Mumbai: India Inc now wants India to fully get back to work, economy and jobs to be the central focus, and to stop alarmism about Covid-19, because policymakers must recognise that the country will have to live with and work around the spread of infection.
ET spoke to industrialists, CEOs and bankers, who were all of the view that meaningfully restarting the economy, helping low-income earners, and putting confidence back in doing business should be top priorities now.
Deepak Parekh, HDFC chairman and member of the Kelkar committee appointed by the Maharashtra government to advise on post-Covid policies, said the virus is not going to disappear until a vaccine is found. “Daily wagers need the money to survive and it’s best that India gets back to work immediately maintaining social distancing and health precautions,” he said.
Parekh also pointed out that medical experts have said India’s mortality rate is lower than that of many countries and that India’s younger population means health risks can be handled better. “It is important that the economy should not be allowed to worsen further,” he said.
Venu Srinivasan, chairman, TVS Motor, pointed out how job and income losses can’t be ignored any more. “With unemployment and huge stress for labour, the self-employed, small shopkeepers and MSMEs, we may not be able to ignore the need to restore their livelihoods,” he said. “We can’t ignore it. We have to find our own solution given a heterogeneous society,” he said.
India Inc’s growing call on reopening India for business comes amidst a blizzard of grim economic forecasts. Economic growth in FY21 can be negative, according to Nomura, ICRA and others.
Crisil and Nomura estimate that lost economic output may range from Rs 8 lakh crore to Rs 15 lakh crore even before the lockdown extension to May 17. CMIE estimates 140 million jobs may have been lost already.
RC Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki, said it’s very important to start businesses. “Start economic activity and get jobs back…precautions and safeguards have to be strictly followed…then the virus can be contained,” he said.
Amitabh Chaudhry, MD, Axis Bank, said opening up parts of the economy may not work, since there are many interlinkages. “We may face an economic crisis going forward. If the country is closed down for anywhere between 7 to 10 weeks…once we start lifting the lockdown, we need to look at opening up the entire country… We can continue with containment zones, but we need to open up activities overall.”
“We cannot pit health against the economy. Both aspects need solutions,” said Harsh Goenka, chairman, RPG Group. “The lockdown has been a good idea… but we are also witnessing job losses and winds of a new economic recession. We have to figure out a way to co-exist with sufficiently high social distancing, hygiene and discipline along with restarting output and commerce,” he said.
Others were even more emphatic. “India has to restart, period! We should not copy paste other countries’ working models,” said Arup Chauhan, executive director, Parle Products. “If industries were kept running, employers would have taken care of employees’ jobs, their well-being, educated them on safety measures, and overall we would have contained the situation better. Economy and health and well-being of our citizens needs to be looked at hand in hand.”
Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy echoed similar sentiments at a webinar a few days back. “What is important for us to understand is that India cannot continue in this situation for too long. Because at some point of time, deaths due to hunger will far outweigh deaths due to corona,” he said.
“India has a young workforce which can get back to work soon,” said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson, Biocon. “Ninety per cent of India’s population is below the age of 60 and 90% of deaths worldwide are over the age of 60,” she said.
These observations are similar to what Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto, has been arguing consistently, saying the lockdown is not the long-term answer to the health crisis, and that the young and healthy need to go back to work.
Ramesh Iyer, MD, Mahindra Finance, told ET it’s important to restart business and delink the virus from the business. “We shouldn’t be in a situation where, when the lockdown is lifted, we cannot immediately restart. There is a need to set up strong communication channels to rebuild confidence,” he said.
(Above content is sourced from a news feed)