Since our previous update, there have been important developments on measures to curb the COVID – 19 outbreak at the Central level and in the state of Maharashtra. We have set out the key points in this regard below:
A. Company readiness towards COVID-19
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has through a letter dated March 19, 2020 addressed all companies/LLPs on actions to be taken by them to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Via the letter, the Ministry has, inter alia:
i. Relaxed the rules with respect to meetings of the Board and dispensed with the necessity of holding physical meetings on matters relating to approval of financial statements, board reports, restructuring etc. up to June 30, 2020;
ii. Strongly advised companies and LLPs to immediately implement work from home policy till March 31, 2020 at their headquarters and field offices; and
iii. Suggested that staggered timings be followed for essential staff on duty as a way to minimise physical interaction.
The Ministry is examining other relaxations under the Companies Act, 2013, which may be necessitated on account of COVID-19. As per the letter, a web form named ‘Company Affirmation of Readiness towards COVID-19’ shall be introduced by the Ministry on March 23, 2020 to assess the readiness of companies and LLPs to deal with the COVID-19 threat. The form is to be filed by an authorized signatory of the Company/LLP on the same day.
B. E-commerce exempted from prohibitory orders
The Department of Consumer Affairs has in view of the prohibitory orders implemented by various states issued an advisory dated March, 2020 to State Governments and local administrations. They have been advised to exempt e-commerce operations (warehousing & logistics facilities and services), wholesalers, their vendors and third party delivery partners who are a part of the supply and logistics chain ecosystem from any type of prohibitory order. This measure has been taken to ensure a panic-free situation amongst citizens.
C. ‘#War against virus’ in Maharashtra
1. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray, addressed the State on March 20, 2020. In his speech, he issued certain directions to combat the COVID – 19 outbreak in Mumbai, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, MMR Region, and Nagpur city regions of Maharashtra. On those lines, the Government of Maharashtra has issued an order dated March 20, 2020, implementing the following:
i. Closure of all private establishments till March 31, 2020, except essential service providers like banks, grocery stores, medical stores, etc.; and
ii. Reduction of workforce to 25% at government/semi-government/municipal corporation offices.
2. Pursuant to the Chief Minister’s directions, the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika has via an order dated March 20, 2020 issued rules for social distancing as a preventive measure for containing the spread of COVID-19. The order, inter alia, provides for:
i. Mass congregations and functions to be banned;
ii. Continuance of restaurants, cafes, eateries and dhabhas, if they can self-impose 50% customer capacity and maintain a 3-feet distance between each customer;
iii. Complete closure of private companies, corporates and establishments with the exception of certain essential services which are:
a. Drinking water;
b. Sewage services;
c. Banking and other services regulated by RBI, insurance companies;
d. Telephone and internet services;
e. Rail and transportation services
f. Food, vegetables and groceries;
g. Hospitals, medical centres and medical stores;
h. Electricity, petroleum, oil, energy;
k. IT services, IT enabled services and data centres needed for continuity of IT services to the essential services;
l. Ongoing public infrastructure projects wherever development of water, sewage, transportation, roads is involved;
m. Stock exchange, clearing corporations, depositories, stock brokers & SEBI registered participants operating through these institutions;
n. Foreign consulates who may take decisions as per their own requirements in view of the international implications; and
o. Production, transportation and supply chain, E-commerce of all essential goods including food, pharmaceutical, pest control and medical equipments, and warehousing of all essential food, grocery and grain.
iv. A direction to the Assistant Commissioner and the police to issue an advisory to people against crowding public places; and
v. A penalty for spitting at public places, premises and roads and non-adherence to the regulations.
3. Additionally, the Commissioner of Labour, Maharashtra has issued an internal letter to officers in the labour department dated March 20, 2020 stating that the Government’s efforts to encourage social distancing could result in employers dispensing with the services of workers or forcing workers to go on unpaid leave. Therefore, the Commissioner of Labour has as issued a directive to officers in the labour department to advise/direct employers of private and public sector establishments to:
i. Not terminate the employment of employees particularly casual and contract workers;
ii. Refrain from reducing their wages;
iii. Provide paid leave if the worker is unable to be on duty due to COVID-19 or government’s directives in relation to it; and
iv. Deem the employee to be on duty in case of the establishment not operating due to COVID-19.
The Delhi Government has issued an advisory dated March 19, 2020 for preventing and controlling the outbreak of COVID-19 in NCT of Delhi. Through it, the Government has advised:
i. All private sectors including MNCs, IT firms, industries, corporate offices etc. to allow their officers/employees to work from home till March 31, 2020; and
ii. General public and in particular senior citizens, persons affected with hypertensions/diabetes/respiratory diseases, pregnant women, patients taking steroids, and children to remain at home.