The financial toll on their companies notwithstanding, India Inc. has planned a host of measures to ease the woes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. These range from a cut in the prices of essentials like sanitisers to setting up a dedicated hospital to serve coronavirus patients, and monetary contributions.
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), ranked no.1 on the Fortune India 500 list for 2019, has taken a lead on this by planning various measures across its business lines. Along with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corp, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital (run by the oil-to-yarn and retail-to-telecom conglomerate) helped set up a dedicated 100-bed centre at Seven Hills Hospital in Mumbai’s Andheri East area for patients who tested positive for Covid-19. RIL’s hospital in South Mumbai has also set up special medical facilities in its own campus to quarantine travellers from foreign countries and those suspected to have been affected by the novel virus.
Reliance Life Sciences, another arm of the group, is importing additional test kits that can be used to test suspected patients and RIL has also ramped up the production of face masks and protective equipment for health workers. The Mukesh Ambani-led company announced a contribution of ₹5 crore to the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
Under the umbrella of its digital services arm, Reliance Jio Infocomm, RIL has planned a slew of tech-enabled measures as well. Jio Haptik (an artificial intelligence company that Jio had acquired) is powering the Indian government’s WhatsApp chatbot designed to help address queries around the coronavirus outbreak. Jio is also enabling e-consultations between citizens and physicians; and allowing for virtual classrooms so that students can continue with their academic pursuits while staying at home. The company is offering broadband connectivity of up to 10 mbps without any service charges and double the data on its 4G data plans.
RIL, which had a turnover of ₹6.22 lakh crore in FY19, is also offering free fuel for emergency service vehicles at its fuel pumps and has committed to ensuring that its 736 grocery stores remain well-stocked at all times and open for extended hours.
For employees, RIL has committed to pay contract and temporary workers, even if they aren’t reporting to work. For those earning below ₹30,000, salaries would be paid twice a month to protect their cash flows, the company said.
Many other companies, including the Tata group of companies, have committed to do their bit for the country by continuing to pay workers, despite their inability to report to work. During his address to the nation on March 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to corporate India that it shouldn’t dock salaries of workers during such a crucial period.
“The current situation is likely to have a large and deep financial impact on the weaker socioeconomic segments of our society,” Tata Sons chairman N. Chandrasekaran said in a statement dated March 20. “During this time of crisis, our group companies commit to ensuring full payments to the temporary workers and daily wage earners who are working in our offices and at our sites in India for the month of March and April, 2020, even if these workers are not able to work due to either quarantine measures, site closures, plant shutdowns or other reasons.”
Anand Mahindra, chairman of the automobiles-to-information technology group, Mahindra & Mahindra, took to Twitter to offer up resorts run by Mahindra Holiday Resorts as temporary care facilities. “A lockdown over the next few weeks will help flatten the curve and moderate the peak pressure on medical care,” Mahindra said. “However, we need to create score of temporary hospitals and we have a scarcity of ventilators. To help in the response to this unprecedented threat, we at the Mahindra Group will immediately begin work on how our manufacturing facilities can make ventilators. At Mahindra Holidays, we stand ready to offer our resorts as temporary care facilities.”
Mahindra also committed to donating his entire salary into a fund to assist the “hardest hit in the value chain (small businesses and self-employed). Vedanta Group chairman Anil Agarwal also pledged ₹100 crore towards fighting the pandemic.
The government’s decision to allow money set aside by listed companies for battling the Covid-19 crisis to qualify as their mandatory CSR (corporate social responsibility) spend, has also encouraged many more firms to commit to the cause. India’s largest lender, State Bank of India (SBI), announced a commitment of 0.25% of its annual profit in FY20 towards this cause. The bank will use this fund for various activities related to Covid-19, mainly to support health care for underprivileged people in cooperation with health care professionals and industry, it said.
“This is a time for the nation to be united. We at SBI will continue our support towards the people and communities of India amidst this critical period in the best possible way,” SBI’s chairman Rajnish Kumar said. “I also urge all the responsible corporate citizens to come forward and not only take all precautionary preventive measures for entire staff, their families and people around but also contribute generously to support fellow countrymen who need financial help in these unprecedented difficult times.”
Consumer goods firms, ranging from Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) to ITC and Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) also undertook to slash the prices of essential products like handwash and sanitisers during this period.
GCPL, which had earlier planned to increase the prices of its soaps due to a 30% escalation in the cost of raw materials, deferred the decision in response to the nationwide health concern. It also slashed the prices of its sanitisers to ₹25 per 50ml bottle, from ₹75 earlier. Mumbai-based HUL, which has committed ₹100 crore to fight the pandemic, also decided to cut prices of its Lifebuoy liquid handwash and sanitisers and Domex floor cleaners by 15%. The company said it will donate 20 million pieces of Lifebuoy soaps in the next few months to the underserved sections of society that are most vulnerable to the outbreak. It will also donate ₹10 crore to upgrade the healthcare facilities in testing centres and hospitals.