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Relaxations for Compliances under Indirect Tax Laws

In view of the nation-wide lockdown on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of India has issued various notifications to ensure compliances by embracing accessible technology and extending time limits for specified compliances.

Key relaxations provided by way of the notifications are summarised below:

1. GST returns can be furnished through electronic verification code (‘EVC’) – Notification No. 38/2020-Central Tax dated May 5, 2020

  • This notification amends Rule 26(1) of Central Goods and Services Tax Rules, 2017 (‘CGST Rules’), to allow a GST-registered person, registered under the Companies Act, 2013 to, during the period April 21, 2020 to June 20, 2020, furnish returns in Form GSTR 3B, which can be authenticated using an EVC sent to the registered mobile number. Such facility is made effective from April 21, 2020.

  • For an assessee who is required to furnish a Nil return in Form GSTR 3B, a new Rule 67A has been inserted in the CGST Rules, to allow furnishing of such return for a tax period through short messaging service (‘SMS’), verified by a registered mobile number-based one-time password (‘OTP’) facility. Such facility will be made effective from a date to be notified later.

2. Amendment of notification issued in relation to GST compliance by corporate debtors under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 – Notification No. 39/2020-Central Tax dated May 5, 2020

  • Time limit for interim resolution professionals (IRP) or resolution professionals (RP) to obtain new registration as a distinct person of the corporate debtor, has been amended to be 30 days from date of appointment of IRP/ RP or June 30, 2020, whichever is later (effective from March 21, 2020).

  • The class of persons covered under Notification No. 11/2020-Central Tax dated March 21, 2020 will not include corporate debtors who have furnished the GST returns for all tax periods prior to appointment of IRP/RP.

3. Extension of validity of e-way bills – Notification No. 40/2020-Central Tax dated May 5, 2020

  • The validity of e-way bills generated prior to March 24, 2020, and expiring during the period March 20, 2020 to April 15, 2020, has been extended till May 31, 2020.

4. Extension of time limit for filing annual return for FY 2018-19 – Notification No. 41/2020-Central Tax dated May 5, 2020

  • The time limit for furnishing annual returns in Form GSTR 9 and Form GSTR 9C for FY 2018-19 has been extended till September 30, 2020.

5. Due dates for filing return in Form GSTR 3B for the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh – Notification No. 42/2020-Central Tax dated May 5, 2020

  • The said notification amends the due date for filing of return in Form GSTR 3B for registered persons whose principal place of business is in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as follows:

This notification is effective from March 24, 2020.

6. Extension of time limit for filing acknowledgement of declaration under Himachal Pradesh (Legacy Cases Resolution) Scheme, 2019 – Notification No. EXN-F-(10)-7/2019- Vol.-I dated April 27, 2020

  • On account of complete lockdown in the country due to COVID-19 pandemic, the time limit for filing acknowledgement of declaration as per the provisions of Himachal Pradesh (Legacy Cases Resolution) Scheme, 2019 has been extended till September 30, 2020.

MHA Order for extension of Lockdown

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (“MHA”) has issued an updated order dated May 01, 2020 bearing No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) (“Order”) with the new guidelines on the measures to be taken by Ministries / Department of Government of India / States and State authorities for containing the spread of COVID-19. The Order and the new guidelines will come into effect from May 04, 2020 and will be valid for a period of two weeks i.e. till May 17, 2020.

Classification of Zones

As per the Order, the easing of the lockdown restrictions in the country will be applicable based on the risk profiling of the districts into red, orange and green zones (as defined in the Order and explained below).

A) Green zones: A green zone is a zone where there are no confirmed cases till date, or districts with no confirmed case in the last 21 days.

B) Red zones or hotspots: A red zone will be defined by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (“MHFW”) taking into account total number of active cases, doubling rate of confirmed cases, extent of testing and surveillance feedback.

C) Orange zones: all zone that are neither red zones nor green zones will be classified as orange zones.

The classification of the zones will be updated by the MHFW on a weekly basis. The Order specifically states that each State/Union Territory may classify additional districts as red or orange zones but cannot lower the classification of any district. In red zones and orange zones, containment zones will be demarcated by states and district administrations where strict lockdown restrictions will apply.

As per the Order, within containment zones, there will be strict perimeter control and no movement of population in and out of containment zones, will be permitted except for medical emergencies and for the supply of essential goods and services. The Order requires 100% implementation of the Aarogya Setu application in containment zones.

Common Central Restrictions

Irrespective of the zone, as per the Order, the following activities continue to be prohibited:

  • All domestic and international air travel except for medical or security purposes;

  • Passenger movement by trains except security purposes or as permitted by MHA;

  • Interstate bus transport except as permitted by MHA;

  • Metro rail services;

  • Interstate movement of individuals except for medical reasons or activities permitted by MHA;

  • All educational institutions;

  • Hospitality services other than those needed for frontline workers or stranded persons, or for quarantine;

  • All cinema halls, shopping malls, gyms, sports complexes, swimming pools, assembly halls and similar places;

  • All social, political and religious gatherings (please note that the annexure indicates that marriages and funerals can be held with limited participants and with social distancing);

  • Religious places of worship will not be open to public and religious congregations remain prohibited.

The Order additionally imposes the following conditions irrespective of the zone:

Imposition of a curfew and prohibition of movement of individuals for non-essential activities from 7 pm to 7 am;

Condition that persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below 10 years are required to stay at home, unless there is a health-related issue or to meet essential requirements;

Opening of outpatient departments and medical clinics (except in containment zones) is permitted with social distancing norms.

