The World Health Organization (WHO)Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) as “a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.” However, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (often referred to by his initials JFK), the 35th president of the United States, in one of the convocation speeches in 1959, said, “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters — one represents ‘danger’ and the other represent s ‘opportunity’.” Most of us across the planet –from richie rich to the poorest — are now aware what danger the deadly coronavirus has inflicted upon the mankind. Challenges galore for countries like India, but it is time to turn them into opportunities. In India, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the forefront. Corporates, both large and small, based in India or abroad, have risen to the challenge.
Corporate India has made it amply clear that they take their social responsibility quite seriously even though companies across the country continue to struggle with the allpervasive impact of the virus. Taking forward its rich legacy of involvement in social causes for national development, companies, individual entities, both privately owned corporates and Public Sector Units (PSUs) continue to contribute to public welfare beyond the scope of their normal activities.
In recent years, especially after CSR came under the ambit of legally-mandated framework, one can see a direct engagement of industry conglomerates in addressing societal concerns. For the record, ours is the first country in the world to make CSR mandatory; it was facilitated by an amendment to the Companies Act, 2012 in April 2014. Since its commencement, on an average, listed companies in India spent `10,000 crore annually in various programmes — ranging from educatio nal programmes, skill development, social welfare and healthcare and environment conservation.
Partnership with the government to fight against Covid-19
However, the focus of spending drastically changed owing to coronavirus disease that severely disrupted socio-economic dynamics of almost all counties including India.The WHO aptly declared this viral disease (named Covid-19 as it started in 2019) as a global pandemic. As ‘social distancing’ played a key role in containing the spread of this deadly infection, Governments, both at the Centre and State, had to resort to lockdowns throughout the country in March 2020. Further extension of lockdown as the Covid caseloads spiraled brought in economic troubles leading to massive humanitarian crisis like reverse migration by tens of millions of workers from informal sectors.
The Covid – 19 pandemic , described by many as one of the most ‘virulent’ diseases unknown to mankind, offered an opportune time to the CSR community to mitigate sufferings of people in collaboration with government’s efforts. To tackle the Covid menace, companies were motivated to provide social support. Given the complex nature of deadly virus, the government machinery and resources are not sufficient to fight against the pandemic. After March 23, 2020 Ministry of Corporate Affairs circular, all expenses incurred on activities related to Covid-19 are now added as permissible avenues for the CSR expenditure. It’s heartening to know that the response to the government’s call to support Covid-19 efforts has been overwhelming; a majority of the companies contributed generously to the PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund. The Fund was set up on March 28, 2020, following the pandemic. It is “aimed at strengthening the fight against Covid-19.” Donations to the Fund also qualify to be counted as CSR expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013. The Fund announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fight the pandemic has got the wholehearted support from people from various quarters of life. Corporate India is helping the government fight the coronavirus outbreak by donating crores of rupees, supplying medical equipment and opening hospitals.
In August 2020, the Government amended the CSR norms to include research and development (R&D) spending on new vaccines, drugs, medical devices related to Covid-19. “Any company engaged in research and development activity of new vaccine, drugs and medical devices in their normal course of business may undertake research and development activity of new vaccine, drugs and medical devices related to Covid-19 for financial years 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 subject to the conditions,” said the gazette notification. These conditions are “such research and development activities shall be carried out in collaboration with any of the institutes or organizations mentioned in item (ix) of Schedule VII to the Act. And, details of such activity shall be disclosed separately in the Annual Report on CSR included in the Board’s Report”, according to the MCA notification. While the relaxation is applicable for three years till 2022-23, it comes with the caveat that such R&D activity must be carried out in collaboration with specified public institutions. This step is expected to enhance manifold the flow of funds towards the Covid-19 vaccine and drug development.
As a natural corollary to this changing CSR landscape, Indian companies have mobilized support to m i t i g a t e t h e i m p a c t o f t h i s unprecedented crisis. While the Government’s PM CARES Fund has witnessed monumental support from corporates, some companies have also contributed by individual programs and relief efforts. Some have also partnered with local authorities of respective state governments to donate medical/food supplies and scale other initiatives to cater to the needs of local communities. Almost half of the companies representing medical/healthcare have dedicated programs towards Covid-19 relief in their CSR strategy for the next fiscal. Technology companies have taken the onus on developing and releasing new products centered on combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Needless to say, responding to the Covid-19 pandemic has provided corporates the opportunity to expand their CSR footprint and engage with sectors. It is encouraging to see how corporates have pivoted their CSR models to best address the urgent societal challenges.
