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Home ministry’s lockdown clause makes firms nervous about getting back to work

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Chandigarh: Industry leaders want to urgently resume operations as the lockdown has been eased, but they are terrified by a clause in the home ministry’s guidelines that can send anybody from the chief executive to the worker to jail if there is any violation of measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Many in the manufacturing sector said the punitive clause will give the police and other authorities a lever to harass and extract money from factory owners, who desperately need to resume operations to be able to pay wages. Most industry leaders were not willing to speak on record, but some voiced their concerns.

Government officials said businesses need not fear. Vinni Mahajan, additional chief secretary of Punjab, said the government had the best of intentions.

“The matter was discussed with industry leaders across the state,” Mahajan said.

‘Industry to Follow Guideline’

“ And it was established that industry should share the responsibility of not letting the disease spread. The industry needs to ensure sanitary, social distancing guidelines and refer symptomatic cases to health authorities. The government has no intent to victimise industry,” he said.

But industry is nervous. This includes textile units, which have been allowed to resume operations in a few states including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh if they ensure that they abide by the home ministry’s guidelines. “The clause on punitive action is definitely a serious concern for industry that is striving to come to terms with the unprecedented situation,” said Neeraj Jain, joint managing director, Vardhman Textiles. Vijay Sethia, former chairman of the All India Rice Exporters Association, said the industry body had asked the home ministry to clarify the matter before its members fully commence operations. “The industry is fully committed to fully adhere to government guidelines on measures to check the spread of Covid-19 but the clause on FIR against owners in case workers are found positive is a huge hindrance,” said Sethia.

He said industry was going all out to fully abide by the guidelines. “Yet there is a sense of fear among owners of the units that they are vulnerable to penal action and FIR etc,” Sethia said. The basmati rice industry in Haryana has already installed thermal scanners to screen workers but millers said there is an atmosphere of fear. “So far only those employees without any symptoms of Covid-19 are being allowed but there is no foolproof system to ascertain the exact status of this pandemic in a person. Moreover once lockdown is lifted, number of cases are likely to go up,” said a miller, who is uncertain about running the operations.

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