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Uttarakhand Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020 - April 15, 2020)

With the spread of COVID-19, along with the central government, the state governments have also announced several policy decisions to contain and prevent the spread of the virus.   In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the Uttarakhand Government in this regard as of April 16, 2020.

As of April 15, 2020, 2,413 samples have been sent for testing in Uttarakhand.  Of these, 37 have been found COVID-19 positive and the results of 354 samples are awaited.  Of the 37 confirmed cases, 9 patients have been cured/discharged.[1]

Movement Restrictions

To contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Government of Uttarakhand took the following measures for restricting the movement of people in the state.
 

  • On March 20, the Department of Health restricted the entry of all tourists (domestic and foreign) into the state.[2]  The Department further issued orders for the closure of all educational institutions, gyms, swimming pools, museums, cultural and social centres, and theatres until March 31.[3]
     

  • On March 22, the state announced a complete lockdown till March 31.[4]  Restrictions during the lockdown included: (i) prohibiting the gathering of more than five people at any public place, (ii) suspending all public transport including taxis and auto-rickshaws, and (iii) closure of all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories.  Establishments providing essential goods and services were excluded from the lockdown restrictions.  These include: police, medical and health, print and electronic media, food, groceries, and their transportation, among others.4 
     

  • On March 25, the central government announced on a 21-day country-wide lockdown till April 14.[5]  On April 14, the lockdown was further extended till May 3, 2020.[6]  
     

  • On April 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines on the measures to be taken by state governments until May 3.[7]  As per these guidelines, select activities will be permitted from April 20 onwards, to mitigate hardship to the public due.  These activities include health services, agriculture and related activities, certain financial sector activities, operation of Anganwadis, MNREGA works, and cargo movement, among others.  Further, subject to certain conditions, commercial and private establishments, industrial establishments, government offices, and construction activities will also be permitted.7 

Health Measures

Uttarakhand Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations 2020

On March 15, 2020, the government notified the Uttarakhand Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations, 2020 for the containment of COVID-19 in the state.[8]  Key features of the regulations include the following: 

  • All hospitals (government and private) must have dedicated flu corners for the screening of suspected COVID-19 cases.  
     

  • The spread of any misinformation must be avoided.  No person or organisation can use any print or electronic media for information regarding COVID-19 without prior permission of the state health department.

Guidelines for citizens, healthcare facilities and government departments

The state issued several guidelines and advisories on various subjects related to the containment of the virus.[9] These guidelines have been targeted towards citizens, healthcare facilities, as well as government departments. Some of these guidelines are given below: 

  • For citizens: These include guidelines on the use of masks by the public, guidelines for home quarantine, and advisory to not consume tobacco to prevent the virus.8   
     

  • For healthcare facilities: Guidelines for health care facilities include: sample collection, packaging and transport guidelines, infection prevention control for suspected cases, clinical management of COVID – 19, and discharge policy for COVID-19 patients, among others.8
     

  • For government: Guidelines for government departments include: guidelines for cluster containment, strategy, advisory on the use of hydroxychloroquine for high-risk population, and guidelines for quarantine facilities for COVID-19.8

Administrative Measures

On March 21, the state government cancelled all leaves for employees from the Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare and ordered all the employees on leave to report back.[10]  Further, on March 19, the state government announced that the administrative control of all properties and accommodations under the tourism department and other government enterprises will be given to the respective District Magistrates, temporarily.[11]  

Education

On March 21, the state government postponed the correction of all state board examination booklets, which were to be corrected from April 1 to April 15, 2020.[12]  The government also postponed exams for the Forest Research Institute, which were supposed to be conducted in March.[13]  

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

 

[1] Dehradun Health Bulletin on Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19), Status as on April 15, 2020 Time: 05:30 PM, Uttarakhand State Control Room COVID -19, Health and Family Welfare, Uttarakhand, http://health.uk.gov.in/files/Corrected-15-04-2020-Health-Bulletin.pdf.

[2] Order No. 48/PS-Secy(H)/2020, Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare, March 20, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/427.UK_Advisory_for_Tourists_20_Mar.pdf.

[3] Advisory on social distancing measure in view of spread of COVID-19 disease, Government of Uttarakhand, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1835.UK_Social_Distancing_Advisory_Uttarakhand.pdf.

