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The Tiger Lands On Its Feet

Combined efforts of young minds, researchers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs catalysed by synergized capabilities and support from our Government has helped us face the bull by its horns.

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The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic that swept across the country was undoubtedly a ‘black swan event’. The months of April and May saw the healthcare system nearly crippled against the massive imbalance in supply and demand. There seemed to be shortage of drugs, testing kits, and other essential items. The death toll and daily infections record haunted India individually and collectively. The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown took a toll on the economy as well. Owing to the prolonged period of lockdown (more than the world’s average), Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), fundamental to the functionality of India’s manufacturing and services sectors suffered the most. The demand-supply was adversely impacted, repayment of debt and payment of wages and statutory dues became challenging. The pandemic was particularly harsh on these small scale entities that were dragged into uncertainty and doom in a short span.

Yet, in this watershed moment, we also experienced depths of human compassion, strangers lending a helping hand and communities rising to the occasion. The Government of India and the healthcare authorities too, left no stone unturned in redefining its contours by acting steadfast and purposefully to flatten this second wave. It is easy to decry the illusion of ‘unpreparedness’, as we saw in social media. Yet did you stop to ponder and question – how and why did India fare so much better than even developed nations like the United States and the European nations with its meagre resources (USA death toll was nearly 1800 per million vs India’s 190). Given the complexity of the pandemic and its dire consequences, every government across the globe found it difficult to ensure an appropriate healthcare capacity and coordination and India was no exception. The crisis warranted clear and quick decision making around the ‘unknowns’ and that decision making is evident for the world to see.

Revival of the economy

While managing public health and safety, the Government simultaneously remained focused on reviving the economic health of the country. Despite unparalleled circumstances, India was of the most sought-after investment destinations, even in a pandemic ridden world. FDI into India registered a new high in FY 2020-21, with a rise of 10 percent against the FDI received in the previous fiscal. India’s Forex reserves swelled by $5.27 Billion to record high of $598.16 Billion.

The damage inflicted on the MSMEs by the pandemic turned out to be much worse than expected, and continues to threaten their very existence. Therefore, a much-needed shield was timely provided by the Government to this biggest and fastest-growing sector of India, at the onset of the pandemic itself. Assistance in the form of collateral-free automatic loans, subordinate debt to stressed MSMEs, partial credit guarantee scheme was announced to infuse liquidity. Additionally, compliance obligations were relaxed including income tax and GST returns due dates, among others. Other interventions included equity infusion through funds-of-funds for MSMEs with growth potential and viability, e-Market Linkage for MSMEs to be promoted as a replacement for trade fairs and exhibitions, etc.

The government has always appreciated that Start-ups are nation builder in the time of crisis and India has been the breeding ground for multi-billion-dollar unicorns. The policy of encouraging start-ups has proved to be a major milestone in combatting COVID-19 and helping the nation deal with the pandemic. Combined efforts of young minds, researchers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs catalysed by synergized capabilities and support from our Government has helped us face the bull by its horns. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) worked in close coordination with new technologies, repurposed their existing technologies, scaled up operations, and commercialized them with support from the PMO. Financial support from the Technology Development Board (TDB) has helped several start-ups commercialize their products like testing kits, masks, sanitisers, thermal scanners, and medical devices to bring about meaningful contribution to India’s fight against COVID-19.

Focus in the right arenas

Ours is a nation that spoke little, if at all, of the unwearied efforts of the Indian state and all its constituents. Among the heroes who have emerged from this crisis are the health care professionals who have risked their own health to serve their patients. They were able to hold up against the deadly virus because of the timely vaccination drive conducted by Indian Government to protect the ‘frontline warriors’. Without the timely vaccinations, it could had cataclysmic consequences. It was the same working group that had wisely decided to vaccinate them, that was criticised.

Being the second-largest populated country in the world, India will definitely experience shortage of vaccine at any stage, but the Government was quick to recognize the initial insufficiency and thereby launched the ‘Mission COVID Suraksha - the Indian COVID-19 Vaccine Development Mission’. COVID-19 vaccine development efforts for creating an end-to-end vaccine development ecosystem in the country are being accelerated with an aim for future research and developmental activities. With Phase-IV of vaccination drive lined up, the second wave abating somewhat, and India’s vaccine stocks rising, our battle against the pandemic looks poised for a positive turn of events.

It is true that in any disaster and its management there is always scope for better preparedness and truly our planning could have been better. Yet it must be appreciated that the government did rise to the occasion to alleviate the hardships of the grieving families, who have suffered both financially and emotionally. Consequently, to aid those who have lost earning members to COVID 19, the PM himself, announced that all children who have lost both parents or surviving parent or legal guardian or adoptive parents due to COVID-19 will be supported under the ‘PM-CARES for Children scheme. The impact of this will be felt till decades from now. Sensitivity was seen in countless areas ranging from food grains to insurance benefits under the Employees Deposit Linked Insurance (EDLI) Scheme run by Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) which have been enhanced and liberalised.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Suraj Nangia

Partner, Nangia Andersen LLP

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