Activities in Red Zones

As per the Order, the following activities are permitted in the red zones (outside containment zones) with restrictions as imposed by the authorities:

  • Movement of individuals and vehicles for permitted activities. Four wheelers will have a maximum of 2 passengers besides the vehicle driver and two wheelers will be permitted to ply with only one rider with no pillion.

  • Industrial establishments in urban areas: only the following are permitted – SEZs, EOUs, industrial estates and industrial townships with access control; manufacturing units of essential goods including drugs, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, their raw materials and intermediates, production units which require continuous process and their supply chain, manufacturing of IT hardware, jute industry, manufacturing units of packaging material.

  • All industrial activities permitted in rural areas.

  • Construction in urban areas – only in situ construction and construction of renewable energy projects. All construction activities are permitted in rural areas.

  • Shops selling essential goods in markets and market complexes permitted to be operational. All standalone shops permitted for both essential and non-essential goods.

  • E-commerce activities will be permitted only for essential goods.

  • Private offices can operate with 33% strength as per requirement, with remaining persons working from home.

The following activities are prohibited in red zones: Cycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, taxis and cab aggregators, intra district and inter district buses, barber shops, spas and salons.

Activities in Orange Zones

As per the Order, inter district and intra district plying of buses will not be permitted in orange zones.

In orange zones, cabs and cab aggregators will be permitted to operate with one driver and two passengers. Inter district movement of individuals and vehicles will be permitted for permitted activities with four wheeler vehicles having a maximum two passengers besides the driver.

Activities in Green Zones

All activities will be permitted except those prohibited in all zones. Buses may operate with 50% seating and bus stations will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity.

The Order permits inter-state movement of goods/cargo, including empty trucks.

All other activities will be permitted, which are not specifically prohibited/permitted with restrictions in the various zones. However, the concerned State/Union Territories may allow only select activities from out of the permitted activities with restrictions as necessary based on their assessment of the situation.

The State/ Union Territories are not permitted to dilute the guidelines issued and are required to strictly enforce the same.

In addition to the standard operating procedures issued by the MHA earlier, Annexure I of the Order sets out certain directives which are required to be followed in public places and in workplaces for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Some of the directives are set out below:

  • All persons are compulsorily required to wear face masks in public places and in all workplaces which are permitted to re-open their office premises.

  • Employers are required to ensure that adequate supply of face masks is available to accommodate all employees and workers who are present in the workplace. Employers are required to ensure that social distancing as per the guidelines of the MHFW is strictly followed at all times at the workplace and in company transport. Employers may implement these norms by ensuring adequate gaps between shifts; and by staggering lunch breaks of staff.

  • All areas in the premises of the workplace which come into human contact (ex. door handles) are required to be frequently sanitized/ disinfected.

  • Employers are required to ensure that persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, and pregnant women opt in for work from home policies and are not required to physically report to the workplace.

  • Employers (public or private) are required to ensure that all employees and workers of their establishment are using the Arogya Setu app.

  • Employers are required to avoid large physical meetings.

  • A list of hospitals/ clinics in the vicinity of the workplace is required to be displayed at the workplace at all times. Any employee who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 is required to be immediately sent to such facilities for a medical check-up. Employers are required to earmark designated quarantine areas in the workplace for isolating employees who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 till they are safely moved to the medical facilities.

  • Special transportation facility is required to be arranged for employees/ workers wherever the commute by personal/ public transport system is not feasible. Such special transportation facility is required to ensure compliance with the social distancing guidelines.

  • Employers are required to take up intensive communication and training on good hygiene practices.

Extension of Lockdown – Order dated 03 May 2020 issued by the State Government of Tamil Nadu

The State Government of Tamil Nadu has vide notification no. G.O.(Ms)No.217 dated 03 May 2020, issued the following orders for the effective containment of COVID-19:

  1. The lockdown period has been extended from 00.00hrs of 04.05.2020 to 24:00hrs of 17.05.2020.
  2. Agricultural and other activities already permitted, would continue to be permitted during the lock-down period.
  3. Existing restrictions for the below mentioned operations shall stand unaltered until further notification:

    a. Schools, colleges, training centers, research institutions and all other educational institutions;

    b. Public gatherings at place of worship and religious centers;

    c. Theaters, shopping malls, gymnasiums, swimming pools, sports complexes, assembly halls and similar places;

    d. Gatherings and processions of all nature including religious functions, social, political, sports, entertainment, academic and cultural and other gatherings;

    e. Air, rail and public bus transport for passenger movement (except dedicated staff buss/Vans used by industries and establishments);

    f. Taxi, auto, cycle rickshaw;

    g. Metro rail services;

    h. Inter-state public movement;

    i. Hotels (excluding the employees’ accommodation), lodges and resorts;

    j. Mall, barber shop, salon, spa, & beauty parlor;

    k. Air-conditioned showrooms selling jewels, clothes and departmental stores will not be permitted;

    l. Funeral procession with not more than 20 persons; and

    m. Marriages upon adherence to existing restrictions.
  4. No activity shall be permitted in the containment zones.
  5. Strict surveillance will be done on gathering of more than 5 people.
  6. The following activities are allowed in all areas falling under the jurisdiction of Greater Chennai Police (excluding containment zones):

    a. Construction works, provided the workers reside in the place where the construction work is carried on. Workers from outside should be brought on a one time basis.

    b. Construction works (including laying of roads) undertaken by Government and Public Sector Undertakings.

