Covid-19: India Inc. Hopes To Use CSR Funds For Public Vaccination
Employees of the income tax and the central goods and services tax (CGST) departments wait in line for Covaxin vaccinations at the Central Revenue building in New Delhi. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Covid-19: India Inc. Hopes To Use CSR Funds For Public Vaccination

India’s corporate sector has requested the central government to permit them to use corporate social responsibility funds towards vaccination programmes that serve not just their employees but broader communities as well.

Company law requires businesses of a certain size to, every year, mandatorily spend 2% of the average annual profit of the past three years on activities defined under CSR provisions. These include healthcare and preventive healthcare as well as relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction for disaster management. A March 2020 government circular permitted the use of CSR funds towards activities related to Covid-19—a notified disaster. And though it allows liberal interpretation of included activities, no explicit provision has been made for public vaccination programmes.

So, industry lobby CII has requested the central government to include public vaccination under CSR for atleast this year, according to its Vice President Sanjiv Bajaj. “We have to do what is right for employees and communities. That’s the practical way in spreading vaccination,” he told BloombergQuint in an interaction. “So many of us have CSR funds available, we hope we can use that, also for the larger community.”

On April 19, the government announced the opening up of national Covid-19 vaccination programme by allowing vaccine makers to sell up to 50% to state governments and in the open market. The remaining 50% will be to the central government. It also permitted those 18 years and above to be vaccinated—the current age threshold is 45 and above. These changes will be effective May 1 but the accompanying rules have yet to be announced.

Bajaj said the business community was working with the government on rules to permit vaccine imports—including who can import, pricing and testing. “As industry and individual companies we will see how to use our own strength in procuring these.”

Besides, the government has agreed to pay a Rs 65-crore grant to Bharat Biotech Ltd., the producer of Covaxin, to increase production from 12 million doses a month to 60-70 million by August. It has also approved advance payments of Rs 4,500 crore to Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, the two local producers currently, to ramp up capacity, according to news reports.

“We will see capacity increase in India itself which will be available to everybody - central, state governments and private sector,” Bajaj said.

Regarding concerns that permitting private procurement may skew the vaccination rollout towards middle class and upper middle class citizens, Bajaj countered that “every life vaccinated is a life saved”. And that, private procurement, through imports and enhanced local capacity addition will have an additive effect, not a replacement effect.

Also read: Cadila May Double Vaccine Capacity as Indian Cases Surge

Here are key highlights of what Sanjiv Bajaj said on the business impact of the second wave of Covid-19 and enhanced restrictions across states.

Less than a month ago the overall mood was pretty buoyant.

This second wave and the speed with which it has caught up with us has left all of us gasping.

The focus is to curtail the second wave—which is to do whatever it takes to get more vaccines (domestic capacity, imported vaccines, lift age limits).

We now need to work quickly with the government towards rules that are simple, quick.

Fewer production cuts, atleast across Maharashtra? Yes, we’re seeing the same thing. We’ve all learnt from last year on how to do things in a more controlled fashion

Government can’t afford to repeat last year’s stimulus.

Too early to talk about business impact due to enhanced restrictions across states in this second wave.

If handled through micro containment, through smart balance between what should be shut and what should be kept open, we will not have the same impact as last year.

Impact on private consumption? In February and March things were very good. Record numbers for insurance, especially life insurance, in March. In general things have been buoyant so I’m hopeful if we are able to localise and control this early enough we will not see any significant impact.

Also read: Covid-19 Second Wave Hits Mobility, Shows Nomura Index

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