The government has withdrawn the clause allowing filing of an FIR against a company and its management if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, following concerns raised by India Inc.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar maintained on Thursday that there was no government directive “for an FIR against a factory.”

“There is no mention of sole responsibility fixed of owner/director on detection of COVID-19 positive case/s,” states the reworked guidelines sent to business owners. “The policy has been revised and the FIR clause removed. All the confusions on this matter should end.”

On Thursday, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to Chief Secretaries of all States requesting that the guidelines for lockdown measures “should not be misused to harass the management of any manufacturing/commercial establishment.”

He said some apprehensions had been raised in the media based on a wrong interpretation of the guidelines. It was believed that States may take legal action, including imprisonment of the CEO, if a COVID-19 positive employee was found in the factory, and that in such a scenario the factory would be sealed for three months.

“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,” the letter said. Mr. Bhalla also stressed that subject to compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure on social distancing, no fresh license or statutory approval was needed for resumption of permitted activities.

Replying to a query on the issue, Principal Economic Adviser Sanjeev Sanyal told members of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry via a video-conference call on Wednesday that this was a classic example of a junior officer somewhere in the system issuing something without thinking and it becomes law.

“This is a very good example of where an industry association comes back [and says] this is a problem and this makes no sense…” he had said. This was what happened when the system was overloaded. “…All these things will happen, but we in the government are open to feedback. We will resolve it. It obviously makes no sense… you are businessmen and not doctors…you can’t track every single worker… it makes no sense at all for having this kind of draconian note going out,” he had added.

Another industry body CII had reached out to the government stating that it would not be correct to hold employers culpable, as the infection could spread even through asymptomatic carriers. It, however, suggested randomised inspections.

MHA clarification

Meanwhile, the Home Ministry took to Twitter to clarify the guidelines issued by it. A Ministry spokesperson said that penalties under Disaster Management Act, 2005, would be applicable if the offence occurred with the consent and cognisance or due to the negligence of the employer.

However, Mr Javadekar tweeted: “Govt. has not issued any directive that if any Coronavirus case is detected in the factory, there will be FIR against the factory. This is a rumor and absolutely false.” He added that the industries could start production “fearlessly” in the allowed areas taking adequate precautions like social distancing and wearing face masks.

Viral post

The explanations follow a viral message posted on social media of a company’s FAQ following a meeting with district administrations. To a query, “If any person is infected during working who will be responsible?”, the FAQ states, “100% factory owner. FIR will be lodged. Factory will be sealed and all related people will be quarantined for 14-28 days.”

According to the guidelines issued by the MHA on April 15, any person violating lockdown measures will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provision of section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, and for legal action under section 188 of the IPC and other legal provisions as applicable

Section 58 of the DMA states that, “…every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was in charge of, and was responsible to the company, for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment provided in this Act, if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.”

It adds that, “…where an offence under this Act has been committed by a company, and it is proved that the offence was committed with the consent or connivance of or is attributable to any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also, be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”


News Source: The Hindu


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