As of April 20, 2020, there are 17,265 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India. Since April 13, 8,113 new cases have been registered. Out of the confirmed cases so far, 2,547 patients have been cured/discharged and 543 have died. As the spread of COVID-19 has increased across India, the central government has continued to announce several policy decisions to contain the spread, and support citizens and businesses who are being affected by the pandemic. In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the central government in this regard between April 13 and April 20, 2020.
Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, PRS.
Lockdown to remain in force until May 3, 2020
The lockdown has been extended until May 3, 2020 with certain relaxations taking force as of April 20, 2020. Activities that continue to remain prohibited after April 20, 2020 include: (i) all international and domestic travel except for healthcare workers and security purposes, (ii) passenger travel in trains, buses and taxis, (iii) industrial activities and hospitality services (other than those permitted), (iv) all educational institutions, and (v) all religious gatherings. Activities that are permitted after April 20, 2020 include: (i) all health services such as hospitals, clinics, and vets, (ii) agricultural operations, fisheries, and plantations, (iii) public utilities including provision of LPG and postal services, (iv) financial establishments such as non-banking financial institutions, banks and ATMs, (v) e-commerce for essential goods only, and (vi) industrial activities such as oil and gas refineries and manufacturing. Persons who do not follow the lockdown may be punishable with imprisonment up to one year and a fine, or both. States and union territories may not dilute these lockdown guidelines specified by the central government. However, they may implement stricter measures.
Certain areas within hotspots demarcated as containment zones
Hotspots refer to areas where there are large COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters with a significant spread of COVID-19. Within hotspots, certain areas may be demarcated as containment zones by the state or district administrations. There will be a strict perimeter control in the containment zones. Inward and outward movement from the containment zones will be restricted except for essential services such as medical emergencies, and law and order related activities.
Movement of stranded migrant labour
The Ministry of Home Affairs has permitted the movement of stranded migrant labour within the state in which they are stranded for work in activities permitted after the relaxation of the lockdown on April 20, 2020. These activities include industrial work, manufacturing, and construction. State governments may undertake skill mapping of migrant labourers and transport them to worksites if they are asymptomatic and willing to work. Movement of migrant labour across state borders continues to be prohibited.
RBI announced additional measures to combat economic situation due to COVID-19
The International Monetary Fund’s Economic Counsellor has estimated the cumulative loss over 2020 and 2021 to global GDP due to the global economic lockdown to be around 9 trillion dollars. To combat the economic impact of COVID-19 in India, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced several additional measures. These include: (i) reduction in reverse repo rate from 4% to 3.75%, (ii) targeted long-term repo operations for an aggregate amount of Rs 50,000 crore, (iii) refinancing of financial institutions such as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Small Industries Development Bank of India, and National Housing Bank for a total amount of Rs 50,000 crore to enable them to meet the financing needs of sectors they cater to.
Dividend payments by banks
In light of the economic impact of COVID-19, the RBI announced that banks shall not make any further dividend payouts from the profits pertaining to the financial year which ended on March 31, 2020. According to RBI, this will allow banks to conserve capital to retain their capacity to support the economy and absorb losses. This restriction will be reassessed based on the financial results of banks for the quarter ending in on September 30, 2020.
Short term credit to states
RBI has announced an increase in the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limits for states and UTs. WMA limits refer to temporary loans given by the RBI to state governments. The WMA limit has been increased by 60% from the limit as on March 31, 2020, for all states and UTs. The revised limits will be in force between April 1 and September 30, 2020.
Travel and export
Travel restrictions to continue
Since the lockdown has been extended until May 3, 2020, domestic and international travel remains prohibited. All domestic and international flights will not function until May 3, 2020. Further, the Director General of Civil Aviation has specified that airlines should not start allowing ticket bookings from May 4, 2020 onwards as there has been no clearance for such activities to commence. All passenger trains will also remain cancelled until May 3, 2020. There will be a full refund for flight tickets purchased during the lockdown period for travel before May 3, 2020. Further, there will be a full refund for tickets booked for trains that were cancelled during the lockdown and cancellation of advance bookings of tickets for trains not yet cancelled.
Export of paracetamol
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has specified that formulations made of paracetamol may be freely exported from April 17, 2020 onwards. However, the export of paracetamol active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) will continue to be restricted. On March 3, 2020, the export of both formulations made of paracetamol and paracetamol APIs was restricted.
For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.
The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. It was passed by Lok Sabha last week. The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports. It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.
Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance. Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999. WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries. It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards. In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.
Doping in India
Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension. In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules. In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%). Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%). In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.
Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts. Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing. Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation. Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.
Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021
The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government. Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations. A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations. This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes. Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel. Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed. Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.
Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill. Protected persons will be specified by the central government. As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework
Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha
During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues. We discuss these below-
Independence of NADA
One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA. WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions. First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules. Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”. Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA.
Privacy of athletes
NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples). MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes. The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data. Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.
Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information. It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code. One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.
Establishing more testing laboratories across states
Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL). MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity. The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states. Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.
In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA. The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL. The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL. However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory. In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.
Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances. Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements. MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping. The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping. The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping. Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.
While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country. These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.