As work from home for information technology (IT) firms gets increasingly feasible, the industry and the government worked together to remove a practical hurdle that required the industry to get Customs approval physically, in addition to an online clearance, in record time.
The Customs clearance required for moving equipment like laptops, desktops, etc out of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) units was delaying things as the clearance had to be taken in person after a first level of approval online.
The director general of export promotion under the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs worked with IT services body National Association of Software and Service Companies and other industry players to allow online approvals for such movement.
The Foreign Trade Policy (2015-20) allows authorised employees of software technology park (STP) units to work from a place outside the unit, and they are allowed to temporarily take laptop or computers and video projection systems out of the STP unit.
The Software Technology Parks of India allow for this approval online, but Customs clearance required one to physically take approval.
Given the current situation with the ongoing pandemic, and the government announcing a complete lockdown, taking clearances from the Customs department for movement of each piece of equipment was going to be cumbersome.
The Customs authorities took prompt action once alerted to the issue, and resolved it within two days. “In view of present COVID-19 crisis and removal of mandatory warehousing in 2016, such endorsement can be done electronically over email and acknowledgement can also be provided over email without the need for a physical visit to the Customs office,” the directorate general of export promotion said in its reply to the industry on Wednesday.
This means that IT companies providing work from home facility to its employees by allowing them to take laptops and desktops and other equipment home, will be able to do so much faster.
To ensure the continuity of operations in India’s biggest foreign exchange earning sector, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had on Tuesday pushed the home ministry to allow certain senior management of companies in the IT and IT-enabled services (ITeS) space to operate from their office premises. This included “employees who are classified as ‘mission critical’ and associated with ‘essential services’ by the top management of the company,” said the Ravi Shankar Prasad-led ministry. Also, it wanted companies to be allowed to self certify which staff is mission critical.
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However, the home ministry had refused the plan, arguing the difficulties involved in compiling a list of designations which can be termed ‘mission critical’, for thousands of IT/ITeS companies working in different capacities. It had also pointed out that other industries may also demand the same.
Instead, it had pointed out that all ground staff dealing with loading, transportation, and delivery has been allowed for e-commerce companies — currently classified critical to the sustainability of the ongoing 21-day lockdown. For all other categories of privately held business, the home ministry has firmly stated that most employees need to stay home.
On the other hand, with many online service providers based out of SEZs, senior functionaries at the Export Promotion Council for EOUs & SEZs (EPCES) on Thursday said they have been assured by the commerce department that current restrictions on the staff movement will be progressively reduced by next week.