Wearing face covers and masks is now compulsory in public places and workplaces, spitting in public is a punishable offence and selling liquor, gutka and tobacco is strictly prohibited. All industries operating in rural areas and the government’s flagship rural jobs scheme will also be allowed to reopen from April 20 if they follow social distancing norms and other safeguards against the COVID-19 infection.
These are some of the directives in a fresh order issued on Wednesday by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to manage the pandemic. The lockdown is scheduled to end on May 3.
People violating quarantine will be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, which prescribes six months imprisonment, if convicted. In the case of containment zones or hotspots, there will be a strict perimeter control. The State governments may impose stricter measures as per requirement in local areas, the order issued by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said.
Apart from rural industries, the guidelines permit the construction of roads, irrigation projects, buildings and industrial projects in rural areas. Construction of renewable energy projects will be allowed. In urban areas, only in situ construction projects will be allowed if workers are available on site. Brick kilns in rural areas can resume work.
The States will decide the additional public activities to be allowed from April 20.
They will have to be based on strict compliance with the existing guidelines on lockdown measures.
The relaxations will be implemented at the discretion of the State and district authorities in areas that have not been identified as infection hotspots or containment zones. Certain additional activities are being allowed “to mitigate hardship to the public”, says the order.
The standard operating procedure (SOP) for factories and office establishments from April 20 onwards says medical insurance is mandatory for workers.
Workplaces should have a gap of one hour between shifts, and lunch breaks should be staggered to ensure social distancing. All organisations should sanitise workplaces between shifts. Frequent cleaning of common surfaces and handwashing is mandatory. Thermal screening of all those entering and leaving the work premises is mandatory and a list of COVID-19 dedicated hospitals in the vicinity should be available at the workplace, states the SOP.
Work units should encourage the use of staircases, stagger work hours to ensure social distancing and ban the entry of non-essential visitors, it says.
Travel by air, rail, metro, public buses, taxis, cab aggregators will remain suspended. Cinema halls, malls will remain shut. All social /religious gathering are prohibited till May 3 and all industrial and commercial units, unless exempted, will remain shut.
The revised guidelines permit small service providers, such as electricians, plumbers, IT repair, motor mechanics and carpenters, to operate. This move is recommended by the Commerce and Industries Ministry.
Supply chain of essential goods, grocery stores, vegetable, fruit carts and e-commerce companies will be allowed to operate without time restrictions.
In addition to pharmaceuticals and other essential sectors such as agriculture, mining and fertilizers, which are already exempted from the lockdown, several new industries will be permitted to function from April 20. IT and IT enabled services will be allowed to operate at 50% strength, while IT hardware manufacturing has been added to the list of exemptions. E-commerce companies, oil and gas exploration and refineries, food processing in rural areas and jute industries will be allowed to restart work, following a stringent operating procedure designed to deter the spread of infection.
Manufacturing and other industrial activities in Special Economic Zones, Export Oriented Units and other industrial estates and townships can also reopen, so long as arrangements are made for workers to stay within the premises or in adjacent buildings.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which provides 100 days of minimum wage work to rural households, is also being allowed, so long as social distancing and the use of face masks are strictly enforced. Work provided under the scheme, which is crucial to contain rural distress, has plunged to about 2% of the usual so far in April. The new guidelines say that priority should be given to irrigation and water conservation works. Other Central and State water schemes can also be implemented using MGNREGA workers.
Transport of goods has been a major hurdle over the last two weeks with the initial guidelines allowing transport of essential goods only. The new guidelines make it clear that all goods traffic will be allowed to ply, with two drivers and one helper allowed a truck. Empty trucks will be allowed to ply after the delivery of goods or to pick up goods. Truck repair shops and dhabas on highways will be allowed to function. E-commerce and courier services can also be restarted.
All health services, including the manufacture of ambulances and operation of utilities providing telecommunication and Internet services, will be allowed.
There will also be a phased return to office of the government’s own workforce, with the new guidelines calling for 100% attendance from officers above the Deputy Secretary level, with junior staff attendance of 33%. Certain departments such as defence, police and health will work without any restrictions.
Sectors that have been allowed to function under the new guidelines must first put arrangements in place to follow the SOP before reopening. Executive magistrates in each district will be designated as ‘Incident Commanders’ to monitor compliance and to issue passes for enabling essential movements allowed under the revised guidelines.
While the State governments are not permitted to dilute the restrictions further, they are free to impose stricter measures as needed, say the guidelines.
First set of guidelines
The Centre issued the first set of such guidelines on March 24 under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, invoked for the first time in the country, to streamline the management of the pandemic empowering the district magistrates to take decisions.
Earlier, the MHA had allowed manufacture/production, transport and other related supply-chain activities in respect of essential goods like foodstuff, medicines and medical equipment.
In another letter to the States, Mr. Bhalla emphasised that the guidelines would be withdrawn immediately if any of the lockdown measures were violated, risking the spread of COVID-19, and asserted that restrictions would not be diluted under any circumstances.
News Source: The Hindu