Reserve Bank of India, April 3, 2020, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Notification/PDFs/NOT2087A69F5158C174585A46C69B78BD96DBD.PDF.

[20] Strategy for COVID-19 testing in India, India Council for Medical Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 17, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/LabTestingAdvisory.pdf.

[21] Guidelines for COVID-19 testing in private laboratories in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 21, 2002 https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/NotificationofICMguidelinesforCOVID19testinginprivatelaboratoriesiIndia.pdf.

[22] Government Approved Laboratories by ICMR, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 7, 2020.  https://icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/upload_documents/Govt_Labs_functional_for_COVID19_testing_05042020.pdf.

[23] Private Approved Laboratories by ICMR, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 7, 2020.  https://icmr.nic.in/sites/default/files/upload_documents/Private_Labs_06042020.pdf

[24] Containment Plan for Large Outbreaks, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, April 4, 2020, https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/3ContainmentPlanforLargeOutbreaksofCOVID19Final.pdf.

[25] S.O. 1171(E), Amendment in Export Policy of Masks, Ventilators and textile raw material for masks and coveralls, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, March 19, 2020, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/218857.pdf

[26] S.O. 955(E), Amendment in Export Policy of APIs and formulations made from these APIs, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, March 3, 2020, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/216551.pdf.

[27] Notification no. 01/2015-2020, Amendment in Export Policy of Hydroxychloroquine, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, April 4, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1492.IND_Export_Restriction_Hydroxychloroquine_Apr_4.pdf

[28] Notification no. 59/2015-2020, Amendment in Export Policy of Diagnostic Kits, April 4, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1491.IND_Export_Restriction_Diagnostic_Kits_Apr_4.pdf.

[29] AV. 11011/1/2020-US(AG) Office-MOCA, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2020, https://www.civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/Revised-%20COVID-19%20-%20Order%20under%20Section%208B.pdf.

[30] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, March 27, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130618666

[31] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, March 26, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130618625

[32] No.4/1/2020-IR, Director General of Civil Aviation, January 30 to March 17, 2020, https://dgca.gov.in/digigov-portal/Upload?flag=iframeAttachView&attachId=130617742

[33] “Ministry of Railways extends Cancellation of Passenger Train Services till 2400 hrs of 14th April, 2020”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 25, 2020. 

[34] “Transportation of essential commodities to various parts of the country by Indian Railways continues at full speed”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 30, 2020.  

[35] “Indian Railways to run Special Parcel Trains for carriage of essential items in small parcel sizes during the complete lockdown in fight against COVID-19”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Railways, March 29, 2020.  

English translation unavailable for .
English translation unavailable for .

Tenure and salaries of CIC and ICs under the Right to Information Rules, 2019

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 amended the Right to Information Act, 2005.  The RTI Act, 2005 specified the tenure, terms of service and salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at the central and state levels, in the parent law.  The RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019 removed these provisions and stated that the central government will notify the term and quantum of salary through rules.[1],[2]  

The Right to Information Rules, 2019 were notified on October 24, 2019.[3]  These rules set out the tenure, terms of service and salaries of the CIC and ICs at the state and central levels.  Table 1 compares the provisions related to the tenure and salary of the CIC and ICs under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Right to Information Rules, 2019

Table 1:  Comparison of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Right to Information Rules, 2019

Provision

RTI Act, 2005

RTI Rules, 2019

Term

The CIC and ICs (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years. 

The CIC and ICs (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of three years. 

Salary

The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners (Rs 2,50,000 per month)

Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners (Rs 2,50,000 per month) and the Chief Secretary to the state government (Rs 2,25,000 per month), respectively. 

The CIC and ICs (at the central level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,50,000 and Rs. 2,25,000 per month, respectively.

 

 

 

 

CICs and ICs (at the state level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,25,000 per month.

Source: The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019; The High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act, 2017; Indian Administrative Services (Pay) Rules, 2016; PRS.

 

[1] Right to Information Act, 2005, https://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf.

[2] Right to Information (Amendment Act), 2019, file:///C:/Users/Dell/Downloads/The%20Right%20to%20Information%20(Amendment)%20Bill,%202019%20Text.pdf.

[3] The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/213438.pdf.

Explainer: The Code on Occupation Safety, Health and Working Condition

Presently, there are around 40 central laws regulating different aspects of labour such as, industrial dispute resolution, bonus payments, and working conditions.  The Ministry of Labour and Employment has proposed to consolidate these laws into four codes—wages, social security, industrial safety and welfare, and industrial relations.

The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019.[1]  The Code consolidates 13 labour laws relating to safety, health and working conditions.  These include the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.  In this context, we explain key provisions of the Code.

Who will be covered under the Code?