Contribution of CSR fund by PSUs and Indian Corporates
Over 100 PSUs from across sectors have together contributed their CSR fund in PM CARES. In addition to ` 2,400 crore in CSR funds, they also contributed nearly ` 155 crore from staff salaries. According to RTI records, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) gave ` 29.06 crore to the fund from staff salaries. Even the ailing Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)contributed ` 11.43 crore from salaries. Till August, 38 PSUs had used their CSR funds to together contribute over ` 2,105 crore to the fund, with ONGC topping with ` 300 crore. Another PSU, Railtel Corporation, contributed ` 5.30 crore from CSR and ` 15.03 lakh as staff contribution. Overall, 24 PSUs gave ` 1 crore or more to the fund from staff salaries. Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) donated ` 23.99 crore from staff salaries and ` 225 crore from CSR. National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), which was second in terms of CSR (` 250 crore), is fifth in terms of staff salaries (` 7.58 crore). Since August, RTI responses have also revealed contributions of ` 204.75 crore from seven public banks and other financial institutions, apart from ` 21.81 crore by several central educational institutions, all from staff salaries. Until December 4, 101 PSUs contributed ` 154.70 crore from salaries and 98 gave a total of ` 2,422.87 crore from their CSR funds.
According to CRISIL, corporate India has already allocated over 80 per cent of its annual CSR budget to address the pandemic. In response to the PM CARES, among corporates, A d a n i G r o u p a n n o u n c e d a n ` 100-crore contribution by his group’s philanthropic arm to various initiatives in support of the war against Covid-19. Tata Sons and Tata Trusts pledged to contribute ` 1,500 crore for the cause. The JSW Group committed to extend a financial assistance of ` 100 crore to combat the deadly virus.Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal committed ` 100 crore to fight the pandemic. The Bajaj Group pledged ` 100 crore to be used to support upgradation of healthcare infrastructure, initiatives for providing food and shelter, and economic aid programmes in rural areas. Among the leading pharma companies, Mankind Pharma has been involved in the country’s fight against the pandemic in several ways.
Role of Indian Pharma Companies
Indian pharmaceutical companies, well-known for producing affordable low-cost medicines, will play an important role in the global fight against the corona virus pandemic. With over a million deaths, Covid-19 has shaken the world. India is facing tough time and most crucial role is played by India’s pharma industry. Not only own citizens but the entire world are looking to India for production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines even as the roll out for the vaccination has started in some countries. Earlier too, as the pandemic hit the world in 2020, Indian pharma industry rose to the occasion and exorted medicine such as hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol to more than 150 countries. India has emerged as a beacon of hope to manufacture and supply the huge number of vaccines needed to tackle the pandemic. Indian companies such as Zydus, Bharat Biotech and Gennova are developing indigenous vaccines. Other domestic companies are collaborating with global companies such as Serum Institute with AstraZeneca, Dr Reddys with Sputnik and Biological E with J&J.
Vaccine Distribution: Logistics and Cold Chain
Right from its procurement to storage, a n d t h e n d i s t r i b u t i o n a n d administration, vaccine distribution has several parameters associated with it. The distribution of the vaccine can be accelerated with technology, and data-driven solutions can make the process more efficient. Data can also be used in logistics management to optimize delivery routes and vehicles. R e c e n t l y , B h a r a t B i o t e c h Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella said that people who are infected should also take a vaccine, and India is well prepared regarding the logistics for the vaccine distribution as it has a very robust immunization system. SII has scaled back production of shots for other diseases and is readying more cold rooms, buying more trucks and hiring more workers. For DHL India, the logistics company, vaccine transportation work has already begun in India. It recently brought in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for trials and will play a crucial role in exporting vaccines, and distributing them within the country. Hindustan Syringes will increase capacity by 42 per cent to 1 billion units by the first half of next year. It has already shipped some 140 million syringes that disable themselves after one use for the global vaccine distribution program COVAX. Snowman, India’s biggest cold chain operator, will nevertheless double its vaccine handling capacity to 200 million doses by March.
In an inspiring show of solidarity with government’s effort, businesses in India are playing an important role through CSR funding by contributing to healthcare research. The support and donations extended by most of the corporates in times of the pandemic are testimony to the fact that the CSR community stand for something which is bigger than enhancing their businesses or creating value for their shareholders or making profits.