    c. Undertakings functioning in SEZ, EOU and Export Units: provided that 25% workers alone (minimum 20 workers) shall be permitted upon such undertakings allowed after due inspection and assessment by Commissioner, GCC / District Collector. Strict access control must be ensured. Employees shall travel only in vehicles operated by the respective Organisation.

    d. IT and ITes services, provided that 10% workers alone (minimum 20 workers) shall be permitted. Employees shall travel only in vehicles operated by the respective Organisation.

    e. Shops selling essential commodities from 6.00 A.M till 5.00 P.M. shall be permitted.

    f. E- Commerce services providers, handling food and essential commodities; shall be permitted based on the already permitted timings.

    g. Restaurants shall be permitted from 6.00 A.M till 9.00 P.M. Parcels alone shall be permitted.

    h. All Standalone and neighborhood shops (except saloons, spa and beauty parlours); construction hardware, cement, construction materials, sanitaryware, electrical items, mobile phone, computers, household appliances, electric motor and spectacles stores sold by standalone shops shall be permitted from 11.00 A.M till 5.00 P.M.

    i. Self-employed workers such as plumber, electrician, air conditioner mechanics, carpenter, home care providers for persons with special needs and household workers shall be permitted after obtaining necessary permission received from Chennai Corporation Commissioner/ District Collector.
  7. The following activities are allowed in all areas across the states (except for areas under the jurisdiction of Greater Chennai Police and containment zones)

    a. All industries, including the textile industries, located outside the Corporation/Municipal limits of the state (except in containment zones) shall be allowed to function with 50% workers (minimum 20 persons). All industrial activities across the village and town panchayat areas shall be allowed.

    b. However, in town panchayat having a population of more than 15,000, the District Collector should permit the operations of textile industries with 50% workers based on the local conditions.

    c. Functioning of SEZ, EOU, industrial estates, industrial townships in rural and urban areas shall be allowed with 50 % workers.

    d. Spinning Mills located in village and town panchayat area shall be permitted to operate with 50% workers on a shift basis by adhering to physical distancing norms.

    e. The operations of leather and textile industries dealing with designing and sampling for export purposes shall be allowed in the Municipalities and Corporations with the District Collectors’ permission and with 30% workers after accessing the local situation.
    f. Further, the District Collector may permit all export units in urban areas to operate with 50% workers, based on accessing the local condition.

    g. IT hardware manufacturing unit are permitted to operate with 50% workers.

    h. IT and ITeS services are permitted to operate with 50% employees (minimum 20 persons).

    i. Construction works carried in urban areas; provided the workers reside in the place where the construction work is carried on.

    j. Construction works (including laying of roads) undertaken by Government and Public Sector Undertakings;

    k. Self-employed workers such as plumber, electrician, air conditioner mechanics, carpenter, shall be permitted to work upon permission received from District Collector.

    l. Care givers for persons with special needs, physically challenged, elderly and sick patients, domestic helpers shall be permitted upon obtaining permission from the District Collector.

    m. Printing press operations shall be permitted.

    n. Shops selling construction hardware, cement, construction materials, sanitaryware, electrical equipment for enabling construction work shall be permitted to operate between 9.00 A.M. to 5.00 P.M. both in urban and rural area. There shall be no restriction on transportation of construction materials.

    o. Standalone establishments including those for mobile phones, computers, home appliances, electric motor repair, spectacles sale and repair shall be permitted to operate between 10.00 A.M. to 5.00 P.M.

    p. All the standalone establishments situated in rural areas shall be permitted to operate from 9.00 A.M. to 5.00 P.M.

    q. Restaurants shall operate between 6 A.M. to 9.00 P.M. for takeaway only.

    r. E-Commerce establishments shall operate as permitted earlier.

    s. District Collectors may upon circumstances permit the operation of all the standalone shops shall operate between 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. except malls and market complexes located in municipalities and corporations (Salon, spa and beauty parlour are not permitted).
  8. All industrial establishments shall strictly adhere to the SOPs listed out in Para VIII (Strict adherence to SOPs), Annexure I (SOP to be adhered with while restarting industries), Annexure II (SOP for construction industry) and Annexure III (SOP and measures to be taken if a COVID-19 positive is identified in a facility) of the notification.
  9. All activities mentioned below shall be permitted to function along with those activities that were already permitted:

    a. Agricultural and allied activities, plantation (including agro processing);

    b. Marine and inland fishing subject to the instructions issued by the fisheries department;

    c. Animal husbandry, milk, milk processing and poultry;

    d. Healthcare institution including AYUSH centers, pharmacies, laboratories and diagnostics;

    e. All manufacturing of essentials;

    f. All continuous process industries;

    g. In case of industries that are not permitted to operate – essential maintenance activities shall be carried on for safety purposes with minimal skeletal staff;

    h. Manufacture and sale of agricultural implements, fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, etc.;

    i. Financial institutions like RBI, SEBI, Banks, NBFCs, ATMs and related services;

    j. All media, postal services, telecom services;

    k. Public utility services;

    l. Social sector activities like home for senior citizens, etc.;

    m. All goods carriers;

    n. Logistics, warehousing and cold chain;

    o. All seaports, airports and railways stations for cargo/goods movement, etc.;

    p. Construction activities;

    q. Mining activities and mineral production;

    r. Amma canteens;

    s. Hotels, e-commerce and shops selling food, grocery, and essential commodities;

    t. MGNREGS activities
  10. If it becomes difficult to ensure safety, shops/markets selling meat, fish, vegetables, etc. can be shifted to larger spaces;
  11. Major industries, IT and ITes establishments, and construction activities shall be permitted after obtaining passes for the vehicles used for transportation of vehicles; Only 50% of the seating capacity shall be occupied;
  12. No separate passes shall be required for MSME located in the specified areas. However, MSME employees should carry the ID card issued by the company.
  13. All state government and central government offices shall function with 33% staff strength. However, all essential government services (including registration department) shall function with full strength; No separate pass shall be required while moving on duty.