[4] Order No. UKHFWS/PS-MDNHM/2019-20/217, Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare and Medical Education, March 22, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/432.UK_Order_Lockdown_Mar_22.pdf.

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

[6] “PM addresses the nation for 4th time in 4 Weeks in India’s fight against COVID-19” Press Release, Prime Minister’s office, April 14, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1614255.

[8] Notification No. 370/XXVIII(1)/2020-01(06)/2020, Department of Medical Health and Medical Education, March 15, 2020, http://health.uk.gov.in/files/The_Uttarakhand__Epidemic__Disease__COVID-19_Regulation_2020.pdf.

[9] Website of Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare, Corona (COVID19) updates, Government of Uttarakhand, last visited on March 16, http://health.uk.gov.in/pages/display/140-novel-corona-virus-guidelines-and-advisory-.

[10] Order No. 1P/Ra0pu0/miscellaneous/1/2018, Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare, March 19, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/430.UK_DG-Order-Cancellalation_of_Leave_Health_Workers_21_Mar.pdf.

[11] Order No. 42/Secy Health/2020, Department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare, March 19, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1826.UK_Advisory_for_KMVN_and_GMVN_Mar19.pdf

[12] Advisory No. 123/XXIV-B-5/2020/03(01)/2020, Secretary Uttarakhand Government, March 21, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/429.UK_Advisory_for_Board_Student_of_Uttarakhand_21_Mar.pdf.

[13] Advisory No. 122/XXIV-B-5/2020/03(01)/2020, Secretary Uttarakhand Government, March 21, 2020, https://prsindia.org/files/covid19/notifications/1828.UK_Advisory_for_Board_Student_of_FRI_Uttarakhand_Mar21.pdf.

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Government of Karnataka’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Feb 2020–April 14, 2020)

As of April 13, 2020, there have been 260 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Karnataka.  Of these, 70 have been discharged and 10 have died.[1]  In order to contain the spread of the disease, both, the Central and State governments have come up with a series of policy responses.  In this blog, we take a look at the key measures taken by the Government of Karnataka in this regard as of April 14, 2020.

Movement restrictions

To contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Government of Karnataka took the following measures to restrict the movement of people in the state:
 

  • On March 13, the Directorate of Health and Family Welfare ordered the closure of various establishments such as theatres, pubs, gyms, malls, swimming pools, and educational institutions until March 21.  The order also directed all international passenger arrivals to be mandatorily home quarantined for 14 days.[2]
     
  • On March 20, the above order was revised to extend the closure of said establishments until April 1.  The order also banned all religious gatherings.[3]
     
  • Further, on March 23, all bus services to and from the nine districts that had reported COVID-19 positive cases were completely stopped until April 1.[4]
     
  • The central government later announced a 21-day country-wide lockdown starting March 25.[5] This was followed by the announcement of a pass system by the Bengaluru Commissioner of Police on March 25 to regulate the movement of people in Bengaluru City.[6]
     
  • On April 6, District Collectors were empowered to issue inter-district transport passes.[7]
     
  • On April 14, the Prime Minister announced the extension of the lockdown till May 3, 2020.[8] On April 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines on the measures to be taken by governments until May 3. As per these guidelines, to mitigate hardship to the public, select activities will be permitted from April 20 onwards. These include health services, agriculture and related activities, financial sector, MNREGA works, cargo movement etc. In addition, subject to conditions, commercial and private establishments, industrial establishments, government offices, construction activities etc, will also be permitted.[9]

Essential Goods and Services

  • The pass system in Bengaluru City facilitated the movement of personnel involved in manufacturing and providing essential goods and services. 
     
  • On April 2, the government announced that it will distribute the excess stock of milk to poor people for free.[10]
     
  • On April 6, the government declared that rations for the month of April will be supplied to people without the usual OTP authentication process.[11]

Health Measures

Karnataka Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations 2020

On March 11, 2020, the government released the Karnataka Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID19 in the state.  These regulations specify the protocol for hospitals to follow for screening and treating COVID-19 patients. These regulations are valid for one year.[12]

Preventive measures

On February 5, 2020, the Department of Health & Family Welfare and AYUSH services issued the Terms of Reference for district-level teams to take preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19.[13] The terms relate to various administrative and complementary aspects related to COVID19 management. These include activities of various teams, human resource management, training and awareness generation etc.

