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

Anurag Vaishnav - May 29, 2020

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

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

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

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Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; PRS.

Finance

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

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

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

Travel and Movement 

Domestic Air travel resumes; fare limits set by government

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

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

Health

Guidelines for international arrivals issued

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

Movement of migrant labourers

Supreme Court gives an interim order regarding problems of migrant labourers

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

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

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

Other measures

PM CARES Fund included in the list of CSR eligible activities

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

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

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

Aditya Kumar - May 22, 2020

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

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

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Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan

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

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

Item

Key Topics covered

Amount (in Rs crore)

Stimulus from earlier measures

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

1,92,800

Part 1

Business including Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)

5,94,550

Part 2

Poor people including migrants and farmers.

3,10,000

Part 3

Agriculture and allied sectors.

1,50,000

Part 4 and Part 5

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

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

48,100

Sub Total

 

1,295,400

RBI Measures (Actual)

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

8,01,603

Grand Total

 

20,97,053

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

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

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

Finance

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

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

Lockdown 4.0

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

Zoning of areas

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

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

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

Prohibited Activities

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

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

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

National Directives for COVID Management

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

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

Guidelines for workplaces include:

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

Aarogya Setu

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

Aarogya Setu Data access and knowledge sharing protocol, 2020

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

Travel and Movement

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

Health

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

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

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Changes in Agricultural Marketing laws across states

Prachi Kaur - May 19, 2020

Since March, 2020, there has been a consistent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in India.  As of May 18, 2020, there were 96,169 confirmed cases of the infectious disease, of which 3,029 persons died.  To contain the spread of COVID-19 in India, the central government imposed a nation-wide lockdown on March 24 till April 14, now extended till May 31.  To ensure continued supply of agriculture produce during the lockdown and control the spread of the disease, some states have amended their respective Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws.  This blog explains the manner in which agriculture marketing is regulated in India, steps taken by the centre for the agriculture sector during the COVID-19 crisis, and the recent amendments in the APMC laws that are being announced by various states. 

How is agriculture marketing regulated in India?

Agriculture falls under the State List of the Constitution.  Agriculture marketing in most states is regulated by APMCs established by state governments under the respective APMC Acts.  The APMCs provide infrastructure for marketing of agricultural produce, regulate sale of such produce and collect market fees from such sale, and regulate competition in agricultural marketing.  In 2017, the central government released the model Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2017 to provide states with a template to enact new legislation and bring comprehensive market reforms in the agriculture sector.  The 2017 model Act aims to allow free competition, promote transparency, unify fragmented markets and facilitate flow of commodities, and encourage operation of multiple marketing channels.  In November 2019, the 15th Finance Commission (Chair: Mr N. K. Singh) in its report provided that states which enact and implement all features of this Model Act will be eligible for certain financial incentives.

What steps were taken by the central government in light of COVID-19?

On April 2, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare launched new features of the electronic-National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) platform to strengthen agriculture marketing by reducing the need of farmers to physically come to wholesale mandis for selling their harvested produce.  The e-NAM platform provides for contactless remote bidding and mobile-based any time payment for which traders do not need to either visit mandis or banks.  This helps in ensuring social distancing and safety in the APMC markets to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

On April 4, 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare issued an advisory to states for limiting the regulation under their APMC Acts.  The advisory called for facilitating direct marketing of agricultural produce, enabling direct purchase of the produce from farmers, farmer producer organisations, cooperatives by bulk buyers, big retailers, and processors. 

On May 15, 2020 the Union Finance Minister announced certain reforms for the agriculture sector of the country to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown.  Some of the major reforms include: (i) formulating a central law to ensure adequate choices to farmers to sell agricultural produce at attractive prices, barrier free inter-state trade, and framework for e-trading of agricultural produce, (ii) amending the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to enable better price realisation for agricultural produce such as all cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions, and potatoes, and (iii) creating a facilitative legal framework for contract farming, to enable farmers to engage directly with processors, large retailers, and exporters.

Which states have made changes to agriculture marketing laws?

The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet has approved an ordinance, and Madhya PradeshGujarat, and Karnataka have promulgated ordinances, to relax regulatory aspects of their APMC laws.  These Ordinances are summarised below:

Madhya Pradesh 

On May 1, 2020, the Madhya Pradesh government promulgated the Madhya Pradesh Krishi Upaj Mandi (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.  The Ordinance amends the Madhya Pradesh Krishi Upaj Mandi Act, 1972.  The 1972 Act regulates the establishment of an agricultural market and marketing of notified agricultural produce.  The following amendments have been made under the Ordinance:

  • Market yards:   The 1972 Act provides that in every market area, there should be a market yard, with one or more sub-market yards, for conducting all marketing activities such as assembling, grading, storage, sale, and purchase of the produce.  The Ordinance removes this provision and specifies that for every market area, there may be: (i) a principal market yard and sub-market yard managed by the APMC, (ii) a private market yard managed by a person holding a license (granted by the Director of Agriculture Marketing), and (iii) electronic trading platforms (where trading of notified produce is done electronically through internet).  

  • Director of Agricultural Marketing: The Ordinance provides for the appointment of the Director of Agricultural Marketing by the state government.  The Director will be responsible for regulating: (i) trading and connected activities for the notified agricultural produce, (ii) private market yards, and (iii) electronic trading platforms.   He may also grant licenses for these activities.  

  • Market fee: The Ordinance also provides that market fee for trading under licenses granted by the Director of Agricultural Marketing will be levied as prescribed by the state government.

Gujarat

On May 6, 2020, the Gujarat government promulgated the Gujarat Agricultural Produce Markets (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.  The Ordinance amends the Gujarat Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1963.  The amended Act is called the Gujarat Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 1963.  Key amendments made under the Ordinance are as follows:

  • Regulation of livestock market:   The Ordinance brings the regulation of marketing of livestock such as cow, buffalo, bullock, bull, and fish under the ambit of this Act. 

  • Unified market area:   The Ordinance provides that the state government may declare the whole state as one unified market area through a notification.  This can be done with the purpose of regulation of marketing of notified agricultural produce.

  • Unified single licence:  The Ordinance provides for the grant of a single unified trading license.  The license will be valid across the state in any market area.  Existing trade licenses must be converted into the single unified licenses within six months from the date of commencement of the Ordinance.  

  • Markets for conducting trading:  The Ordinance allows the state government to notify any place in the market area as the principal market yard, sub-market yard, market sub-yard, or farmer consumer market yard for the regulation of marketing of notified agricultural produce.  Certain places in the market area can also be declared a private market yard, a private market sub-yard, or a private farmer-consumer market yard.  The Ordinance adds that the notified agricultural produce may also be sold at other places to a licence holder, if especially permitted by a market committee.

  • Market sub-yards:   The Ordinance provides that a market area should have market-sub yards (warehouse, storage towers, cold storage enclosure buildings or such other structure or place or locality).  Further, it also provides that the owner of a warehouse, silo, cold storage or such other structure or place notified as market sub-yard, may collect a market fee on notified agricultural produce.  He may also collect user charge on de-notified agricultural produce transacted at the market sub-yard.  The rate of the fees should not exceed the rates notified by the state government.  However, no market fee shall be collected from farmers.

  • E-trading:  The Ordinance provides for the establishment and promotion of electronic trading (e-trading) platforms.  It provides that a license granted by the Director of Agricultural Marketing is necessary to establish an e-trading platform.   Further, it provides that applications on the e-trading platform shall be inter-operable with other e-platforms as per specifications and standards laid down by the Director.  This has been done to evolve a unified National Agricultural Market and integrate various e-platforms.

Karnataka

On May 16, the Karnataka government promulgated the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 The Ordinance amends the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) Act, 1966.  The 1966 Act regulates the buying and selling and the establishment of markets for agricultural produce throughout the state.  Key amendments made under the Ordinance are as follows:

  • Markets for agricultural produce:  The 1966 Act provides that no place except the market yard, market sub-yard, sub-market yard, private market yard, or farmer - consumer market yard shall be used for the trade of notified agricultural produce.  The Ordinance substitutes this to provide that the market committee shall regulate the marketing of notified agricultural produce in the market yards, market sub-yards and submarket yards.  Thus, the Act no longer bars any place for the trade of notified agricultural produce.

  • Penalty:  The 1966 Act provides that whoever uses any place for purchase or sale of notified agricultural produce can be punished with imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to Rs 5,000, or both.  The Ordinance removes this penalty provision from the Act.

Uttar Pradesh

On May 6, the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet approved the Uttar Pradesh Krishi Utpadan Mandi (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 According to the state’s press release, the Uttar Pradesh government has decided to remove 46 fruits and vegetables from the ambit of the Uttar Pradesh Krishi Utpadan Mandi Act, 1964.   The 1964 Act provides for the regulation of sale and purchase of notified agricultural produce and for the establishment and control of agricultural markets in Uttar Pradesh.  

  • Certain fruits and vegetables exempted from the provisions of the Act:  These fruits and vegetables include mango, apple, carrot, banana, and ladies’ finger.  The proposed amendment aims to facilitate the purchase of these products directly from farmers from their farms.  Farmers will be allowed to sell these products at the APMC mandis as well, where they will not be charged the mandi fee.  Only the user charge will be levied as prescribed by the state government.   As per the state government, this will entail a loss of revenue of approximately Rs 125 crore per year to the APMCs.

  • License:   Specific licenses can be procured to carry on trade at places other than APMC markets.  This will encourage the treatment of warehouses, silos, and cold storages as mandis.  The owners or managers of such establishments can charge the user fee for managing the mandi.   Further, unified license can be used to trade at village level.  

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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

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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.

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Assam Government’s Response to COVID-19

Akhil N.R. - May 6, 2020

As of May 5, Assam has 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Of these, 32 have been cured, and 1 person has died.  In this blog, we summarise some key decisions taken by the Government of Assam until May 5 for containing the spread of the pandemic in the state.

Movement Restrictions

For containing the spread of COVID-19 in the state, the Government of Assam took the following measures for restricting the movement of people in the state.  On March 19, the Department of Health and Family Welfare issued an order for closure of all museums, libraries, coaching centers among others until March 31.

Lockdown: To further restrict the movement of individuals, in order to contain the spread of the disease, the state government enforced a state-wide lockdown from March 24 to March 31.  The lockdown involved: (i) sealing the state borders, (ii) suspension of public transport services, (iii) closure of all commercial establishments, offices, and factories, and (iv) banning the congregation of more than five people at any public place.   Establishments providing essential goods and services were excluded from the lockdown restrictions.  Limited rituals were allowed in places of worship without any community participation.

This was followed by a nation-wide lockdown enforced by the central government between March 25 and April 14, now extended till May 18.  Starting from May 4, based on the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, the state government has allowed certain activities with restrictions in green zones of the state.  Activities such as e-commerce for all commodities, construction activities in urban areas, functioning of government and private offices among others are being allowed in green zones.

Health Measures

The Assam COVID-19 regulations, 2020: On March 18, the government issued the Assam COVID-19 regulations, 2020.   These regulations are valid for one year.  Key features of the regulations are as follows: 

  • All government and private hospitals should have separate corners for the screening of COVID patients.  Further, they should record the travel history of such persons during screening,

  • No hospital can refuse the treatment of suspected/ confirmed COVID-19 cases,

  • People travelled through affected areas must voluntarily report to the authorities, and

  • District administration can take necessary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, such as (i) sealing a geographical area, (ii) restricting the movement of vehicles and people, and (iii) initiating active and passive surveillance of COVID-19 cases.

The Assam COVID-19 Containment Regulations, 2020: On March 21, the government issued the Assam COVID-19 Containment Regulations, 2020.  These regulations detail the measures to be taken in case of community transmission within a geographical area.  These include enhanced active surveillance, testing of all suspected cases, isolation of cases and home quarantine of contacts, among others. 

Guidelines to Airports:  On March 18, the government issued instructions regarding procedures to be followed at the airports for the screening of passengers.  The guidelines allocate responsibilities such as thermal screening of passengers, counselling, transportation of passengers among others to various teams at the airports.

Medical colleges and Hospitals: On March 23, the Department of Health and Family Welfare directed all medical colleges and district hospitals to set up isolation wards.  On March 27, the Department of Health and Family Welfare released measures to be followed in medical colleges and hospitals.  These include: (i) seven days of training on critical care to all doctors, nurses, final year students of bachelor programs and Postgraduate students, (ii) Principals should set up a core team in every college for managing COVID-19 patients, among others.

Welfare measures

Food distribution: On March 28, the government decided to provide gratuitous relief such as rice, pulses among others to all wage earners, slum dwellers, rickshaw pullers, homeless, and migrant labourers living in municipal towns for seven days.

Minor Forest Produce (MFP): For enhancing the income of tribal farmers, the government revised rates of 10 MFPs such as honey, hill broom and added 26 new MFPs for Minimum support price in the state. 

One-time financial assistance for persons stranded outside India: On March 22, the government announced one-time financial assistance of $2,000 to residents of Assam stranded in foreign countries.  People who went abroad 30 days before the stoppage of international flights (on March 22) and are unable to return will receive this financial assistance.

Administrative measures

  • On March 21, the government constituted the task force at the State level and District level for implementation of various measures for containment of COVID-19 in the state. 

  • On April 2, the government constituted a committee for monitoring and checking of fake news across all forms of media.

  • On April 29, the Department of Finance announced certain austerity measures in the context of the fiscal situation that arose due to COVID-19. These include suspension of MLA area development funds from April to July 2020, reduction in establishment expenditure, and a ban on the purchase of vehicles by the government (except ambulances and for policy duty).

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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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.

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Gujarat Government’s Response to COVID-19

Anoop Ramakrishnan - May 2, 2020

On March 19, Gujarat reported its first two cases of COVID-19. Since then, the number of cases have risen steadily. As of May 2, Gujarat has 4,721 confirmed cases (second highest in the country, after Maharashtra) of COVID-19. Of this 3,750 are active cases and 236 have died. The state government has responded with various actions to contain the spread and impact of COVID-19.  In this blog, we look at the key measures taken by the Gujarat Government till May 1, 2020.

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Initial phase 

As COVID-19 cases were rising in other parts of the country, the Gujarat government notified the Gujarat Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations, 2020 on March 14,. These regulations detail the responsibilities of hospitals and individuals, and the powers of officials with regards to COVID-19. These include: (i) flu corners in all hospitals for screening purposes, (ii) mandatory collection of travel history of people during screenings in all hospitals, (iii) mandating people with travel history to COVID-affected countries to be isolated /quarantined based on symptoms, (iv) forced detention and isolation of suspected patients who refuse voluntary isolation, and (v) containment measures in an area once positive cases are detected.   Some of the other early measures are summarised below:

Health measures

  • The COVID-19 regulations were immediately supplemented with the n-COVID-19 Guidelines. These guidelines cover: (i) case definitions, (ii) basic infection prevention control measures, and (iii) standard precautions to be followed during the care and treatment of suspected patients.

  • On March 15, the government instructed all higher education institutions and other educational institutions including schools, polytechnics, anganwadis, to shut down till March 29. However, examinations of class X, XII, and universities were permitted to continue. Further, spitting in public was made a punishable offence. 

  • On March 19, the government ordered the closure of gyms, amusement parks, wedding halls, till March 31. Additionally, all private doctors, practising modern as well as traditional systems of medicine, were instructed to report suspect cases to the government. 

  • Fever Helpline 104 was launched on March 20 for reporting of suspect cases of COVID-19. Further, guidelines were also issued on the reporting of cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Illnesses (SARI) to the government. These include: (i) preparation of travel history and contact lists of reported suspect cases, (ii) nodal officer to decide on steps and treatment protocol for such cases, (iii) relevant authorities to initiate follow up and contact tracing for the patient for last 14 days, and (iv) initiating cluster management guidelines when new cases emerge. 

Essential goods and services

  • On March 20, a committee was formed by the government for daily monitoring of the availability, supplies, and manufacturing of medicines, masks, and sanitisers. On March 21, a Khas Kharid Committee was set up to ensure procurement of necessary medicines, equipments, and human resources during emergencies, bypassing existing purchase guidelines, if necessary. 

  • Between March 21 and March 22, the government announced a partial lockdown and released a list of essential services and businesses that were allowed to operate till March 25 in the cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara,Rajkot, Kutch and Gandhinagar. These include: (i) government and municipal departments, (ii) shops selling essential goods, (iii) various medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, (iv) public utilities, (v) railways and transportation facilities, (vi) media, telecom, IT services, and (vii) banks and insurance firms.

  • The government also invited NGOs to collaborate in the fight against COVID-19, by arranging for the supply of masks, sanitisers, and infrared thermometers, and running awareness campaigns.      

Administrative measures

  • On March 18, the government issued guidelines specifying preventive measures to be taken in all government offices and employees. Recommendations inlcude: (i) avoiding face-to-face meetings and non-essential travel, (ii) closure of gyms and yoga centres in the Secretariat, (iii) home quarantine for officials exhibiting any symptoms, and (iv) mandatory leave to be given to such persons going on quarantine.

  • On March 21, the government released the terms of reference of Regional Nodal Officers appointed to work towards preventing the spread of COVID-19.

  • On March 23, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly decided to indefinitely postpone the Rajya Sabha elections that were originally to be held on March 26. 

Other measures

  • An advisory was issued requesting private firms to not lay off workers (even if they fall sick to COVID-19) or reduce their salaries. 

During the lockdown

On March 23, the state government extended and expanded the partial lockdown announced in select cities to the entire state. The lockdown was to be in place from March 23 to March 31. In addition to the exemptions announced in the partial lockdown orders, services such as (i) cattle feeding and veterinary services, (ii) stock broking, (iii) postal and courier services, and (iv) operation of industries where workers are available on site, were permitted.  The state-wide lockdown has been followed by a nation-wide lockdown since March 25 . This has been further extended until May 17.  Some of the key measures undertaken during the lockdown period are: 

Health measures

  • On March 27, all private clinics and hospitals in the state were directed to utilise the Dr. TeCHO mobile app developed by the government. The app can be used for uploading information related to: (i) sample collection and (ii) reporting and surveillance of all SARI cases. Another app was launched to keep track of home quarantined people. 

  • On March 30, COVID-19 was included as a notified disaster under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). Thus, all expenditure related to relief measures for displaced / homeless people, migrant labour or other stranded persons due to the lockdown, will be made out of the SDRF. 

  • On March 31, the government released new guidelines for the clinical management of COVID-19. These cover: (i) triage activities, (ii) case definitions and classification, (iii) infection and prevention control measures, (iii) specimen collection and handling, (iv) management and prevention of medical complications, (v) clinical management for COVID-19, (vi) discharge policy for patients, and (vii) dead body management. 

  • To exclusively cater to COVID-19 cases, four government hospitals and three private hospitals were declared as designated COVID-19 treatment facilities. Further, the government instructed all COVID-19 hospitals to provide treatment to the people free of cost. On May 1, 26 hospitals were additionally designated as COVID-19 facilities.

  • Resource Management: Between March 31 and April 7, the government initiated multiple measures to address the shortage of medical practitioners in government hospitals. These include: (i) extending tenures of retiring medical personnel, (ii) ad-hoc recruitment of teachers in medical colleges, (iii) contract-based appointments of class-1 specialist and class-2 medical officers from private sector, (iv) additional responsibilities to select class-1 doctors from the epidemiologist department, and (v) temporary shifting of Ayurvedic medical officers to various locations.

  • On March 28, the state released guidelines for Human Resource management (HRM) in COVID-19 facilities. These include: (i) creation of district level task forces, (ii) patient flow algorithm, (iii) deployment and rotation of HR, including residents and nursing staff, and (iv) pooling of HR from various institutes and cadres. 

  • The state has also allowed the use of AYUSH remedies and medicines, particularly for persons quarantined through contact tracing and to frontline personnel. Teams of corona warriors have been formed to assist people with preventive care. In addition, local officials have been asked to utilise the services of important stakeholders such as teachers, priests, and others, who can influence the social behaviour of people to deal with COVID-19.

  • A new State Health System Resource Centre has been established as the nodal agency in the state for all COVID-19 related research. Further, a COVID-19 research activity committee has been set up to lead this endeavour.

Welfare measures

  • On March 25, the state government decided to provide ration to 60 lakh poor families who live on daily wages. Further, on March 28,  to minimise the adverse effects of lockdown on casual labour, autorickshaw drivers, and street vendors, the government announced free wheat, rice, pulses, sugar, and iodised salt for the month of April 2020. 

  • Vadil Vandana scheme was launched to provide free of cost meals to the elderly and the aged living alone in various cities of the state.

  • The state also announced that electricity bills from March 1 to April 30, can be paid by May 15.

  • The government announced compensatory packages worth Rs 25 lakh for each frontline worker who may lose life on COVID-19 duty. Such workers include: (i) police personnel and (ii) other government employees under the state government, panchayats, and nagar palikas .

Other measures

  • Industry: Relaxations from the lockdown were announced for factories and IT/ITES firms, from April 20 onwards. For factories, the conditions specified that adult workers shall be allowed to work for not more than 12 hours per day (six hours at a time) or 72 hours per week. Female workers are not allowed to work between 7 pm and 6 am. Wages are to be proportional to the existing wage structure.  IT/ITES firms are allowed operate in non-containment zones at 50% strength and social distancing norms will be required to be followed. 

  • Administrative: On March 30, the government issued an order to continue paying full wages to all fixed-pay government employees who are on leave or working from home during the lockdown. However, the employees are required to report to work whenever required by the government during the lockdown.

  • On April 15, nodal officers were appointed and given additional financial powers to take control of infectious disease control hospitals. 

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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