The Tamil Nadu State Government has ordered the Greater Chennai Corporation and District Collectors to follow the above guidelines and accord necessary permissions to all permitted industries, enabling then to start their operations from 06 May 2020 onwards.

Violation of these measures shall be liable to be proceeded under Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 besides legal action under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code and other relevant provisions

This notification is accessible at: https://cms.tn.gov.in/sites/default/files/go/revenue_e_217_2020_0.pdf

Impact of COVID-19 on Leasehold Arrangements

Force Majeure is a French term and is commonly traced to French law. It denotes any event which is beyond the control of the parties. Force Majeure would include natural calamities like flood, earthquake, hurricanes, volcanic eruption etc., civil strife, military actions, health emergencies in the nature of epidemics.

While the expression force majeure is not explicitly used in the Indian Contract Act, 1872 (“ICA”), the ICA recognizes that an uncertain event on which the contract is dependent may become impossible (Section 32) and also that the act agreed to be done by the parties may become impossible or illegal (second para of Section 56). In the eventuality of Sections 32 and 56, the contract becomes void at the option of the party whose performance has been rendered impossible or frustrated.

The purpose of this article is to analyze the operability of force majeure in a lease agreement. Lease agreements are governed by the specific legislation, the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 (“TPA”).

The right of lease has been defined to mean among others, the right to enjoy an immovable property[1]. Hence the TPA recognizes the lessee’s right to avoid the lease if the property has been destroyed or rendered substantially and permanently unfit for the purposes for which it was let, by fire, tempest or flood, or violence of an army or of a mob, or other “irresistible force”[2].

Since the avoidance of lease on account of events impairing the property is at the option of the lessee, Courts have held that if the lessee does not exercise the option to treat the lease to be void after the property is rendered substantially unfit by fire, he will remain liable to pay rent[3]. Other than the aforementioned, the TPA does not recognise any other force majeure affecting the rights and obligations under a lease agreement.

The COVID-19 situation has caused the temporary vacation of leased premises across the nation, thereby creating a wave of requests from lessees for the exemption of the requirement of payment of rent for the period the premises was not occupied. The TPA does not recognize suspension of rental payment by the lessee on account of any grounds as already pointed out above.

It is not uncommon for lease deeds to have force majeure clauses. Such clauses typically absolve the parties from performing their respective obligations during the continuance existence of force majeure events. While such a clause will exempt the lessee from the consequence on non-performance of its obligation to keep the property in good condition, it is doubtful if such a clause would suffice to exempt payment of rent during the period of lockdown announced by the Government due to COVID-19. The obligation of a lessee to pay rent to the lessor, is not similar to his obligation to maintain the property in good condition. A lessee who has been put in possession of the property before COVID-19, continues to be in possession and occupation of the property, even if the lessee, his employees, customers or anyone else is unable to physically visit the property due to the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19. The lessee whose belongings are housed at the leased premises cannot say that he is not in possession and occupation of the premises. The obligation to pay rent is the consequence of being in possession of the premises.

Even in the context of executory contracts, it has been held that the performance of a contract is never discharged merely because it may become onerous to one of the parties[4]. Therefore, the fact that the lessee has not been able to carry out his business from the premises, may not be enough to be entitled to exemption from paying the rentals by relying on the force majeure clause in the lease deed. One has to remember that the COVID-19 has not rendered the property unfit for use as the lockdown is not on account of the property. Further, the party whose obligations are indeed put to immediate recusal on account of the lockdown are that of the lessor as he has been unable to make available the property. The inability of the lessor to perform his obligations should ideally therefore recuse the lessee from performing their obligations.

It will also have to be seen if the Courts will recognize the ancillary and long-term economic repercussions created by the COVID-19 pandemic as an economic force majeure exempting lessees from the obligation to pay rent during the period of lock-down. It is to be noted that while the Central Government has issued orders to protect migrant workers from demands for rent, no such protection has been extended to commercial leases[5].

Can lessees invoke the provisions of Sections 32 and 56 of the ICA? The answer is no, on account of the well settled position of law that since lease involves a transfer of interest in immovable property, a lease agreement is not an executory contract and therefore the provisions of the ICA will not be applicable over an executed contract[6].

In light of the above, lessees can evaluate the possibilities of termination of lease contracts and the commercial re-negotiation of the terms based on the requirements of the future, post the pandemic related lockdown.

[1] Section 105 of TPA.
[2] Section 108 (B) (e) of TPA.
[3] Sri Amuruvi Preumal Devasthanam v. KR Sabapathi Pillai and Ors (1962) 2 MLJ 452.
[4] Alopi Prasad & Sons vs. UOI, 1960 (2) SCR 793.
[6] Raja Dhruv Dev Chand vs Harmohinder Singh & Anr, AIR 1968 SC 1024; Lakshmipathi vs. Nithyananda Reddy, AIR 2003 SC 2427; Saha Ratansi Khimji v. Kumbhar Sons Hotel Pvt. Ltd, AIR2014SC2895.