Following this, on April 6, 2020, the Department also issued instructions to all districts to prepare a District Level Crisis Management Plan to prevent large outbreaks of COVID-19.[14]

Setting up of fever clinics, isolation centres etc

On March 4, the state government issued guidelines to the district administration to ensure hospitals maintain a 10-bed isolation ward for COVID-19 patients.[15]  

On March 31, the government issued orders to establish fever clinics as the first points of contact for COVID-19 suspect patients.  These fever clinics would have COVID-19 Rapid Response team of one doctor, two nurses and a health care worker.[16]

Personnel measures

On March 30, the Department of Health & Family Welfare invited applications from doctors for immediate appointment (on contract basis) in Urban Primary Health Centres in Bengaluru City.[17]  Subsequently, on April 2, the state government issued orders to extend the tenure of retiring medical professionals from March 31, 2020 to June 30, 2020.[18]

On March 26, all Registered Medical Practitioners were permitted to provide telemedicine services during the lockdown period. Telemedicine services will be available for minor, non-COVID-19 ailments, and  existing patients only.[19]

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 (COVID19) Media Bulletin, Karnataka, Department of Health and Family Welfare, last accessed on April 15, 2020, https://karunadu.karnataka.gov.in/hfw/kannada/nCovDocs/14-04-2020(English).pdf

[2] GOK order No. DD/SSU/COVID-19/17/19-20, Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka, March 13, 2020, 

https://karunadu.karnataka.gov.in/hfw/kannada/nCovDocs/Notification(Covid-19)-Dir-HFWS.pdf

[3] Revised GOK order No. DD/SSU/COVID-19/17/19-20, Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Karnataka, March 20, 2020  https://karunadu.karnataka.gov.in/hfw/kannada/nCovDocs/Revised-Order-COVID-19(20-03-2020).pdf

[4] Order No. STA-6/SCP/PR-20/2019-20, Directorate of Transport, Government of Karnataka, March 23, 2020, https://transport.karnataka.gov.in/storage/pdf-files/restrictions.pdf

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

[6] Order No.02 / CP-BLR/Covid-19/2020, Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru City, March 25, 2020, https://karnataka.gov.in/storage/pdf-files/covid_rules/Covid_pass.pdf

[7] Order of Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka, April 6, 2020, https://ksuwssb.karnataka.gov.in/frontend/opt1/images/covid/Orders/IMG-20200406-WA0005.jpg

[8] “PM addresses the nation for 4th time in 4 Weeks in India’s fight against COVID-19” Press Release, Prime Minister’s office, April 14, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1614255

[12]Karnataka Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations 2020, Government of Karnataka, March 11, 2020,  https://karunadu.karnataka.gov.in/hfw/kannada/nCovDocs/Exercise-of-Powers-COVID-10(11-03-2020).pdf

[13] No. JRO(1A)/148/2019-20, Department of Health & Family Welfare and AYUSH Services Government of Karnataka, February 5, 2020, https://ksuwssb.karnataka.gov.in/frontend/opt1/images/covid/Circulars/%E0%B2%B8%E0%B3%81%E0%B2%A4%E0%B3%8D%E0%B2%A4%E0%B3%8B%E0%B2%B2%E0%B3%86%20%E0%B3%A8%E0%B3%AA.pdf  

[15]Circular No. HFW 47 CGM 2020 (P), Government of Karnataka, March 3, 2020,   https://karunadu.karnataka.gov.in/hfw/kannada/nCovDocs/Guidelines-Isolation-Ward.pdf

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Andhra Pradesh Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020 - April 14, 2020)

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 disease to be a global pandemic.  Along with the Central government, State governments have announced several policy decisions to prevent and contain the spread of the virus in their respective states.  In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the Andhra Pradesh Government in this regard as of April 14, 2020.

As of April 14, 2020, there are 473 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Andhra Pradesh.  Of these, 14 patients have been cured/discharged and 9 have died.[1]

Movement Restrictions

To contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Government of Andhra Pradesh took the following measures for restricting the movement of people in the state.

