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Putting CSR funds to good use during and after Covid-19 crisis

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on March 25, 2020 Published on March 25, 2020

Corporate India, civil society want focus on medical infrastructure, healthcare and emergency income support

 

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds contributed by companies to any specific fund set up, either by the government or a non-government entity, should be used to provide emergency income support and livelihood as Covid-19’s peak infection stage abates, apart from being used to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure on an immediate basis, voices from corporate India and civil society have said.

While the government has already committed to spend ₹15,000 crore to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure and train adequate caregivers across the country to attend to those affected by the Covid-19 infection, the amount is seen as inadequate, given the fears of the spread of the disease.

It is, therefore, depending on private sector interventions and has already allowed use of CSR funds for Covid-related activities, specifically in healthcare, eradicating poverty and malnutrition, and sanitation as well as for disaster management, including relief and rehabilitation. While this measure has been welcomed all around, the speed at which the funds are utilised is seen as key.

Priority for hunger, disease

Ganesh Natarajan, founder and Chairman of Pune-based 5F World and chair of SVP India, a network of C-suite executives engaged in individual philanthropy, said the government could use the CSR funds contributed to a special Covid fund to set up soup kitchens, provide shelter to homeless migrant workers. In the first phase, money needs to be spent on addressing hunger and disease and subsequently on providing livelihood, he added.

Sudhir Kapadia, national tax leader, EY India, felt the CSR money for 2020-21 could be used to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure as that would free up fiscal space for the government to make emergency cash transfers to the needy.

Parul Soni, global managing partner, Thinkthrough Consulting, a multidisciplinary professional services firm that specialises in providing advisory support for sustainable development initiatives, was of the view that the money — transferred to non-government fund — could be used to fund Covid testing of BPL cardholders, to send medical vans to the slums, run kitchens to provide meals, as well as for income transfers to those losing their jobs in factories and other units.

 

Mohammed Asif, executive director, Plan India, a non-profit working in the area of child rights, felt the CSR money would be needed to reverse the deterioration in the gains made in the area of child and girl child’s rights, bound to happen due to the economic distress. He felt a lot of children would be pushed into child labour, malnutrition would rise and the under-age marriage of girl child might make a comeback.

Income support for the vulnerable

Companies in India and overseas are still assessing how they can help in this crisis. A spokesperson for Mondelēz India said that the global parent was committed to supporting organisations that are responding to food instability and emergency relief by committing to make $15 million in financial and in-kind donations through the Mondelēz International Foundation and global and local brand initiatives. As for India, the spokesperson said the company was evaluating various opportunities that will make the greatest impact — especially to those working on the front line to tackle this crisis.

There is a general agreement on the need for income support of the vulnerable section in the urban areas though their estimate of the quantum of funds required to be transferred varied. Asif felt households in urban areas would need about ₹12,000 per month for about three months — of which ₹8,000 would pay for food and ₹4,000 for other expenses, including healthcare. The distressed in rural areas may require about ₹10,000 a month, which includes ₹6,000 for food expenses.

Kapadia said the vulnerable would need an emergency income support of ₹7,000 per month to tide over the crisis and the money could be transferred to the bank accounts of those covered by the insurance scheme for the unorganised sector workers. Soni suggested that the trade union database could be used to provide income support to those losing factory jobs.

A significant concern was the monitoring of the use of CSR funds for income transfer and ensuring that it was transferred to the intended beneficiaries.

Natarajan felt that the ‘work from home’ arrangement might have a lasting impact on jobs, as many employers may seek to continue such arrangements for their employees. That could reduce the number of jobs such as those of office attendants, security guards and housekeeping staff. People doing such jobs will need to be supported.

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Published on March 25, 2020
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