Consolidated list of permitted activities allowed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) during COVID-19 and lockdown period

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) vide order dated April 15 2020 ( Here) laid out the list of permitted activities allowed during the lockdown period and these have been amended from time to time. More recently, the MHA order on May 1, 2020 extended the lockdown for a period of two weeks with effect from May 4, 2020 and issued new guidelines based on risk profiling of the districts into Red (Hotspot) , Green and Orange Zones (MHA Order). It is to be noted that all activities that have not been expressly prohibited/permitted with restrictions in the various zones as under shall be considered as permitted activities.Enumerated below are the consolidated list of activities permitted as on May 5 2020.

I. Permitted Movement of Transport and Persons (Irrespective of the Zones)

1. Domestic and International Air Travel of passengers only for security purposes

2. Passenger movement by trains only for security purposes

3. Inter District and Inter State movement of individuals for medical reasons

4. Inter State buses for public transport, if permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs

5. Sign on and Sign off of Indian Sea farers at Indian Ports and their movement for the aforesaid purposes under the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP)

6. Funerals[1], congregation of upto 20 persons and movements pertaining to the same.

7. Movement of individuals for all non essential activities except between 7pm to 7 am

8. All States/UTs shall allow inter-state movement of goods/cargo including empty trucks

9. No State/UT shall stop the movement of cargo for cross land border trade under Treaties with Neighboring countries

10. Due to lockdown, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons are stranded at different places. They would be allowed to move as under:

  • All States/ UTs should designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending and registering such stranded persons.

  • In case a group of stranded persons wish to move between one State/ UT and another State/ UT, the sending and receiving States may consult each other and mutually agree to the movement by road. The moving person (s) would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed.

  • Buses shall be used for transport of groups of persons.

  • The States/ UTs falling on the transit route will allow the passage of such persons to the receiving State/ UT. On arrival at their destination, such person(s) would be assessed by the local health authorities, and kept in home quarantine, unless the assessment requires keeping the person(s) in institutional quarantine.

  • They would be kept under watch with periodic health check-ups.

  • This facilitation is meant for such distressed persons who had moved from their native places/workplaces just before the lockdown period but could not return to their native places/workplaces on account of restrictions placed on movement of persons and vehicles as part of lockdown but does not extend to those categories of persons who are otherwise normally at places, other than native places for purposes of work, etc., and who wish to visit their native place in normal course.

II. Activities in Containment Zones

  1. Movement of persons is allowed only for maintaining supply of goods and services and for medical emergencies
  2. Out- Patient Departments and Medical Clinics shall not be permitted to operate.

III. Activities in Red Zone (Outside Containment Zones)

(a) List of Permitted Activities under Red Zone

  1. Movement of individuals and vehicles for only for permitted activities. Four wheelers will have maximum two passengers besides the vehicle driver; for two wheelers, pillion rider is not allowed
  2. Industrial Establishments in Urban Areas: Only Special Economic Zones (SEZs) , Export Oriented Units (EOUs), industrial estates and industrial townships, with access control. Manufacturing units of essential goods, including drugs, pharmaceuticals, medial devices, their raw material and intermediaries; Production Units, which require continuous process and their supply chain; Manufacturing of IT hardware, Jute industry with staggered shifts and social distancing and Manufacturing Units of packaging material are permitted . All industrial activities in rural areas are permitted
  3. Construction Activities in urban areas: Only in site construction (where workers are available on site and no workers are required to be brought in from outside ) and construction of renewable energy projects are permitted. All construction activities in rural areas are permitted
  4. All malls, market complexes and markets shall remain closed in urban areas i.e, areas within the limits of municipal corporations and municipalities. However, shops selling essential goods in markets and market complexes are permitted.
  5. All standalone (single) shops, neighborhood (colony) shops and shops in residential complexes are permitted to remain open without any distinction of essential and non-essential . Social Distancing shall be maintained in all cases
  6. E Commerce activities will be permitted only in respect of essential goods
  7. Private offices can operate with up to 33% strength as per requirement, with the remaining persons working from home.
  8. All Government offices shall function with officers of the level of Deputy Secretary and above the of 100% strength. The remaining staff will attend upto 33% as per requirement. However Defense and Security services, Health and Family Welfare, Police, Prisons, Home Guards, Civil defence, Fire and emergency services, Disaster management and related services, NIC, Customs, FCI, NCC, NYK and Municipal Services shall function without any restrictions; Delivery of public services shall be ensured and necessary staff will be deployed for such purpose.

(b) Exclusive prohibitions in Red Zone (Apart from common prohibitions)

  1. Cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws
  2. Taxis and cab aggregators
  3. Inter-District and Inter district plying of buses
  4. Barber shops, spas and salons

IV. Activities in Orange Zone (outside containment zones)

(a) List of Permitted Activities

  1. Taxis and Cab Aggregators are permitted, with 1 driver and 2 passengers only.
  2. Inter-District movement of individuals and vehicles, only for permitted activities. Four Wheeler vehicles will have maximum two passengers besides the driver.