  • On March 18 and 19, the Department of Health issued orders to close educational institutions and non-essential commercial establishments such as cinema halls, gyms, malls, and swimming pools until March 31.[2]
     
  • On March 22, the state announced a complete lockdown till March 31.  Gathering of more than four people was prohibited at any public place.  Establishments providing essential goods and services were excluded from the lockdown restrictions.2  This was followed by the central government’s announcement on a 21-day country-wide lockdown starting March 25.[3]  On April 14, the Prime Minister announced the extension of lockdown till May 3, 2020.[4]

Essential Goods and Services

The state government exempted certain essential commodities and services such as fruits, vegetables, milk, groceries, public distribution system through Fair Price Shops, and medicines from the lockdown.  It also formed the District Level Committees headed by Joint Collector for fixing and monitoring the prices of essential food items.2

On April 3, the government declared that all government and private health care and medical facilities will be considered as essential services for a period of six months.2 

Welfare Measures

The state government has announced the following welfare measures for the people who are in distress due to the lockdown. 

  • One kilogram of red gram dal, and the ration of rice for the month of April will be provided for free to all rice cardholders.2
     
  • A one-time support of Rs 1,000 will be provided to all rice card holding families for buying essential commodities such as groceries and vegetables.2
     
  • The state government will provide free ration to NGOs running old age homes and child care institutions.  This free ration will include 10 kg of rice and one kg of red gram dal per resident.[5]
     
  • On March 31, the State Government directed the district administration to set up Special Shelter Centres in urban areas for providing food and shelter to the migrant workers and homeless in the state.2

Health Measures

Andhra Pradesh Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations 2020

On March 13, 2020, the government notified the Andhra Pradesh Epidemic Disease COVID-19 Regulations, 2020 for containment of COVID in the state.  As per these regulations, both government and private hospitals must have dedicated COVID-19 isolation facilities.2

Setting up of quarantine centres at district and constituency level

On March 25, the Department of Health issued orders for setting up a 100-bed quarantine centre in every constituency and 200-bed quarantine centre at the district level.[6]  On March 31, certain hospitals were designated as exclusive hospitals for treating Corona positive patients.  These include: (i) four hospitals at the state level and (ii) 13 hospitals at district level (one hospital per district).2

Ban on spitting in public places

On April 12, the government issued an order prohibiting the use and spitting of smokeless tobacco or chewable tobacco/non-tobacco product, sputum in public places.[7]

Administrative Measures

The government announced 100% deferment of salaries of all the elected representatives of the state and 10% to 60% deferment for all the government employees of the state.[8]  Employees of the Medical and Health Department, Police Department, and sanitation workers employed in rural and urban local bodies are exempted from salary deferment.[9]

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


[1] COVID-19: Andhra Pradesh, Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare website, last accessed on April 14, 2020, http://hmfw.ap.gov.in/covid_dashboard.aspx.

[2] Compendium of Instructions, Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh, http://hmfw.ap.gov.in/COVID-19%20IEC/COMPENDIUM%20OF%20INSTRUCTIONS%20-%20COVID19.pdf.

[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] “PM addresses the nation for 4th time in 4 Weeks in India’s fight against COVID-19” Press Release, Prime Minister’s office, April 14, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1614255.

[5] G.O.RT.No. 58, Department for Women, Children, Differently Abled & Senior Citizens Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh, March 29, 2020.

[6] Order No.4/COVID-19/2020, Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh, March 25, 2020  http://hmfw.ap.gov.in/COVID-19%20IEC/4.GOI%20Guidelines%20and%20Advisories/InstantOrders/COVID%20INSTANT%20ORDER%20-%204.pdf.pdf.

[7] G.O.RT.No. 237, Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh, April 12, 2020.

[8] G.O.Ms.No.:26, Department of Finance, Government of Andhra Pradesh, March 31, 2020.

[9] G.O.Ms.No.:27, Department of Finance, Government of Andhra Pradesh, April 4, 2020.

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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.

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English translation unavailable for .

Impact of COVID-19 on Railway’s finances

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all passenger trains were suspended till April 14, 2020.  However, goods services have been continuing with trains carrying essential commodities to various parts of the country.   Railways has also made railway parcel vans available for quick mass transportation for e-commerce entities and other customers including state governments to transport certain goods.   These include medical supplies, medical equipment, food, etc. in small parcel sizes.  Besides these, Railways has taken several other actions to provide help during the pandemic. 

Since the travel ban extends from March 23 till April 14, 2020 (and may extend further), it will impact Railways’ finances for both 2019-20 and 2020-21.  In this post, we discuss the situation of Railways’ finances, and what could be the potential impact of the travel ban on Railways’ revenues.  

