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July 2020

C|T Group

COVID 19: an India perspective

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Throughout C|T Group’s tracker polling on the COVID-19 crisis, India has shown remarkedly different data on a number of key indicies, compared to other global markets.

Here, Atul Jhamb, Executive Chairman of C|T India discusses what this might mean for the country’s emergence from the pandemic – and its steps into the future.

By mid-March 2020 the coronavirus outbreak was rapidly rising in many parts of the world. Cases in India were still very few with preventive measures of screening and quarantining people coming into the country imposed early on.

The Indian government got into proactive mode and executed a nation-wide lockdown on 25th March. The lockdown has been one of the longest and most stringent in the world, extending over 9 weeks with an entire population of 1.30 bn people being made to stay put.

This massive exercise very effectively controlled the proliferation of the outbreak in the country. This gave the Indian government time to prepare and rapidly produce sanitizers, PPE kits, procure ventilators, other life saving equipment and add beds in hospitals. The government acted on a clever suggestion and converted immobile train compartments into hospital beds.

An extensive communication exercise was launched to keep citizens informed. Officials from the health ministry spoke to media everyday, appraising them about the evolving situation.

The ‘Aarogya Setu’ app was launched, which provided real time information to people about infected people in the vicinity of six feet. A chatbot answered questions in 11 languages. By mid June the app had crossed 120 mn downloads.

In addition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed the citizens at frequent intervals steering the country through decisive leadership and appealing people for support and co-operation.

In the recent weeks, coronavirus cases have increased rapidly across many parts of India. There was a certain inevitability of this happening with extremely dense urban population and not very strong health infrastructure. Undoubtedly, had India not enforced the strict lockdown, the escalation of cases would have happened a lot earlier and the infection rate would have been much higher.

Amidst all of this, Indians continue to show resilience and optimism. According to the C|T Group Global Leadership Insight Tracker, Indians have believed in the work the government has done to protect society. Week on week, since the beginning April, we have seen Indians polling much higher than their global counterparts.

The popularity of Prime Minister Modi along with the ruling party – BJP, continues to remain high. Across many weeks, a majority of Indians believed that social distancing norms also would not be required to be practised beyond 2-4 months.

So what has made Indians behave so differently? There are two plausible reasons.

Firstly, Indians have become accustomed to a very sustained growth story over the last 3 decades. That today is much better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better, is a message that seeped into the DNA of the Indian people – a great messaging effort by successive Governments. Between 2006 to 2016, 271 million Indians were lifted out of poverty. According to estimates, in the next 10 years, the lower class will shrink from 127 mn to 57 mn, pushing more people up into the consuming class.

Secondly, despite the years of economic progress, Indians have had to frequently endure natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and cyclones and man made ones such as bombings and terror attacks. Each time a disaster struck, Indians have shown a strong survival instint by picking up their lives and getting back to work the next day.

The current crisis has also had a unifying effect amongst Indians, creating a feeling of ‘we are in it together’ and ‘we need to help each other out’. The Prime Minister’s charity ‘PM Cares’ has received in excess of $1.3 bn in donations from the public. Ordinary citizens have provided food, drinking water and transportation to the migrant workers making their way back to their native places.

C|T Group’s COVID-19 Leadership Insight Tracker has also shown that Indians have been involved in charity much more than people in other countries.

The post pandemic world will undoubtedly bring in changes in the ways business is conducted. Shifting of supply chains has already begun to happen and India is poised well to take advantage. The government has laid out plans to boost infrastructure and revive industry in the recently announced economic revival package – the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’.

The package provides imepetus to a wide spectrum of industries such as food processing, coal, minerals, defence production, airspace management social infrastructure projects, power distribution companies , space sector and atomic energy. Investments are being sought from countries for partnership for ‘Make in India’.

Investments in infrastructure enhancement are also being made. Total investments in roads and highways has increased by 200% to $22 bn in 2019 as compared to 2015. The government has taken several steps to improve airport infrastructure with 35 non-metro airports set for upgradation. $10 bn as been set aside to develop affordable housing, providing a boost to the cement and steel sector as well.

A major reform has been announced in the coal sector wherein commercial mining for coal will now be allowed. This will reduce dependence on costly imports and boost domestic production, leading to cheaper availability of power.

For the time being, India has to focus on fighting the pandemic and control its acceleration. Parallely, all efforts required to rehabilitate the economy by boosting demand and supporting small businesses is critical.

The faster India is able to turn this around, the better advantage it will have over other economies and leverage India’s unique position in the world as articulated by Prime Minister Modi statement that India is “proud of three things – democracy, demographic dividend and demand”.

Atul Jhamb is an accomplished venture investor, company advisor & entrepreneur with a corporate career spanning over 34 years across blue-chip multinational and Indian conglomerates straddling FMCG, Telecommunications & Technology, Media, Financial and Business Services including Logistics, Consulting & Infrastructure.  Atul has successfully built relationships with key individuals at the highest levels globally within Governments, financial institutions and other public and private sector organisations.