(b) Exclusive Prohibition in Orange Zone

  1. Inter-district and intra-district plying of buses shall be prohibited in the orange zone

V. Activities in Green Zone

  1. All activities are permitted in the Green Zone, except the general prohibitions.
  2. Buses can operate with 50% seating capacity
  3. Bus depots can operate with 50 % seating capacity

VI. The following Standard Operating protocols (SOP) will continue to operate

  1. SOP on Transit arrangement for foreign national(s) in India and release of Quarantine Persons vide order dated April 02,2020 [Accessible Here]
  2. SOP on movement of stranded labour within States/UTs issued vide order dated April 19, 2020 [Accessible Here]
  3. SOP on sign on and sign-off Indian Sea farers, issued vide order dated April 21, 2020 [ Accessible Here]
  4. SOP on movement of stranded migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons issued vide order dated April 29,2020 [Accessible Here]
  5. SOP on movement of stranded migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students, and other persons by train issued vide order dated May 01,2020

[1] Gatherings such as marriages and funerals shall be regulated by the District Magistrate

Circular issued by Tamil Nadu’s Hon’ble Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy – English Translation

Today, I had enquired about the status of Coronavirus in Tamil Nadu. In villages, the spread of Coronavirus has been controlled to a certain extent. However, in urban areas especially which are densely populated, the chances of the virus spread are high. On having discussions with doctors and experts from the public health department, I have been informed that stringent lockdown measures are required in urban areas (namely Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai). So, the Tamil Nadu Government has taken the following decisions by exercising its powers under Disaster Management Act, 2005.

There shall be complete lockdown:

a. In Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai corporation limits from 26.04.2020 – 6.00 AM to 29.04.2020 – 9.00PM

b. In Tiruppur and Salem corporation limits from 26.04.2020 – 6.00 AM to 28.04.2020 – 9.00PM (Lockdown Period)

In the aforesaid Lockdown Period, the following essentials service shall alone be permitted:

  • Hospitals, medical research centers, and service relating to the medical department such as ambulance and funeral services;

  • Persons delivering essential services in secretariat, health and family welfare department, police department, revenue department, disaster management department, electricity department, aavin, local body offices, and metro water department;

  • Other central government departments, 33% staffs of the banks employees;

  • Amma canteens and ATM’s;

  • Hotels which are ready to provide home delivery;

  • Homes for old age, physically challenged and homes providing assistance to the senior citizens;

  • Community kitchens functioning for the destitute in every district, social welfare department and local bodies;

  • NGO’s working for the poor having due permission from the Government; and

  • Whole vegetable market like Koyambedu including mobile vegetable markets.

Any previous permission held by any person to open shops will not be applicable during the Lockdown Period in the aforesaid days. All other services shall be closed. Other government services such as registration department services will not be functioning. IT employees can work from home. Other private organizations shall not function.

The guidelines issued for other areas shall continue to remain implemented.

In the aforesaid Lockdown Period, strict measures shall be implemented in Containment Zones (“CZ”). The CZ shall be sanitized twice with disinfectants. If anyone violates the aforesaid rules, the vehicle shall be ceased and stringent actions shall be taken.

SEBI’s measures to facilitate fund raising from capital markets in the current COVID-19 scenario

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic and nation-wide lockdown and with a view to improving access to funding to corporates through capital markets, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), by way of press release dated April 21, 2020, bearing no. PR No.23/2020, has granted certain temporary relaxations from compliance with certain provisions of SEBI (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2018, as amended, (SEBI ICDR Regulations) related to rights / public issuances by listed entities.

Pursuant to the press release, SEBI has notified two circulars dated April 21, 2020, each for (i) relaxations to issuers from certain provisions of the SEBI ICDR Regulations in respect of rights issue; and (ii) one-time relaxation to issuers with respect to validity of SEBI observations. The contents of the circulars are as follows:

(i) Relaxations to issuers from certain provisions of the SEBI ICDR Regulations in respect of rights issue

SEBI, vide its circular dated April 21, 2020, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/CIR/CFD/DIL/67/2020) has granted temporary relaxation to the (a) minimum subscription requirements for rights issues; (b) threshold for not filing the draft letter of offer; and (c) eligibility conditions related to fast track rights issues. These relaxations are applicable to right issues that open on or before March 31, 2021 and are not applicable for issuance of warrants.

(a) Eligibility conditions related to fast track rights issues

SEBI has granted the following temporary compliance relaxations with respect to the eligibility conditions related to fast track rights issues:

  • The eligibility requirement related to period of listing of equity shares of the issuer on any stock exchange and compliance with the equity listing agreement or the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015, as applicable, has been reduced from 3 years to 18 months;

  • The requirement of average market capitalisation of public shareholding of INR 250 crores has been reduced to INR 100 crores; The condition related to no audit qualifications on issuer’s audited accounts has been replaced with the requirement to disclose the impact of audit qualifications on issuer’s financials; The condition related to suspension from trading of equity shares of issuer as a disciplinary measure has been reduced from 3 years to 18 months; and Certain other eligibility conditions with respect to period of compliance with the provisions of the listing regulations, ongoing action initiated by SEBI against the issuer / promoters / directors and settlement of violation of securities laws have also been relaxed.

(b) Minimum subscription requirements for rights issues

The existing minimum subscription to be received in a rights issue shall be at least 90% of the offer through the letter of offer. However, in order to provide greater flexibility in fund raising, this threshold for minimum subscription requirements for a rights issue has been reduced from existing 90% to 75% of the offer size, subject to the condition that if the rights issue is subscribed between 75% to 90%, issue will be considered successful subject to the condition that out of the funds raised, at least 75% of the rights issue size shall be utilized for the objects of the issue other than general corporate purpose.

(c) Threshold for not filing the draft letter of offer with SEBI

An issuer in case of rights issue of size less than INR 10 crores shall prepare the letter of offer in accordance with SEBI ICDR Regulations. However, in order to reduce the time involved in fund raising and for easing the compliance requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the threshold for not filing the draft letter of offer has been increased from INR 10 crores to INR 25 crores in a rights issue.

