Big businesses in India have been urged to direct their corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending on helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic after the government confirmed that such expenditure would be covered by the CSR spending rules.
During a video conference on 23 March with the leaders of business groups such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), prime minister Shri Narendra Modi urged all big companies in India to divert their CSR budgets to humanitarian causes to help slow the spread of the virus and to support those affected by the COVID-19 illness.
The prime minister’s call came on the same day the Ministry of Corporate Affairs confirmed that spending by big companies on certain COVID-19 activities – namely the promotion of healthcare (including preventive healthcare and sanitation) and disaster management – would be officially classed as CSR spending. The government also confirmed that direct cash contributions to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES) would also qualify as CSR expenditure.
In India, certain large and medium-sized companies must contribute two per cent of their net profits to CSR projects. Normally, the qualifying projects cover programmes such as promoting education and reducing child mortality, but the government’s recent announcement means companies can now direct their CSR spending on specific activities to help tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.
Writing on the Invest India Business Immunity Platform on 25 March, business investment expert Remya Lakshmanan said big businesses welcomed the move as it would “help in directing the pooled resources of the private sector towards fighting the virus outbreak”.
Lakshmanan wrote: “Some companies such as Diageo India have already started showing its support through its commitment to produce 300,000 litres of hand sanitizers to overcome any shortage.
“Furthermore, it has pledged to donate 150,000 masks to five states’ public health departments across the country to be used by health professionals and caregivers who are selflessly extending their service to Covid-19 affected patients.”
She also gave the example of how the Reliance Foundation of Reliance Industries was ramping up its production to produce one lakh face masks per day and other medical equipment to help protect healthcare workers. “It [Reliance] is also looking to arrange free fuel to emergency vehicles to transport Covid-19 patients and offer free meals in various cities to support the livelihood of those impacted,” she wrote.
In addition, The State Bank of India has announced that it will contribute 0.25 per cent of its net profit towards the cause of fighting the outbreak, she reported.
“Whether it is ensuring distribution of masks or donations of hand sanitisers, corporates are proactively supporting the government and communities during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Lakshmanan stated.
The efforts of Indian companies to provide funding and other help to help control the spread of COVID-19 came as the country was locked down for 21 days until midnight on 14 April in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Announcing the lockdown, PM Modi said: “As per health experts, a period of at least 21 days is critical to break the infection cycle of coronavirus. If we are not able to manage these 21 days, the country and your family could be set back 21 years. If we are not able to manage these 21 days, several families will get devastated forever.
“Hence, you must forget what going out means for the next 21 days. Stay inside your home.”
Meanwhile, in other developments:
- The Times of India reported that the government told the Supreme Court on 31 March that 22.88 lakh migrant labourers and daily wage workers were now being provided with food and shelter by state governments to prevent them continuing to travel on foot to their home states and villages, after millions of people attempted to leave Indian's cities and towns on foot after losing their daily work due to the lockdown
- A video from The Times of India showing migrant workers who had returned to Uttar Pradesh from Delhi-NCR being sprayed with an alleged chemical solution by a sanitising team at a bus station in Bareilly resulted in an apology from the city's mayor and was widely reported by the media around the world
- PM Modi announced on 24 March that an initial Rupees Fifteen Thousand Crore would be made available for strengthening the country’s medical infrastructure to treat cases of coronavirus
- The Ministry of Finance announced an initial Rs 1.70 Lakh Crore relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the country’s poor to provide them with food and money to cope with the loss of income due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The package includes doubling the amount of foodgrains provided to 80 crore individuals (roughly two-thirds of India’s population) for the next three months, free of charge; and direct cash payments to a variety of workers, including releasing money from the Welfare Fund for Building and Other Constructions Workers to provide cash payments to around 3.5 Crore building workers registered under the fund
- The Invest India Business Immunity Platform was launched to provide advice to businesses on India’s response to COVID-19. The platform will explain the various government initiatives designed to control the spread of the virus and to support people and the economy – and what these mean for businesses – and allows employers to obtain advice on issues such as business continuity via email and WhatsApp.
Warning over abuse of doctors
PM Modi also warned that “strict action” would be taken against people who abuse medical staff who are caring for COVID-19 patients.
Modi called on all citizens that witness mistreatment of medical staff to “make such people understand that they are wrong”.
He added that India’s director generals of police (DGPs) at state and union level have been instructed to take “strict action” against those who are not supporting or co-operating with medical staff treating patients infected with COVID-19.
India’s doctors and medical staff have supported PM Modi’s call for people to remain indoors during the 21-day lockdown.
Speaking to BBC News in the UK, Dr VK Batra from Delhi said: “I have just one key message for people – stay at home. Just do this for a few weeks and we may have a fighting chance to control the outbreak.”
Advice for employers and individuals in India on preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting workers from the risk of infection can be found at:
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