We are in unprecedented times of a pandemic COVID 19. We are in a never before seen situation. Never ever before, India went into a total lockdown, malls were shut, trains halted, the ever so bustling Mumbai Locals screeching to a halt. THIS IS HAPPENING NOW. We are managing it the best we can and are evolving into something new, everyday.
But, we have to see from the perspective of the less fortunate to understand the true nature of the impacts. Crores of people have lost their livelihood, their food, their everything. Govt has tried to mitigate the impact by releasing several financial incentives to help them but no step would be sufficient enough in these times of unforeseen crisis. Corporates, small businessmen, farmers, households, Kiranas shop owners, daily wage earners- everyone is fighting their own battles and trying to manage them. With passing days, new clouds of uneasiness are hovering over us as we see rising number of cases. As the crisis has hammered upon us, we have to find ways to steer our way through it. Together, we can and we will.
· It is very much possible to stop coronavirus through containment - But it will be at a significant economic cost.
· Globally, it is being said, the coronavirus shock is more severe compared to the Great Financial Crisis in 2007- 08.
· To mitigate the impact of this severe shock, it will require providing support to the most vulnerable and the government has rightly supported vulnerable households and smaller businesses to mitigate the impact of this severe shock.
Success in containing the virus comes at the price of slowing economic activity, no matter whether social distancing is voluntary or enforced.
Govt. already has implemented strict mobility constraints, both at the national and local level- for example, at the height of the outbreak, many cities enforced strict curfews on their citizens. But the trade-off was nowhere as devastating as in Metro cities of our country, which despite much help from the rest of India, suffered heavily while helping to slow down the spread of the disease across the nation
Despite strong responses from governments on strict social distancing measures, lockdowns and rapid financial policy, it seems this recession will have lasting effects for years to come. Not only is this crisis affecting business and employment around the world, but it will bring deep social and political changes.
Here I outline the impacts, the areas of concern and ways to move forward and minimise the hardships faced by every section of our society.
THE IMPACTS OF COVID19 ON INDIA
Corona & Rural India
As we all saw on our television screens in recent days, the lock down announced to counter the spread of the virus, came under great strain in its early phase due to the attempt by a section of the vast migrant population to return to the rural land. And the most recent scenario in Mumbai’s Bandra & Surat has showed the chief reason why vast numbers of people migrate to cities is the agrarian crisis in the country, and the severe lack of productive non-farm employment opportunities in the rural countryside.
Although there are no reliable estimates about the size of the migrant population, this number may be as high as a 10 crores. The sight of many of these migrants attempting to trek back to their villages often hungry and thirsty, brought home the fact of the fragile living conditions of a vast bulk of India’s citizens. Most of these people are employed in the informal sector like, small scale industries, petty trading, household work, and some major construction industry too. They are mostly daily wagers who do not enjoy the social security measures that workers in the formal sector do.
The chief reason that these vast numbers of people migrate to cities is of course the agrarian crisis in the country, and the severe lack of productive non-farm employment opportunities in the rural countryside. An equally grave problem is the lack of gainful non-farm activities in rural India.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
If we think creatively, a number of opportunities and options present themselves. For example, the services sector of India, such as that catering to IT and BPO, can be geographically decentralised. For this, we will require the presence of IT infrastructure in rural areas such as broadband, and availability of skilled IT workers in these locations. The government & companies need to work in mission mode to achieve these twin pre-conditions.
Living in the countryside would be a feasible option only if the residents would be happy to forego some of the superficial glitter of urban life. A life characterised by greater simplicity and in harmony with the natural environment would be called for.
'Interestingly, the current lockdown has sensitised many urban residents to the charms of a quieter city with less traffic, better air quality and clearer skies. The requirement for families to be together for extended periods has also led to the rediscovery of the pleasures of having dinner together, and of unhurried family conversations. Change in shift from engaging in entertainment activities such as involved in non-essential shopping to one’s forgotten hobbies and passions, may lead to re-evaluation of lifestyle choices.”
As we isolate ourselves from the world, we have become critically aware of our own supply chain. We know now that relying on other countries for critical items - food, medicines, energy - ultimately puts you at their mercy. In the most dramatic example of this, the world saw the US President publicly entreating India to supply HCQ, a pivotal drug in the COVID war.
With widespread fear and panic now increasing among people, overall confidence level of consumers has dropped significantly, leading to postponement of their purchasing decisions. The Indian wedding season has been postponed indefinitely too.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will change the face of human society, but it forces us to ask some important questions. Will this change only affect the healthcare systems, or will it extend to consumption patterns, value systems, political regimes and legal systems, thus leading to the fall of the huge financial and economic empires. In recent weeks a consensus has started to build among various groups of experts on what this new normal might look like. Other parts are starting to emerge, such as
• Regularly testing massive numbers of people and relaxing movement
• Restrictions only on those who have recently tested negative or have already recovered from the virus, if indeed those people are immune, which is assumed but still not certain.
The post-epidemic stage will see the emergence of a new human being, whose daily behaviour and thinking will differ from what it was before the Covid-19 outbreak. The political, legal and economic systems will have to adapt to this new human being.
The Covid-19 storm will pass and mankind will survive, despite the loss of many lives. Humankind will soon live in a world that is very different from the one before the virus.
CHANGES IN HUMAN BEHAVIOUR
The coronavirus pandemic is scary. Anyone can be infected. No one is exempt. No matter what your status, power or popularity in life is, the virus still can get you. This possibility evokes an overriding sense of fragility and vulnerability.
The world is witnessing a state of panic related to the purchase of a large stock of food and daily supplies even if governments confirm to their citizens that the countries’ stockpiles will be sufficient for many months to come. Man will continue to store driven by instinct, not logic, in addition to the fact that with the length of the epidemic, the individual becomes more obsessed with, even haunted by, suspicion in governments and their deeds.
In times of such hardships, man can hide his irrationality and restrain it as much as possible, as this helps him with his daily routine. Yet, in the case of epidemics, the routine fades, logic sits in the back seat and irrationality holds the steering wheel. By then, the individual wears glasses of fear and anxiety, and proceeds to do what he previously denied. Getting rid of modern lifestyle and resorting to traditional methods in which he thinks only of himself, and of securing his basic needs for the longest possible period, even at the expense of others.
Fascination with fame and riches is diminished; it takes a back seat to admiration for simple acts of kindness.
Making a mental separation from a sometimes-chaotic home life is tough. Workers are finding that they don’t have the skills to be successful in an extended remote environment, from networking to creating routines that drive productivity. They worry that staying remote could make them less valuable, especially in a recessionary environment.
One consequence of our helplessness in face of the pandemic is our greater sociability, a want for warmth, the realization that we need others, that we cannot hack it alone.
Social distancing and lockdowns have also prompted altruistic behaviours, in part because of a sense that 'we’re all in this together”. Others have discovered a slower pace of life and by not going out, socializing have found more time for family, others and even their pets
But again some of the downside of self-isolation are also being noticed by people
• symptoms of traumatic stress,
• confusion and
• all of which are exacerbated by fear of infection,
• having limited access to supplies of necessities,
• inadequate information or the experience of economic loss or stigma.
This stress and anxiety can lead to increased alcohol consumption, as well as an increase in domestic and family violence. In several Indian cities, reports of domestic violence during the lockdown in March-April 2020 were much more than the number reported in February 2019.
LOOKING AT THE BRIGHTER SIDES OF THIS CRISIS
Interestingly, lockdown due to corona has yielded some unexpected good results. In late March, as India began its 21-day lockdown, the Air Quality Index in Delhi dropped as low as 45. Around the same time last year, it was about 160. Since the lockdown, Delhi and its suburbs have even enjoyed days when the air quality was officially classified as "good" - the best category. That's happened only a handful of times in the past few years.
India's central pollution control board says 85 Indian cities noted an improvement in air quality during the first week of the lockdown. In Jalandhar, in the state of Punjab, pollution levels dropped to their lowest in a decade and residents were able to spot snow-capped Himalayan peaks more than 100 kms away.
Skies in India has never been this clean for the past 10 years, it’s a silver lining in terms of this awful crisis that we can step outside and breathe. Even before the national lockdown started on March 25, the phased shutdowns in India were having an impact. When we come out of the outbreak, it will be interesting to see if we invest money in the cleaner future. We need to ramp up the old fossil fuel based intensive industries, or we go towards more sustainable options. We need to move towards renewable energy faster.
STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT
Apart from welfare schemes and free distribution of food items and DBT of monetary help, Govt. also came forward with following reliefs:
• With the promulgation of the ordinance, the last date for filing income tax returns for 2018-19 as well as that for linking PAN with biometric ID Aadhaar has been extended by three months to June 30.
• The date for making various investment and payment for claiming deduction under Chapter-VIA-B of IT Act, which includes Section 80C (LIC, PPF, NSC etc.), 80D (Mediclaim), 80G (Donations), has also been extended to June 30. Hence, the investment and payment can be made up to June 30 for claiming the deduction under these sections for 2019-20.
• Also, the last date of furnishing of the GST returns due in March, April and May 2020 has been extended to June 30, 2020.
• It also extended the date till June 30 for passing of order or issuance of notices by the authorities under various direct taxes and Benami law.
• Besides, the date for ''Vivad Se Viswas'' scheme has also been extended by three months till June-end.
• Further, a reduced rate of 9 percent interest shall be charged for non-payment of income tax (advance tax, TDS, TCS), equalisation levy, securities transactions tax, and commodities transactions tax which are due for payment from March 20 to June 29 this year.
• Indian e-invoices has been delayed until 1 October 2020.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
Small Shop Owners
At the earliest, govt should be helping all those citizens who are not under BPL and are small time shop runners, who are badly hit with the current situations. These sections have done the maximum for our society, now it’s time they receive their due. A strict pension plan must be drawn for these small kirana shop owners. A fixed pension amount will help them a lot during the crisis like that of today.
For current year, Government should look for following options to provide relief:
• The date to deposit advance tax should be extended.
• Tax Audit should be done away for MSMEs for the current period.
• Reduction in Income Tax slabs for certain class of individuals
• Tax Credit for MSMEs not laying off employees during the current lockdown.
• Inspections and physical audits by local bodies and regulatory institutions (such as pollution control board & Safety Board) with any non- compliance attracting fines and penalties should be withheld till the epidemic is under control.
• Personal income tax slab- reduction, re-evaluation of dividend distribution tax, capital gains tax
• To do away with education cess of 4% on income tax.
• Standard deduction for salaried individuals should be increased from Rs 50,000.
• No surcharges should be charged in the corporate tax.
• Removal of 10% tax on long-term capital gain exceeding Rs 1 Lakh
• Tax exemption on interest from FD, Post Office as per the Section 80TTA & TTB should be further enhanced.
• Premium paid for senior citizen medical insurance, exempted up to Rs. 50,000 For Senior Citizens should enhanced further
• Other Tax reliefs need to be provided, thus boosting consumer spending
• Urgently remove GST on PPE & Health Equipment useful for doctors.
• TCS on Tour Operators should be put in abeyance.
• GST Annual Returns should be further extended from June end.
• 10% ITC Blocked Credit on GST ITC should be put on hold.
• GST rates should be reduced on every essential items.
• Tax compliances deadline needs to be extended considering the nationwide lockdown and taxes need to be reviewed to minimise the impact of decline in demand
• All GST and other tax refunds should be credited to the businesses immediately to tide over the lack of fund availability with the enterprises
• No fines/penalties should be levied owing to delays in filing of GST returns.
For Corporates & MSMEs
• This is the best time to finally converge with Jan to Dec as Financial Year and extend the current FY till Dec 2020 from April 19, making it as 21 months year.
• Wage support and tax deferments.
• To consider the period under moratorium as zero period on which no interest to be charged & Extend the moratorium of six months post return to normalcy.
• Guaranteeing MSME borrower’s credit obligations
• Protect MSMEfrom any liquidity crisis that may arise due to currentlockdown.
• Margin Requirements of Banks should be eased for MSMEs.
• To provide funds to ease out the working capital requirement and monthly expenses related to utilities, paying of wages etc.
• Assistance from the Government side towards the salary.
• Collaborative tools for ease in work from home
• Interest rate reduction should be considered on loans offered.
• Emergency Capital Loan to Companies with 20-30 employees with minimum interest.
• A certain percentage of salary costs covered for businesses with less than 5 employees.
OTHER SPECIFIC SECTORS
Oil and petroleum
As per a recent report,
• Falling oil prices is a positive fallout for the Indian economy, as 80 % of its oil requirement is met through imports
• The Indian Government has not passed on the fall in international crude prices to consumers but instead used this development to improve its fiscal position
• The Government earned over INR2 trillion in terms of excise duty on oil products in 2018-19. As soon as prices dropped, excise duty of INR3 per litre was imposed on petrol and diesel, which could create additional revenue to the tune of INR390 billion
During this time of financial constraint, govt should finally try to pass on the benefits of never ever seen low prices of crude to its citizens. Excise charged on Petrol & Diesel should be cut down to minimum. Every penny saved will be useful in this time of financial loss.
Airlines/ hospitality/ travel
• This is the best time to promote India as an attractive destination for Indians as soon as the epidemic gets over
• Relaxation for all loans, including payment of all principal and interest in most effected sectors i.e. airlines/ hospitality/ travel service entities without limitation of size or turnover
• Promote safety and hygiene through publications detailing hygiene levels of tourist destinations and safety assessment
• Healthcare and insurance incentives for travellers and drivers/pilots.
• Allow travellers to postpone their travels up to 12 months.
• Continuing distribution through the mid-day meal system to homes of students because most of the students enrolled in school entirely for the food scheme. Due to school closure, they are now missing on the food.
• Every School should be encouraged to create content in the form of videos, documents to spread awareness about the virus.
• Provide subsidies to education technology players, encouraging them to make remediation both accessible and sustained to a wide audience.
• Provide loans to low-fee private schools for broadband upgradation.
• Creating awareness about COVID- 19, by mobilising healthcare personnel, & Anganwadi workers.
• Boards should consider alternate ways of assessing instead of indefinitely postponing the examinations &considering staggered admissions cycles for some of their programmes.
• Develop infrastructure for comprehensive and robust cyber security and data storage capacities
• Establish cloud system as a new normal.
• More economic support to YouTube Channels supporting education related services.
STEPS SUGGESTED FOR COMPANIES
• Companies can plan for interruptions by mapping suppliers and buyers & diversify the same.
• The immediate priority is to care for employees and their families. In an effort to limit COVID-19 contagion, employees in affected countries have been unable to work from their regular workplace. So enabling working from home can maintain productivity.
• As roads, ports and loading facilities face impacts, alternative logistics and distribution options may be required. In the month of the first COVID-19 travel restrictions, every Railway & Air routes were closed.
• Over time, the distances across which companies maintain supplier relationships may reduce. Both to be closer to the consumer and to mitigate risk. And of course, they must protect people’s health, with whatever measures like:
o positive hygiene habits,
o personal protective equipment,
o amended sick-leave policies- whatever it takes to ensure health and safety
o Asking employees to stay at home if they are unwell may do more to reduce transmissibility.
Control Fixed Cost
Fixed costs are the bills business has to pay no matter what. Even if our firms has shut down, closed premises or stopped serving customers, we will likely still be facing these kinds of costs. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it could make all the difference to the survival of business.
Fixed costs will almost certainly include rent, business rates, energy and utility bills, some forms of insurance, staff salaries and other costs that aren’t affected by how much work your business is doing, producing or selling.
To manage fixed costs, we should
• Identify fixed costs and when we need to pay them
We need to know what our Fixed Costs they are. This is especially important as it allows to forecast when business finances are likely to face crunch points.
• Check which fixed costs might be supported by the government.
• Take action to reduce the fixed costs that the government isn’t focused on right now
• Talk to landlord about a rent exemption.
• Talk to other suppliers about payments, tariffs and services.
It is obvious, we as humankind, will overcome the current epidemic like we always have. But this time the return of humankind will be different and hopefully more courteous & kind to Mother Nature. Let’s take this as opportunity to heal & deep cleanse ourselves from inside.