Please refer to the SEBI circular dated April 21, 2020, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/CIR/CFD/DIL/67/2020) for more details.

(ii) One-time relaxation to issuers with respect to validity of SEBI observations

In view of representations from various industry bodies, SEBI, vide its circular dated April 21, 2020, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/DIL1/CIR/P/2020/66) has provided one-time relaxation with respect to validity of SEBI observations.

As per SEBI ICDR Regulations, any public issue/rights issue may be opened within 12 months from the date of issuance of the observations by SEBI. However, due to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, for all public/rights issuers whose SEBI observations have expired or shall expire between March 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020, SEBI has extended the validity of those observations by 6 months from the date of its expiry, subject to an undertaking from the lead manager of the issue confirming compliance with the SEBI ICDR Regulations.

Further, an issuer, whose offer document is pending receipt of SEBI observations and whose estimated issue size is increasing or decreasing by more than 20% shall be required to file a fresh offer document. However, SEBI has relaxed this requirement and permitted to increase or decrease the fresh issue size by up to 50% of the estimated issue size (instead of the present limit of 20%) without requiring to file fresh draft offer document with SEBI. This relaxation shall be applicable for all issues (i.e. IPOs, rights issues and FPOs) opening before December 31, 2020, subject to the following conditions:

  • there has been no change in the objects of the issue;

  • the lead manager undertakes that the draft offer document is in compliance with provisions of the SEBI ICDR Regulations;

  • and the lead manager shall ensure that all appropriate changes are made to the relevant section of draft offer document and an addendum, in this regard, shall be made public.

Please refer to the dated April 21, 2020, SEBI circular (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/DIL1/CIR/P/2020/66) for more details.

Continuation of Phase II of Unified Payments Interface with Application Supported by Block Amount

Given the prevailing uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown, it has been represented by various stakeholders to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that the timelines of Phase II of Unified Payments Interface with Application Supported by Blocked Amount (UPI ASBA), which was originally only until March 31, 2020, as mentioned by SEBI in its circular dated November 8, 2019, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/DCR2/CIR/P/2019/133) may be continued at present.

It has been stated by the stakeholders that the systems and processes for achieving Phase III timelines of T+3 need to be further deliberated and finalized in light of the experience gained during one of the major IPOs that opened and closed in the first week of March 2020.

Therefore, taking into account the representations made by the stakeholders and challenges that may be faced by them due prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, SEBI, vide its circular dated March 30, 2020, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/DIL2/CIR/P/2020/50) has decided to continue with the current Phase II of the UPI ASBA until further notice. The modalities for the implementation of the Phase III of the UPI ASBA shall be notified later after deliberations with stakeholders.

Please refer to the SEBI circular dated March 30, 2020, (circular no. SEBI/HO/CFD/DIL2/CIR/P/2020/50) for more details.

Further Relaxations under Customs and GST Laws due to the COVID -19 Outbreak

The Government of India has announced various additional relaxations for taxpayers under Customs Law and Goods and Services Tax (GST) in order to overcome the unprecedented hardships caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to ensure smooth facilitation of trade, some practical difficulties have also been eased by way of circulars issued under Customs and GST law. (See also our earlier posts on relaxations under the Foreign Trade Policy, Customs laws, and GST)

We have summarised key takeaways from recent circulars below.

1. Acceptance of an undertaking in lieu of bonds: Circular No. 17/2020-Customs dated 3 April 2020

  • CBIC has clarified that an undertaking can be submitted in lieu of the bonds required to be filed for various purposes (such as provisional assessment, warehousing of goods etc.) under the Customs Act, 1962 (‘Customs Act’). This relaxation will apply to Government/public sector undertakings, manufacturer/actual user importer, authorised economic operators, status holder, and importers availing warehouse facilities. The aforesaid relaxation is applicable till 30 April 2020, upon fulfilment of prescribed conditions which, inter alia, include the following:

  • The undertaking has to be on the letterhead of the Importer Exporter Code (‘IEC’) holder, duly signed and submitted vide registered email ID of the IEC holder/their authorised customs broker.

  • The IEC holder must undertake to submit the proper bond in the prescribed format on notarised stamp paper on or before 7 May 2020.

  • This undertaking will not substitute the requirement of security prescribed under Customs Act, and the authorities may require some security to be furnished in specific cases.

2. Clearance of imports under Trade Agreements without original signed copy of Certificate of Origin (‘COO’): Trade Notice No. 59/2019-20 dated 28 March 2020, 62/2019-20 dated 6 April 2020 and Circular No. 18/2020-Customs dated 11 April 2020

  • The trade notices issued by DGFT and the customs circular prescribe as follows:

  • The original signed copy of the COO will be issued retrospectively, after the concerned Indian agencies resume operations post removal of lockdown.

  • Online applications for COO will be processed and a digitally signed copy will be provided to the applicant. However, the original signed copy of the COO will only be issued after the authorised agencies resume operation.

  • Fee of INR 600 will be payable for all COOs irrespective of whether they are retrospective or not.

  • The competent authorities of the countries with whom India has a trade agreement have been requested to accept the digitally signed COOs, and to provisionally clear the consignments at the preferential rate of duty until the circumstances on account of the COVID 19 pandemic normalise. Such provisional clearance may be allowed subject to execution of an undertaking or a bond.

  • Customs authorities have also been instructed to provisionally assess and clear import consignments on the basis of digitally signed copy or an unsigned copy of COO. The assessment will attain finality upon submission of the original COO by the importer. The provisional assessment and clearance may be subject to execution of an undertaking or a bond.