The Code applies to organisations employing at least 10 workers, and to all mines and docks.  Provisions of this Code will cover both employees and workers.  Employees include individuals in managerial and administrative positions.  However, the Code does not apply to apprentices, or to offices of the central or state governments.

Does the Code create special provisions for different types of organisations and workers?

Apart from prescribing health and safety provisions that apply to all organisations, the Code also outlines special requirements for different types of organisations (such as factories and mines) and workers (such as beedi and cigar workers).  These special provisions include exceptions or additional requirements.  For example, under the Code, factories are required to get a license in addition to registering under the general provisions of the Code. Similarly, the Code requires certain contractors to get licenses before hiring any contract labour.  Further, audio-visual workers can only be hired after signing an agreement with employers, which must be registered with a government authority.

What are the duties of employers and employees?

The Code lays down several duties of employers.  These include, providing a workplace that is free from hazards that may cause injury or diseases, and providing free annual health examinations to employees.  For certain organisations such as, factories and mines, the employer may have additional responsibilities. These include the obligation to notify authorities in case of an accident at the workplace that leads to death or serious bodily injury of an employee.

Under the Code, employees must take care of their own health and safety, comply with the specified standards, and report unsafe situations to the inspector-cum-facilitator.  Employees also have the right to obtain information related to safety and health standards from the employer.  They may do this by directly approaching the employer, or through a Safety Committee representative.   

Will work hours be uniform for all workers and employees?

Work hours for different types of organisations and employees will be notified by the government.  This is different from the current labour laws, many of which specify work hours within the law itself.  For example, the Factories Act, 1948 provides for a maximum 10 hours of work per day and 60 hours of work per week.[2] 

The Code also changes work hour requirements for women.  The current laws such as, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, prohibit women from working after 7 pm and before 6 am.[3],[4]  However, the Code permits female workers to work past 7 pm and before 6 am with their consent and the approval of the government.  

What working conditions and welfare facilities does the Code provide for?

The employer is required to provide a hygienic work environment with: (i) ventilation, (ii) comfortable temperature, (iii) sufficient space, (iv) clean drinking water, and (v) latrine and urinal accommodations.  In addition, the government may specify certain other facilities such as, canteens, first aid boxes, and crèches that an employer must provide for.  This is a shift from the current legislation which provides for welfare facilities like canteens and crèches, in the law itself.  For instance, the Factories Act, 1948 requires the provision of canteens, ambulances, and first aid kits for organisations depending on the number of workers employed in the organisation.2

What is the leave policy for workers?

The Code states that no employee can be made to work for more than six days a week.  However, exceptions could be provided for motor transport workers.   Annually, workers must receive one day off for every 20 days they have worked.   While calculating annual leave, maternity leave and periods of lay off will be counted as days spent on duty.

What are the authorities set up under the Code?

The Code requires central and state governments to set up Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Boards at the national and state level, respectively.  These Boards will advise the central and state governments on the standards, rules, and regulations to be framed under the Code.  

The composition of the National Advisory Board includes five representatives for employers, five representatives of employees, and five reputed persons from the fields related to occupational health and safety, amongst other members.  The composition of State Advisory Boards will be decided by state governments.

How is the Code being enforced?

An inspector-cum-facilitator may be appointed by the government to inspect workplaces, inquire and investigate accidents, and provide safety information to workers.  In the case of factories, mines, and docks, the inspector may close or restrict employment in parts of the organisation if there is a health and safety risk.

The Code also prescribes penalties for violating provisions of the Code.  An offence that leads to the death of an employee could result in imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine up to five lakh rupees, or both.  Further, at least 50% of such fine may be given as compensation to the heirs of the victim.  For any other violation where the penalty is not specified, the employer will be penalised with a fine between two and three lakh rupees.  On the other hand, if an employee violates provisions of the Code, he could be fined up to Rs 10,000.

Does the Code provide gender specific provisions?

The Code includes certain provisions specific to female and transgender workers.  With respect to women, the government can prohibit employment of women in certain organisations if working there may be dangerous to their health and safety.  Further, the Code allows female workers to work night shifts with their consent and subject to approval of the government.  The Code also acknowledges transgender persons as a third gender by requiring separate urinal and latrine accommodations, rest rooms, washing spaces, and locker rooms for male, female, and transgender workers.  

[1] Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Occupational%20Safety%2C%20Health%20and%20Working%20Conditions%20Code%2C%202019.pdf.

[2] Factories Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/TheFactoriesAct1948.pdf

[3] Mines Act, 1952, http://www.dgms.gov.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Mines%20Act,%201952.pdf.

[4] Plantations Labour Act, 1951, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/The-Plantation-Labour-Act-1951.pdf.

[5] Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, http://labour.bih.nic.in/acts/beedi-and-cigar-workers-act-1966.pdf.