When the year began, news of novel Corona virus ravaging Wuhan in China had gained decibel in India. Although, concerned with the mysterious and fast-paced nature of its transmission, I do not think anyone anticipated it would blow up into a massive global pandemic, causing death, debilitating healthcare systems and seriously jolting the entire global economy.
Four months on, India, along with several other countries is under lockdown to control the outbreak of this pandemic. Undoubtedly, a story of human tragedy most severe. There are two facets to this tragedy, one the loss of life and of a dire public health threat. Second, the long-term devastating impact on businesses worldwide. Factory productions have come to a grinding halt, small businesses have been forced to down their shutters, many daily wage earners who constitute a significant number of the working population in India, have lost their livelihoods and consumption is drastically down. All alarming indicators of a likely contraction of the economy, and plummeting growth rates.
As an entrepreneur, in this time of uncertainty, ensuring the safety of my employees is my topmost priority. We took an early decision to switch to remote working for our corporate and regional offices on 17 March 2020 even before the lockdown was imposed by the government. As power generation is classified as an essential service, our project sites continue to be operational with every safety measure and precaution in place for our onsite workers. I am grateful to my site colleagues for displaying admirable commitment in this situation that has helped us maintain business continuity with minimal disruptions.
An Action Plan
So, what is the role that India Inc. should play in the current scenario? It starts with a humble acknowledgement of the resources we possess with which we can help. This is a great time to reaffirm our commitment to social responsibility. To ensure that we give with the generosity that the crisis demands. It is also a time of great uncertainty and we need human ingenuity to help us sail through this difficult phase. It is reassuring to see that a lot of us have already pitched in to form consortiums in many cities and are working with local governments to help – in donation, both in kind as well as through service. Earlier this week, ReNew Power announced the following specific measures to do our bit to support the nation through this crisis:
- A commitment of Rs.20 crores of which Rs. 10 crores will be contributed to the PM CARES fund and Rs. 5 crores will go towards the Chief Minister?s relief fund in various states. The rest will be spent on several activities targeted to directly help communities impacted by the lockdown and to bolster the health infrastructure to tackle the pandemic.
- As part of these activities, we will focus on feeding migrant labourers, daily wage workers and locals around our sites spread across the country by distributing dry ration packets in conjunction with the local administration. We will cover around 140 villages across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
- Additionally, we are adopting a village in Haryana, where around 350 vulnerable households will be provided with dry ration and hygiene kits.
- Our senior leadership team has also joined other corporate leaders from Gurgaon to provide critical support to the authorities, including distributing PPE kits for front-line healthcare providers, helping hospitals with ventilator supplies, meals and dry ration for affected communities.
I?m particularly encouraged by the support shown by ReNewers who have joined me and our senior management in contributing a part of their salary to fund various activities to fight COVID-19.
Building a Collective Response
We recently organised a Tweet Chat on how India Inc. can collectively help fight COVID-19. It was great to be a part of a distinguished panel where we not only shared our experiences but also learnt some important aspects. One of the panellists, Prof K. Nath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) came up with an interesting suggestion, saying, ?PPP should be redefined as Partnership for Public Purpose. This will enable partnerships of government with private sector and NGOs, between 2 or more private sector entities, between private sector & NGOs and between two NGOs – with each partnership serving a specific public purpose, with defined deliverables and accountability.?
Eminent journalist Vikram Chandra emphasized the need to provide immediate liquidity support to those particularly vulnerable in the current business environment. He also pointed out to the opportunity to push through reforms that enable India to replace China in supply chains. As reported by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, one of the consequences of this crisis is that about 200 U.S companies are looking to shift their supply base to India. We must facilitate this move by implementing a ?zero entry barrier welcome?. This unequivocal message will send out a strong signal that India is the right destination for growth and expansion.
More insights from this panel has been captured here:- https://twitter.com/i/events/1245988635595300865
The Government’s decision to allow CSR funds to go into COVID-19 relief measures will allow us to become equal partners in combating this crisis. Apart from monetary donations, I believe each sector has unique potential and capability to do more at this hour of crisis. I am happy to note some really encouraging news pouring in from different corners in the form of some innovative solutions that are much needed. Some of the ones I found interesting are as follows:
- Tech companies are accelerating corporate social innovation- A leading example is an IIT Delhi incubated start up; that has come up with an infection proof fabric that can be used at hospitals which can prevent hospital- acquired infections. Another outstanding innovation story comes from IIT Roorkee where a team is developing low-cost, portable ventilators.
- Recently, Taj Hotels in Mumbai offered housing spaces to doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Mr. Mahindra has stepped forward and offered Mahindra Holiday Resorts to the government for use as medical care centre
- Biotech and pharmaceutical companies are accelerating their focus on testing and treatment which will ultimately lead to prevention of COVID-19 in the future.
Government Impetus for the Economy
Relief measures undertaken by the RBI are positive initial steps but there is a long way to go. The government must come forth with a concrete plan. Steps need to be taken to recharge MSMEs and big corporates in the most affected sectors, as several livelihoods depend on their smooth functioning. While reduced interest rates and tax cuts will provide some relief, we must also arrive at strategies to infuse capital into the economy by way of increase in public spending. According to me, demand revival will be key to revitalizing the economy and for this, the government needs to pump huge liquidity into the system. America has announced 2 trillion-dollar stimulus, which is nearly 12% of GDP. However, India does not have the same luxury as we cannot afford a major deviation from fiscal discipline as this might send wrong signals to foreign investors.
Finally, once we have tided over the crisis, ease of business and a conducive environment will ensure businesses bouncing back to normalcy as quickly as possible.
Learning for the Future
Flexibility and resilience will be the key for businesses to come out of these trying times. This crisis has brought to the forefront the possibility of a workforce functioning virtually and remotely without compromising on work efficiency. It has also highlighted that businesses will need to be nimble and adapt to changing environments.
The positive aspect amidst these challenging times is the sudden drop in carbon emissions, even if temporary. At an individual level, we?ve all witnessed clearer skies, cleaner air, clearer water and the return of flora and fauna. Just last weekend, people in Jalandhar caught a glimpse of the magnificent, snow-capped Himalayas after decades. We all must remember that global warming is still a threat looming over us, and the only way forward is to be mindful of our environment and adopt sustainable practices, as a community and as individuals. We need to continue to act on climate change in a proactive manner, with the same sense of urgency and public involvement.
I am hopeful of seeing a paradigm shift towards a more eco-conscious way of living and doing business while preserving the Earth.