Impact of the travel ban on Railways’ internal revenue

Railways generates internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic.  In 2018-19 (latest actuals), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 67% and 27% of the internal revenue respectively.  The remaining is earned from other miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and sale of platform tickets.  In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn 65% of its internal revenue from freight and 27% from passenger traffic.  

Passenger traffic:   In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn Rs 61,000 crore from passenger traffic, an increase of 9% over the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 56,000 crore).  

As per numbers provided by the Ministry of Railways, up to February 2020, passenger revenue was approximately Rs 48,801 crore.  This is Rs 7,199 crore less than the 2019-20 revised estimates for passenger revenue, implying that this much amount will have to be generated in March 2020 to meet the revised estimate targets (13% of the year’s target).  However, the average passenger revenue in 2019-20 (for the 11 months) has been around Rs 4,432 crore.  Note that in March 2019 passenger revenue was Rs 4,440 crore.  With passenger travel completely banned since March 23, Railways will fall short of its target for passenger revenue in 2019-20.

As of now, it is unclear when travel across the country will resume to business as usual.  Some states have started extending the lockdown within their state.  In such a situation, the decline in passenger revenue could last longer than these three weeks of lockdown. 

Freight traffic:   In 2020-21, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,47,000 crore from goods traffic, an increase of 9% over the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 1,34,733 crore).   

As per numbers provided by the Ministry of Railways, up to February 2020, freight revenue was approximately Rs 1,08,658 crore.  This is Rs 26,075 crore less than the 2019-20 revised estimates for freight revenue.  This implies that Rs 26,075 crore will have to be generated by freight traffic in March 2020 to meet the revised estimate targets (19% of the year’s target).   However, the average freight revenue in 2019-20 (for the 11 months) has been around Rs 10,029 crore.  Note that in March 2019, freight revenue was Rs 16,721 crore.  

While passenger traffic has been completely banned, freight traffic has been moving.  Transportation of essential goods, and operations of Railways for cargo movement, relief and evacuation and their related operational organisations has been allowed under the lockdown.  Several goods carried by Railways (coal, iron-ore, steel, petroleum products, foodgrains, fertilisers) have been declared to be essential goods.  Railways has also started operating special parcel trains (to carry essential goods, e-commerce goods, etc.) since the lockdown.  These activities will help continue the generation of freight revenue. 

However, some goods that Railways transports, such as cement which contributes to about 8% of Railways’ freight revenue, have not been classified as essential goods.  Railways has also relaxed certain charges levied on freight traffic.  It remains to be seen if Railways will be able to meet its targets for freight revenue.  

Figure 1: Share of freight volume and revenue in 2018-19 (in %)

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Sources: Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Freight has been cross-subsidising passenger traffic; it may worsen this year

Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  With the ban on passenger travel and if the lockdown (in some form) were to continue, passenger operations will face more losses.  This may increase the cross-subsidy burden on freight.  Since Railways cannot increase freight charges any further, it is unclear how such cross-subsidisation would work. 

For example, in 2017-18, passenger and other coaching services incurred losses of Rs 37,937 crore, whereas freight operations made a profit of Rs 39,956 crore.   Almost 95% of profit earned from freight operations was utilised to compensate for the loss from passenger and other coaching services.  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 46,280 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 82% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2017-18, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.82.  

Railways expenditure 

While the travel ban has meant that Railways cannot run all its services, it still has to incur much of its operating expenditure.  Staff wages and pension have to be paid and these together comprise 66% of the Railways’ revenue expenditure.  Between 2015 and 2020 (budget estimate), Railways’ expenditure on salary has grown at an average annual rate of 13%.  

About 18% of the revenue expenditure is on fuel expenses, but that may see some decline due to a fall in oil prices.  Railways will also have to continue spending on maintenance, safety and depreciation as these are long-term costs that cannot be done away with.  In addition, regular maintenance of rail infrastructure will be necessary for freight operations.  

Revenue Surplus and Operating Ratio could further worsen

Railways’ surplus is calculated as the difference between its total internal revenue and its revenue expenditure (this includes working expenses and appropriation to pension and depreciation funds).  Operating Ratio is the ratio of the working expenditure (expenses arising from day-to-day operations of Railways) to the revenue earned from traffic.  Therefore, a higher ratio indicates a poorer ability to generate a surplus that can be used for capital investments such as laying new lines, or deploying more coaches.  A decline in revenue surplus affects Railways’ ability to invest in its infrastructure.  