3. Electronic Communication of PDF based gate pass (‘e-Gate pass’) and electronic Out of Charge copy of Bill of Entry (‘e-OoC copy of BoE’) to custom brokers/ importers: Circular No. 19/2020-Customs dated 13 April 2020

In order to facilitate and expedite customs clearance and to make it more contactless, CBIC has decided to enable electronic communication of PDF based e-OoC copy of BoE and e-Gate pass to the importers/ customs brokers w.e.f. 15 April 2020. All custodians are required to register themselves on ICEGATE to ensure that the potential benefits can be availed across the Customs ecosystem.

4. Manner of Continuation of Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (‘MEIS’) for shipments exported on or after 01 April 2020 and Introduction of the Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) scheme: Trade Notice no. 3/2020-21 dated 15 April 2020

The RoDTEP scheme has been approved by the Cabinet and will replace the existing MEIS scheme. Further, in view of the extension of FTP 2015-20 till 31 March 2021, the benefits for goods listed in MEIS schedule has been extended till 31 December 2020. It has also been clarified that as and when any goods from MEIS schedule are notified under RoDTEP, the same will no longer be eligible for benefit under MEIS. Detailed operational framework of RoDTEP will be separately notified.

5. Special refund and drawback disposal drive: Instruction No. 03/2020-Customs dated 9 April 2020

CBIC has instructed the concerned officers to expedite processing of all pending Customs refund and drawback claims. This special drive shall be effective till 30 April 2020, and shall be applicable to all refund and drawback claims pending for disposal as on 07 April 2020.

6. Clarification in respect of certain challenges faced by registered persons in the implementation of provisions of GST Law: Circular No. 137/07/2020-GST dated 13 April 2020

  • Advances received under a service contract which is cancelled subsequently: CBIC has clarified that those service contracts in respect of which advance payment was received but such contract subsequently got cancelled, and the taxpayer has issued invoice as well as deposited tax on such contracts, a credit note will have to be issued for adjustment of tax by declaring such credit note in the GST return for the month during which it was issued. However, in case there is no output liability against which a credit note can be adjusted, refund of tax paid can be claimed under “Excess payment of tax, if any”. Similarly, in cases where a receipt voucher was issued on receipt of advance, a refund voucher will have to be issued and refund application for such GST paid on advance can be filed in FORM GST RFD-01 under the category “Refund of excess payment of tax”.

  • Goods supplied under an invoice which is subsequently returned: A credit note will have to be issued for adjustment of tax by declaring the same in the return for the month during which such credit note was issued. However, in case there is no output liability against which a credit note can be adjusted, refund of tax paid can be claimed under “Excess payment of tax, if any”.

  • Time limit for filing of Letter of Undertaking (‘LUT’) for the financial year 2020-21: The time limit for filing the LUT in respect of exports to be made after 1 April 2020 has been extended till 30 June 2020. It has been further clarified that exporters may continue to export without payment of IGST under the existing LUT pertaining to financial year 2019-20.

  • Due date for furnishing FORM GSTR-7 (TDS statement): Tax deducted for period from 20 March 2020 to 29 June 2020 can be deposited till 30 June 2020. Further, no interest will be leviable if such tax deducted is deposited by 30 June 2020.

  • Due date for filing a refund claim: Application for submission of refund claims due to be filed by 31 March 2020, is extended till 30 June 2020.

MCA clarification on passing of special and ordinary resolutions by companies under the provisions of Companies Act, 2013 and the rules made thereunder on account of the threat posed by COVID-19.

Further to the MCA circular dated April 08, 2020 issued in relation to passing of special and ordinary resolutions by companies under the provisions of Companies Act, 2013, the MCA is in receipt of representations from various stakeholders. Representations indicate the difficulties faced by them in the present circumstances, in serving and receiving the notices/responses by post. Considering the same and to give more clarity in terms of holding of EGM’s during the Covid 19 related social distancing norms and the lockdown for the period as indicated in the April 08, 2020 circular, or till such further orders, whichever is earlier, MCA has issued following clarifications:

  1. Considering the present circumstances, as per the provisions of rule 18 of the Companies (Management and Administration) Rules, 2014, the notice to the members may be given only via emails at the email id’s registered with the company or with the depository participant/depository.
  2. Companies which are required to provide the facility of e-voting, are required to observe the following while publishing the public notice as per rule 20(4)(v) of the Companies (Management and Administration) Rules, 2014:
  • A statement that the EGM has been convened through VC or OAVM;
  • Date and time of the EGM;
  • Availability of notice on the website of the company and the stock exchange;
  • Manner in which the members holding physical shares and who have not registered their email id’s may cast their vote through remote e-voting or through the e-voting system during the meeting;
  • The manner in which the members can register their email id’s with the company; and
  • Any other detail considered necessary by the company.

3. Chairman of the company must make sure that the company has made all efforts feasible under the present circumstances to enable the members to participate and vote at the meeting.

4. Companies which are not required to provide e-voting facility are also allowed to give notice to the members only via emails at the email id’s registered with the company or with the depository participant/depository. In addition to this, such companies are required to observe the following:

  • Upload the notice on the company website;
  • Contact all the members whose email id’s are not registered with the company and inform them about the meeting and also request them to register their email id’s so that the company can send notice;
  • In absence of contact details of the members, the company must give a public notice and include the details of the meetings and request the members to contact the company to register their contact details and email id with the company;

Please refer to the MCA circular no. 17/2020 dated April 13, 2020 for more details.