While the latest central guidelines allowed most industries to reopen after two straight months of shutdown, businesses are waiting for a green signal from states to do so.
Industry bodies welcomed the new guidelines. “We hope states would take measures to identify red, orange and green zones besides the buffer ones, keeping in mind the imperative of allowing maximum economic activities to take place, while ensuring safety,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general, CII. The industry body encouraged chief ministers to quickly agree on allowing passenger vehicle movement across and within states, a serious problem affecting the industry so far. Movement of goods vehicles, including empty ones, should “un-freeze” supply chains, Banerjee said.
Niranjan Hiranandani, president, Assocham, said: “The ‘ease of opening up’, with due precautions, comes as a ray of hope. We should see it as enabling India to move into the ‘new normal’ of life along with buffer and containment zones.”
Manufacturers, however, remain cautious. They pointed out that local administrations had not allowed industries to reopen in many areas, even in green zones, earlier too. "While the lockdown being extended wasn't a surprise, the industry expected more direct liquidity to be injected into small businesses,” Ravi Sehgal, chairman, Engineering Exporters Promotion Council, said.
Excluding containment zones, the government has allowed sales of non-essential goods. “Now states should also allow delivery of non-essential goods, with all safety measures, as there are 1.3 million households without televisions in India due to lockdown,” said Avneet Singh Marwah, CEO of TV maker SuperPlastronics.
While traders gear up to open business, the issue of how markets will be sanitized on a war footing has arisen. “Traders can’t do this alone. In many cases across the country, a peculiar situation will arise whereby traders conduct their business in one state, such as Delhi, but reside in cities of other neighbouring states,” said Praveen Khandelwal, National Secretary General of the Confederation of All India Traders. Khandelwal said plans to reopen markets on odd-even basis, pitched by authorities across the country, were unworkable since traders are dependent on other tradesmen for purchase of goods.
Most in the e-commerce and aggregator space expect full range of services to be allowed in green, orange, and red zones, except areas designated as containment zones. However, according to Section 8 of the new order, states can decide if they want to prohibit such activities in certain zones. “It allows all activities, except few prohibited ones and also not in containment zones. States can’t dilute these norms, but can make it difficult. Also, states and local authorities will decide what to allow in containment zones. But overall e-commerce business is on,” said a senior official of an e-commerce company.
“The Centre allowing inter and intra-state movement of passenger vehicles will also come as a major relief to taxi aggregators such as Uber and Ola, subject to restrictions imposed by local administrations,” said Atul Pandey, partner at Khaitan & Co.
It was reported earlier that e-commerce firms would be allowed to sell secondary-essential items such as phones, laptops, electronic devices, and appliances. Even for the containment zones, the government was said to be evaluating an expansion in the list of essential items. So far, delivery of all items is allowed in green and orange zones, but only essential items could be delivered in red zones.
In relief to business houses, the Centre has also removed the 33 per cent cap on the number of workers allowed to report for work, but has pushed for work from home wherever possible. Companies will be required to stagger shifts and lunch breaks. They will have to go for frequent sanitization of workplaces. There are no restrictions on large group meetings in offices and the requirement to earmark quarantine areas within the establishment has been done away with.
Inputs from Subhayan Chakraborty, Somesh Jha, Arnab Dutta, Neha Alawadhi and Peerzada Abrar