It is high time the Central and State governments stopped passing the buck and announced a concrete package for workers and businesses debilitated by the lockdown.
One of the strange features of the virus-induced economic standstill in India is the state’s blithe presumption that the private sector will fund safety nets for workers for an indeterminate period. The Prime Minister’s address on lockdown extension made an appeal to employers to be compassionate by not laying off workers. The Labour Ministry has since begun to collate data on job losses and pay-cuts from the EPFO and ESIC, issuing the veiled threat that this will be shared regularly with the Prime Minister’s Office. Cash-strapped Indian States, finding in such appeals a convenient ploy to avoid concrete action, have issued directives of their own. The Karnataka government has directed private sector employers to abstain from lay-offs and to grant workers paid leave, while Maharashtra has mandated that business owners must pay 100 per cent of their workers’ wages during the lockdown. These directives are now being contested at Supreme Court by small business owners for being both illegal and un-constitutional.