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MHA: Lockdown rules misinterpreted, no legal action against CEOs if employee found COVID positive

​The Union government Thursday said no legal action will be taken against the CEO of a company, nor a factory will be sealed, in case an employee tests positive for COVID-19. 

New Delhi Published on: April 23, 2020 21:05 IST
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The Union government Thursday said no legal action will be taken against the CEO of a company, nor a factory will be sealed, in case an employee tests positive for COVID-19. The government also said the consolidated revised guidelines for the lockdown should not be misused by anyone to harass the management of any manufacturing or commercial establishments.

In a letter to the chief secretaries of all states and union territories, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said some apprehensions, based on wrong interpretation of the guidelines, have been raised in the media and by some companies having manufacturing facilities.

He listed the three wrong apprehensions as: (A) States may take legal action including imprisonment of CEO in case a COVID-19 positive employee is found in the factory. (B) In such a situation, the premises of the factory would be sealed for 3 months. (C) In case of non-compliance of precautionary measures, the factory may be closed down for two days and may be allowed to restart after full compliance.

"I would like to clarify that there is no such clause in the consolidated revised guidelines and therefore there is no basis for such misplaced apprehensions," Bhalla said in his letter.

The consolidated revised guidelines were issued on April 15, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 3.

Modi had also said certain industrial activities would be allowed in some areas after April 20. The guidelines specified the details of such exempted activities and associated terms and conditions.

Certain quarters of industry including exporters have raised concerns over the penal provisions in the guidelines, saying they leave scope for harassment by authorities, due to which manufacturing units may not start operations, even with minimum workforce.

The union home secretary's communication to the states and UTs came hours after he along with secretary in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) Guruprasad Mohapatra talked to industry associations to allay their apprehensions about the guidelines.

Bhalla said in the communication it is important that all workplaces take measures to ensure social distancing and follow standard health protocols as notified by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease.

Accordingly, appropriate safeguards at workplaces have been prescribed in the national directives and SOPs in this regard.

Workplaces and industrial and commercial establishments are required to follow these guidelines, he said.

Secondly, the home secretary said, the activities allowed under the consolidated revised guidelines on April 15, except in containment zones, have subsumed all the earlier activities that were permitted under the earlier guidelines issued on March 24, 2020 (including those permitted under the addendums).

In addition, certain new activities have also been permitted, he said.

"Hence, it is clarified that the consolidated revised guidelines dated April 15 do not curtail the exemptions already provided earlier, unless the exempted activity falls within a containment zone.

"Therefore, no separate or fresh permissions are required from authorities for industries already permitted to operate prior to April 15, in areas falling outside containment zones," he said.

Finally, Bhalla said, it is emphasised that subject to compliance with the SOP on social distancing, no fresh licence or statutory approval is required for resumption of permitted activities during the lockdown period.

For example, he said, an industrial activity, allowed to operate prior to the lockdown, needs no fresh statutory approval, once it has been included as a permitted activity under the consolidated revised guidelines, and has complied with the SOP on social distancing.

"In light of the above, I would like to request all State and UT governments that the industrial field establishments and field offices may be apprised of the guidelines of lockdown measures which should be followed to prevent the spread of epidemic.

"These should not be misused to harass the management of any manufacturing or commercial establishments," he said.

Earlier, after their meeting with Bhalla and Mohapatra, industry representatives said the government should issue a notification clearly stating that employers will not be held responsible in case any worker tests positive for COVID-19 after resuming operations in manufacturing units. Industry chambers such as CII and Assocham attended the video conference.

The chambers also urged that within red zones, there should be a clear demarcation of hotspots or containment zones as defined by the Ministry of Home Affairs and economic activities outside of containment zones may be permitted.

"Criminal liability of employers in case of finding Covid positive cases among employees has been mentioned by many industry members across states and needs to be clarified.

“We have seen the clarification from MHA yesterday. A notification or announcement that employers will not be held responsible for Covid positive cases will add confidence," the CII said.

On Thursday, at a regular press briefing, Joint Secretary in the home ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said the video conference was held between representatives of industry associations and the two senior bureaucrats.

Feedback is being taken from industrial units and their problems are being addressed, she added. 

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