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Updated: Sep 22, 2020

- Siddharth de Souza, Conor McGylnn and Varsha Aithala

The Covid-19 pandemic is raising urgent legal and regulatory questions for Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs) and startups in and  around India. These institutions, which form the backbone of the Indian economy,are facing multifold challenges ranging from questions with regard to access to capital, and  loans and renegotiation of contracts to changes in labour regulations and enhanced health and sanitary requirements for re-opening business. This increased burden might even put the sustenance of some of these businesses, which were already struggling from the after effects of demonetisation and GST implementation, at risk.

The Global Legal Hackathon organised in collaboration with the Financial Times and RSG Consulting is an opportunity for us as an organisation to think about how we could empower MSMEs and startups in India, and come up with a workable and tangible solution to support them to tide over the unpredictability that this crisis generated. Our first step was to conduct a survey where we sought to (i) understand from all members of the public, the problems which plague this sector and (ii) find out how lawyers could assist entrepreneurs by leveraging their skills and time to suggest potential courses of action that they need to urgently implement.

A key recommendation that emerged from the survey was the need to focus on building legal awareness about the dynamic nature of developments that are taking place in the legal and regulatory landscape for this sector. We also found an unanswered need for go to guides which would provide solutions to the key challenges and issues for businesses responding to the Covid-19 crisis. In the next stage of our analysis, we drew insights from the survey to go deeper and examine the kind of issues had emerged for this sector, and looked at guidance from different sources including the Ministry related to this sector, the Confederation of Indian Industry, as well as leading economists who had examined some of the policies from Government. Through a scoping study and analysis of a slew of policy and regulatory changes from government, and a series of notifications issued by different ministries, we systematised these developments according to the key legal areas that would impact Indian MSMEs and startups.

Our next challenge was to determine the nature of the content we would provide. For this we adopted the following approach. We were concerned with our content being actionable and  accessible and with this in mind, we invited a series of professionals participating in the Hackathon to prepare short primers on different issues. Each primer covers the background and objectives (to layout the rationale for the changes taking place) and contexts of the issues (which delve into how the issues arose, and what implications it has for business and their operations) and suggests some solutions that have emerged from government. These primers also provide a set of useful resources for the reader to follow and . list out FAQs to act as a repository of information for readers to address their concerns .

The key primers in this symposium are produced are  on “Addressing changes to labour laws” by Varsha Aithala, “Understanding Contracts” by Aditya Srikanth, “Managing Rentals” by Aditya Gaggar, “Establishing  Safety Measures for Reopening Businesses” by Eklavya Vasudev and “Loans and Financing” by Aakash Agarwal.

Each primer aims to make the task of finding answers to major regulatory and policy questions easier. By providing an accessible overview of the legal issues involved and the solutions available, these primers  aim to empower employees and small business owners during this trying time.

At Justice Adda, we endeavour to help make access to legal information engaging, and actionable through working at the interface of law and design. We believe that it is always vital that all citizens are aware of their legal rights and obligations, but never more so than during an international emergency. We hope that this series of primers helps employees and small business owners to get access to justice both during and after the current pandemic ends. 

(Siddharth is Founder at Justice Adda and research fellow and PhD candidate at Humboldt University of Berlin , Conor is a Consultant at Justice Adda and a Schwarzman Scholar at Tshingua University and Varsha is a Consultant at Justice Adda and a research fellow at Azim Premji University)


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