In the last decade, Railways has struggled to generate a higher surplus.  Consequently, the Operating Ratio has consistently been higher than 90% (see Figure 2).  In 2018-19, the ratio worsened to 97.3% as compared to the estimated ratio of 92.8%.   The CAG (2019) had noted that if advances for 2018-19 were not included in receipts, the operating ratio for 2017-18 would have been 102.66%.

In 2020-21, Railways expects to generate a surplus of Rs 6,500 crore, and maintain the operating ratio at 96.2%.   With revenue generation getting affected due to the lockdown, this surplus may further decline, and the operating ratio may further worsen.  

Figure 2: Operating Ratio 

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Note: RE – Revised Estimates, BE – Budget Estimates.
Sources:  Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Other sources of revenue

Besides its own internal resources, Railways has two other primary sources of financing: (i) budgetary support from the central government, and (ii) extra-budgetary resources (primarily borrowings but also includes institutional financing, public-private partnerships, and foreign direct investment).  

Budgetary support from central government:  The central government supports Railways to expand its network and invest in capital expenditure.  In 2020-21, the gross budgetary support from the central government is proposed at Rs 70,250 crore.  This is 3% higher than the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 68,105 crore).  Note that with government revenue also getting affected due to the COVID pandemic, this amount may also change during the course of the year. 

Borrowings:  Railways mostly borrows funds through the Indian Railways Finance Corporation (IRFC).  IRFC borrows funds from the market (through taxable and tax-free bond issuances, term loans from banks and financial institutions), and then follows a leasing model to finance the rolling stock assets and project assets of Indian Railways.

In the past few years, Railways’ borrowings have increased sharply to bridge the gap between the available resources and expenditure.  Earlier, majority of the Railways’ capital expenditure used to be met from the budgetary support from central government.  In 2015-16, this trend changed with the majority of Railways’ capital expenditure being met through extra budgetary resources (EBR).   In 2020-21, Rs 83,292 crore is estimated to be raised through EBR, which is marginally higher than the revised estimates of 2019-20 (Rs 83,247 crore).  

Note that both these sources are primarily used to fund Railways’ capital expenditure.  Some part of the support from central government is used to reimburse Railways for the operating losses made on strategic lines, and for the operational cost of e-ticketing to IRCTC (Rs 2,216 crore as per budget estimates of 2020-21).  

If Railways’ revenue receipts decline this year, it may require additional support from the central government to finance its revenue expenditure, or finance it through its borrowings.  However, an increased reliance on borrowings could further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.  In the last few years, there has been a decline in the growth of both rail-based freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 3) and this has affected Railways’ earnings from its core business.  A decline in growth of revenue will affect the transporter’s ability to pay off its debt in the future. 

Figure 3: Volume growth for freight and passenger (year-on-year)

 

Note: RE – Revised Estimates; BE – Budget Estimates. 
Sources:  Expenditure Profile, Union Budget 2020-21; PRS.  

Social service by Railways

Besides running freight trains, Railways has also been carrying out several other functions, to help deal with the pandemic.  For example, Railways’ manufacturing capacity is being harnessed to help deal with COVID-19.  Production facilities available with Railways are being used to manufacture items like PPE gear.  Railways has also been exploring how to use its existing manufacturing facilities to produce simple beds, medical trolleys, and ventilators.  Railways has also started providing bulk cooked food to needy people at places where IRCTC base kitchens are located.   The transporter also opened up its hospitals for COVID patients.  

As on April 6, 2,500 rail coaches had been converted as isolation coaches.  On average, 375 coaches are being converted in a day, across 133 locations in the country. 

Considering that railways functions as a commercial department under the central government, the question is whether Railways should bear these social costs.  The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that there is a lack of clarity on the social and commercial objectives of Railways.  It may be argued that such services could be considered as a public good during a pandemic.  However, the question is who should bear the financial burden of providing such services?  Should it be Indian Railways, or should the central or state government provide this amount through an explicit subsidy?  

For details on the number of daily COVID cases in the country and across states, please see here.  For details on the major COVID related notifications released by the centre and the states, please see here.  For a detailed analysis of the Railways’ functioning and finances, please see here, and to understand this year’s Railways budget numbers, see here.