Relaxation of labour laws across states

Anya Bharat Ram - May 12, 2020

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

Tags:

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

Anya Bharat Ram - 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.

Tags:

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

Anya Bharat Ram - 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.

Tags:

Protection of healthcare service personnel

Anya Bharat Ram - April 29, 2020

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.

Tags:

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

Anya Bharat Ram - April 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.

Tags:

Central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Apr 13-20, 2020)

Anya Bharat Ram - April 20, 2020

As of April 20, 2020, there are 17,265 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India.  Since April 13, 8,113 new cases have been registered.  Out of the confirmed cases so far, 2,547 patients have been cured/discharged and 543 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 13 and April 20, 2020. 

image

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, PRS.

Lockdown

Lockdown to remain in force until May 3, 2020

The lockdown has been extended until May 3, 2020 with certain relaxations taking force as of April 20, 2020.  Activities that continue to remain prohibited after April 20, 2020 include: (i) all international and domestic travel except for healthcare workers and security purposes, (ii) passenger travel in trains, buses and taxis, (iii) industrial activities and hospitality services (other than those permitted), (iv) all educational institutions, and (v) all religious gatherings.  Activities that are permitted after April 20, 2020 include: (i) all health services such as hospitals, clinics, and vets, (ii) agricultural operations, fisheries, and plantations, (iii) public utilities including provision of LPG and postal services, (iv) financial establishments such as non-banking financial institutions, banks and ATMs, (v) e-commerce for essential goods only, and (vi) industrial activities such as oil and gas refineries and manufacturing.  Persons who do not follow the lockdown may be punishable with imprisonment up to one year and a fine, or both.  States and union territories may not dilute these lockdown guidelines specified by the central government.  However, they may implement stricter measures.

Certain areas within hotspots demarcated as containment zones

Hotspots refer to areas where there are large COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters with a significant spread of COVID-19.  Within hotspots, certain areas may be demarcated as containment zones by the state or district administrations.  There will be a strict perimeter control in the containment zones.  Inward and outward movement from the containment zones will be restricted except for essential services such as medical emergencies, and law and order related activities. 

Movement of stranded migrant labour

The Ministry of Home Affairs has permitted the movement of stranded migrant labour within the state in which they are stranded for work in activities permitted after the relaxation of the lockdown on April 20, 2020.  These activities include industrial work, manufacturing, and construction.  State governments may undertake skill mapping of migrant labourers and transport them to worksites if they are asymptomatic and willing to work. Movement of migrant labour across state borders continues to be prohibited. 

Financial Measures

RBI announced additional measures to combat economic situation due to COVID-19

The International Monetary Fund’s Economic Counsellor has estimated the cumulative loss over 2020 and 2021 to global GDP due to the global economic lockdown to be around 9 trillion dollars.  To combat the economic impact of COVID-19 in India, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced several additional measures.  These include: (i) reduction in reverse repo rate from 4% to 3.75%, (ii) targeted long-term repo operations for an aggregate amount of Rs 50,000 crore, (iii) refinancing of financial institutions such as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Small Industries Development Bank of India, and National Housing Bank for a total amount of Rs 50,000 crore to enable them to meet the financing needs of sectors they cater to.

Dividend payments by banks 

In light of the economic impact of COVID-19, the RBI announced that banks shall not make any further dividend payouts from the profits pertaining to the financial year which ended on March 31, 2020.  According to RBI, this will allow banks to conserve capital to retain their capacity to support the economy and absorb losses. This restriction will be reassessed based on the financial results of banks for the quarter ending in on September 30, 2020.

Short term credit to states 

RBI has announced an increase in the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limits for states and UTs. WMA limits refer to temporary loans given by the RBI to state governments. The WMA limit has been increased by 60% from the limit as on March 31, 2020, for all states and UTs. The revised limits will be in force between April 1 and September 30, 2020.

Travel and export

Travel restrictions to continue

Since the lockdown has been extended until May 3, 2020, domestic and international travel remains prohibited.  All domestic and international flights will not function until May 3, 2020.  Further, the Director General of Civil Aviation has specified that airlines should not start allowing ticket bookings from May 4, 2020 onwards as there has been no clearance for such activities to commence.  All passenger trains will also remain cancelled until May 3, 2020.  There will be a full refund for flight tickets purchased during the lockdown period for travel before May 3, 2020.  Further, there will be a full refund for tickets booked for trains that were cancelled during the lockdown and cancellation of advance bookings of tickets for trains not yet cancelled.  

Export of paracetamol

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has specified that formulations made of paracetamol may be freely exported from April 17, 2020 onwards.  However, the export of paracetamol active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) will continue to be restricted. On March 3, 2020, the export of both formulations made of paracetamol and paracetamol APIs was restricted.

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

 

Tags: