COVID-19 Updates – March 23, 2020

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With the increasing number of novel coronavirus cases in India, the Central and various State Governments are passing regulations and guidelines on a war footing. Since our previous update, there have been some important developments. We have set out the key takeaways below as on March 23, 2020 till 7 pm (IST):

A.     Meeting between the Cabinet Secretaries and the Principal Secretary to the PM:

In light of the increase in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister held a meeting on March 22, 2020 with the Chief Secretaries of States. In this meeting, the Centre impressed upon the States the need for urgent and effective interventions and took certain decisions, inter alia:

1. States to allow only essential services to operate in districts with confirmed COVID-19 cases;
2. Close of all establishments, except establishments/factories engaged in manufacturing and distribution of essential commodities exempted; and
3. States to request industries, establishments etc. to allow work from home to employees and provide them remuneration for this period.

B.     Cancellation of trains:

The Ministry of Railways has via an order dated March 22, 2020 suspended all train services till March 31, 2020 with the exception of goods train which is to ensure the supply of essentials. Additionally, the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has through an order on March 22, 2020 closed down metro rail services on all operational networks across the country till March 31, 2020.

C.     Extension for labour annual returns:

The Ministry of Labour & Employment has via a letter dated March 20, 2020 extended the last date for filing of Unified Annual Return under 8 labour laws for the year 2019. Establishments have been allowed to file their annual returns for the year 2019 up to April 30, 2020.

D.     Form CAR-2020:

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has on March 23, 2020 released the  ‘Company Affirmation of Readiness towards COVID-19’ form to check the company’s readiness in tackling coronavirus. It does not require payment of fees or a digital signature certificate. It is available to all Indian companies, foreign companies, LLPs, and foreign LLPs. Any one of the current authorized signatories of the company/LLP can submit it online. It is recommended to the companies/LLPs to access the form in a staggered manner so as to avoid loading the system. Filing of the form is voluntary and non-filing will not attract any penalty or enforcement action.

E.     CSR funds for COVID-19:

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has issued a  clarification on March 23, 2020 stating that spending of CSR funds for COVID-19 can qualify as a valid CSR activity. Funds may be spent on activities related to COVID-19 under item nos, (i) and (xii) of Schedule VII relating to promotion of health care. Items in Schedule VII are broad based and may be liberally interpreted for this purpose.

F.     Employment to continue:

The Ministry of Labour and Employment has via a letter dated March 20, 2020 requested employers of public as well as private establishments not to terminate the services of their employees, in particular casual or contractual workers. It has also urged them to not reduce their wages. As per the letter, if any worker takes leave, he should be deemed to be on duty without consequential deduction in his wages. Additionally, he should be deemed present for duty even in case his employment is made non-operational due to COVID-19.

G.     State wise updates:

1.     Chandigarh:

The Chandigarh Administrator has notified on March 22, 2020 a lockdown, till March 31, 2020, in the Union Territory. Under the order, with the exception of certain services, restrictions have been issued to all services, including the following:

(i)     Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshops, godowns, etc.;
(ii)    Suspension of public transport services including taxis, auto-rickshaws etc. except to and from hospitals, airports etc.;
(iii)   Prohibition of gatherings involving more than 5 persons; and
(iv)    Closure of inter-state commercial transport.

2.      Delhi:

(i)     The Delhi Police has on March 22, 2020 issued an order under Sec. 144 of the CrPC to contain COVID-19, which will be effective till March 31, 2020. Through the order, it has prohibited:

a.      The assembly of any kind for demonstrations, processions, protests etc.; and
b.      Gatherings including seminars and conferences.

(ii)    Additionally, the Health and Family Department of Delhi has passed an order dated March 22, 2020 whereby it has, inter alia, directed:

a.     Suspension of public transport including private buses, taxis, e-rickshaws etc. DTC buses are allowed to operate at 25% capacity to cater to personnel engaged in essential services;
b.      Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, godowns etc.;
c.      Suspension of inter-state buses, metro (DMRC), and trains;
d.      Exclusion of certain services/establishments from the purview of the order; and
e.      Prohibition of congregation of more than 5 persons.

3.      Gujarat:

The Gujarat Government via a  circular dated March 21, 2020 has allowed only certain specified essential services to be operational till March 25, 2020 in the jurisdiction of municipal corporation of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Surat. On  March 22, 2020, the State Government passed similar restrictions in the jurisdiction of Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation.

4.      Haryana:

(i)    The Health and Family Welfare Department, Haryana has issued an order dated March 22, 2020 notifying a lockdown in certain districts including Gurugram, Faridabad, Sonipat etc. till March 31, 2020. The order, inter alia, mandates:

a.      The suspension of public transport services including taxis, auto-rickshaws etc. except to and from hospitals, airports etc;
b.       Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshops, godowns, etc. except the notified essential services;
c.     Permission to private establishments which support the notified essential services or are linked to the COVID-19 containment efforts to continue;
d.       Prohibition of gatherings involving more than 5 persons; and
e.       Suspension of all inter-state bus services.

(ii)     The District Administration Gurugram has viadirectives dated March 21, 2020 issued directions for containment of COVID-19 in the District. The letter, inter alia, provides:

a.      Limiting gatherings, including seminars and conferences, to 20 persons;
b.      Minimizing public dealing at government offices except time-bound and essential services;
c.     Closing down all private companies, corporates, establishments and factories except certain services like banking, IT services, IT enabled services & data centres providing to any of the essential services;
d.    Allowing production/manufacturing processes requiring continuity of process/production of essential goods to continue at 50% staff strength and with due caution towards social distancing; and
e.      Permitting factories/production sites/commercial entities to have security & fire fighting personnel present.

5.      Jammu and Kashmir:

The Deputy Commissioner of Jammu has via an order dated March 22, 2020 issued restrictions in Jammu District to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As per the order:

(i)      Shops, businesses, establishments etc. to be closed except, essential services and supply chains required to maintain essential services;
(ii)     Assembly of 3 or more persons to be banned; and
(iii)    Gatherings including seminars and conferences to be prohibited.

6.      Karnataka:

(i)    The Government of Karnataka has via an order dated March 23, 2020 imposed restrictions in certain districts including urban and rural Bangalore, Mysuru, Mangaluru etc. until April 1, 2020. The order, inter alia, provides for:

a.      Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, workshops, godowns dealing with non-essential services;
b.      Closure of all industries and factories except those dealing with essential goods and services, medical equipment, drugs etc.
c.      Advice to employers in factories and industries to not terminate any worker and sanction paid leave during this period;
d.      Prohibition on gatherings involving more than 5 persons;
e.      Direction to IT & BT units to work from home wherever feasible; and
f.       Permission to ply private vehicles only for procuring essential commodities.

(ii)   The Department of Electronics, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Science & Technology, Karnataka has issued an  advisory dated March 21, 2020 to all IT and biotech companies in the state. Through the advisory, the State has issued guidelines to these companies, inter alia, directing:

a.     All employees to work from home with the exception of employees working on mission critical and essential services;
b.     Management of IT and biotech companies to have a self-regulatory mechanism for work from home;
c.     Contact between employees to be minimized by having video conferences or telephone conversations;
d.     Only unavoidable and critical business and personal travel to be allowed; and
e.     Implementation of a flexible leave policy which permits employees to self quarantine.

7.     Maharashtra:

(i)   The Commissioner of Police, Greater Mumbai has promulgated an order dated March 22, 2020 under Sec. 144 of the CrPC, as a measure to contain coronavirus, which will be effective till March 31, 2020. As per the order, any presence or movement of five or more people in public or private places including vehicles is prohibited. Only certain establishments providing essential services have been exempted from the order.

(ii)  The Maharashtra Government as an emergency measure to combat COVID-19 has issued a  notification on March 23, 2020 declaring a statewide lockdown till march 31, 2020, with immediate effect. The notification, inter alia, provides:

a.      Movement from all state borders will be sealed except for movement of essential and perishable commodities;
b.     Closure of operations of all shops including commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshops, godowns, etc. with exception to essential commodities and pharmaceutical manufacturing and production units;
c.      Inter-city public transport including MSRTC buses and Metro will be suspended except for taxis and autos with restriction on the number of people in it;
d.     Public and private inter-state buses and passenger transport services (including private vehicles) will be suspended;
e.     Plying of private vehicles will be suspended, except for procuring essential commodities, health services and activities prescribed under this notification with a limit to occupants;
f.      Penal consequences for any person who is required to strictly adhere to home quarantine and fails to do so;
g.     Congregation of more than 5 people in public places will be prohibited;
h.    Certain establishments providing essential commodities will be excluded from the restriction; and
i.      Religious places of any denomination to be closed.

8.     Punjab:

The Punjab Government as an emergency measure to combat COVID-19 has announced on March 22, 2020 a statewide lockdown till March 31, 2020, under Sec. 144 of the CrPC. As per the announcement:

(i)      Assembly of more than 10 persons to be prohibited;
(ii)    All commercial establishments and shops to remain close, except those dealing with essential commodities and activities ancillary to them;
(iii)   All private establishments such as shops, offices, factories, workshops etc. except godowns and warehouses to remain close;
(iv)   Restrictions on public transport to continue till March 31, 2020; and
(v)     Inter-state commercial passenger transport (buses) will be suspended,

9.      Rajasthan:

The Rajasthan Government has issued an order dated March 22, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Through the order, the Government has issued prohibitory orders till March 31, 2020. Closure of all government, semi-government, autonomous organisations, state corporations/associations, business establishments, private office, shops, factories, workshops, warehouses, public transport etc. with the exception of specified essential services, has been ordered.

10.     Tamil Nadu:

The Tamil Nadu Government has passed an order dated March 22, 2020 providing, inter alia, certain measures to control the spread of coronavirus such as suspending, till March 31, 2020:

(i)      Chennai Metro Railway service; and
(ii)     All inter-state buses including public and private buses.

11.    Telangana:

(i)     The General Administration Department of Telangana issued an  order dated March 22, 2020 whereby it has notified a lockdown in the State, till March 31, 2020, for containing the spread of COVID-19. The regulations, inter alia, provide:

(a)     Suspension of public transport services including TSRTC buses, SETWIN, Hyderabad metro etc. with certain exceptions;
(b)     Suspension of interstate buses and transport services including private operators;
(c)      Prohibition of congregations involving more than 5 persons;
(d)     Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, offices, factories, workshops, godowns, etc. excluding certain services;
(e)     Permission to production and manufacturing units which require continuous process such as pharmaceuticals, API etc. and those engaged in production of essential commodities to function; and
(f)    Direction to all government and private establishments to pay full wages/salaries to the workers/employees including those engaged on contract and outsourcing basis.

(ii)     The General Administration Department of Telangana has on  March 23, 2020 issued further orders in pursuance of the lockdown whereby, it has directed:

(a)      No shops/establishments except hospitals and pharmacies can operate after 6:30 pm; and
(b)      Insurance service providers can operate during the lockdown.

12.     West Bengal:

The Government of West Bengal has issued an order dated March 22, 2020 notifying ‘Complete Safety Restrictions’ to be in effect, till March 27, 2020, in the areas mentioned in its Schedule. The restrictions, inter alia, provide:

(i)       Suspension of public transport services including taxis, auto-rickshaws etc. except certain services;
(ii)      Closure of all shops, commercial establishments, offices and factories, workshops, godowns, etc. excluding certain services; and
(iii)    Prohibition of congregation of more than 7 persons in public place.

Date: March 23, 2020