Elets Exclusive with Dr Megha Bhargava: COVID Crisis & Changing Scenarios

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Dr Megha Bhargava, IRS, Deputy Commissioner, Income tax, Mumbai, Ministry of Finance, Government of India

As the country is going through a dire crisis due to the Coronavirus outbreak, NGOs and many philanthropists have come forward to help government authorities and aid people in these times. Throwing light on the situation, contribution by NGOs, and changing economy, Dr Megha Bhargava, IRS, Deputy Commissioner, Income tax, Mumbai, Ministry of Finance, Government of India interacted in an exclusive interview with Nisha Samant and Adarsh Som of Elets News Network (ENN).

  1. Recently, crowdfunding platforms have come in light, especially in the crisis. How effective are such models? Can these be a new shift in Indian philanthropy?

Crowdfunding in India is at its nascent stage at present. The popularity of the crowdfunding platforms is a positive phenomenon and an indicator of the changing landscape of philanthropy in India. It is in tune with the increasing internet penetration and the ease of making online payments. With the increasing popularity of social media platforms, it becomes very easy to share a story and raise funds for a cause. It is also a transparent way of generating funds with the donor details being published on the fundraiser. There is also a transparent utilization of funds with the donors being updated regularly about the cause for which they have donated. In line with the developing technologies, the crowdfunding platforms are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to create fundraising stories after gathering the basic data. AI is also being used to detect any fraudulent transactions. It sensitizes and motivates the growing Indian middle class and gives them an opportunity to engage in social change and cultivate the virtue of ‘giving’. At Samarpan, we did our COVID relief campaigns on three crowdfunding platforms viz. Ketto, Milaap and Efforts for Good and we were able to connect with around 1350 supporters.

  1. Efforts by your NGO, Samarpan is worth lauding. How has Samarpan managed to feed masses and distribute masks, sanitisers, essential groceries and more?

COVID-19 has been the most challenging for the daily wage earners and the migrant labourers. It has not only deprived them of their basic survival but also posed a severe challenge to the long term impacts on health and education of their families. Before the declaration of the lockdown, Team Samarpan sprang into action and started distributing hand sanitizers and face masks to prevent the spread of infection. Soon after the lockdown, different teams were organized to address several areas of the relief initiative such as Food kit and Sanitary kit Procurement from vendors, Distribution in coordination with local authorities after proper identification of beneficiaries, Publicity and Social Media Management, Finance & Accounts, Technical Assistance etc.

Elets Exclusive with Dr Megha Bhargav COVID Crisis & Changing Scenarios

With the support of IRS officers across India, ‘Samarpan’ in collaboration with the Municipal Authorities and Local Police has reached out to such daily wage earners with dry ration kits, sanitary kits and cooked meals in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Jodhpur, Anand, Latur, Ujjain.  We also collaborated with several other organizations on the ground to help us in the distribution activities.

Also Read: Governance In Times Of Coronavirus

Till date, Samarpan has distributed around 28,700 dry ration kits, 5,60,000 cooked meals and 35,700 milk packets. Apart from this, around 1,57,000 face masks, 48,000 hand sanitizer and 57,000 soaps have been provided to the daily wagers, essential service providers like Police, Local administration staff, security guards, sanitation workers etc. Samarpan has also started the distribution of 22000 sanitary pads to the underprivileged women in Mumbai for whom the lockdown has proved to be a major hurdle inaccessibility to safe menstrual hygiene.  We have given sanitation kits to around 16000 migrant workers in 10 Shramik Trains leaving from Mumbai ensuring them a safe journey back home.

  1. Considering the past five years, CSR fundings have fallen. What measures could be taken to stabilize the situation, especially for NGOs which are being funded by these?

When the entire world is reeling under the pressure of a pandemic induced economic crisis, there will also be a question of dwindling funding of the NGOs; a large number of which are funded by the CSR funding from the corporate. As per the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, CSR spending in India has decreased from Rs 14,547 cr in FY 2015-16 to Rs 14,333 in FY 2016-17 and Rs 13,708 cr in FY 2017-18. In the coming times, it is very likely that the CSR and other funding will dry up further, thus jeopardizing the subsistence of the NGOs. The funds which were pumped into the NGOs in the form of an emergency relief measure have been used to sustain the activities till Lockdown 4.0. This will pose a challenge to the NGOs and calls for a need for immediate rethinking in terms of their operations and prioritizing the areas and nature of their functioning. During the last 50 days, we have seen that there are numerous organizations working in different areas in silos. Each organization works in a particular area and has all the necessary details of the demographics, requirements in terms of ration, sanitation needs, social-economic indicators etc. But these organizations being small are resource crunched in terms of manpower, finances or technology. These may just fall short of reaching that ‘critical mass’ to bring about a sustainable impact.  On the other hand, there are bigger organizations which are funded by the Government or the corporates but which may or may not be having detailed information on the ground. The need is to link such ground-level smaller organizations with the bigger and funded organizations so that the funds are channelized to the right beneficiaries. The need is to have an interconnected Civil Society where data, expertise and resources can be pooled and be made accessible. This will amplify the individual efforts, build up the resilience of the communities to face a crisis and translate into more concrete and sustainable outcomes.

Also Read: “No Panic Only Awareness” our motto to fight COVID: P Narahari

  1. As the Government has allowed the opening of shops in malls, markets, and other economic activities, by when do you think the economy will see normalcy in trends? 

It is premature to say that things will return to normal after the lockdown is over. The economy will take a while to return to normalcy. This crisis will create economic hardships. Both supply and demand-side seem to be affected. Lockdown has put great stress on the supply chains of essential commodities, and therefore, we have seen increased production and supply of essential items only. As we enter into the Unlock phase, and the factories and manufacturing units start their production, all units will have to follow physical distancing norms leading to scaling down of the products which will result in constrained supply chains.

Elets Exclusive with Dr Megha Bhargav COVID Crisis & Changing Scenarios

The informal sector of India, the backbone of its economy and employing around 90% of our labour force, is the hardest hit in view of economic activities coming to a total standstill. The share of households that experienced a fall in income shot up to nearly 46 percent during the lockdown. There have been job losses and also people staying at home, and hence there has been a fall in consumption demand for many services and products except the essential ones. Since this is a global phenomenon, export demand will also be hampered. UNCTAD has suggested that India’s trade impact due to the COVID-19 outbreak could be around USD 348 million.

Also Read: India Spearheading

The need of the hour is to open the country for business in a carefully calibrated manner, focusing on reviving sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and services while ensuring basic health hygiene.  Sectors like tourism, aviation, hospitality and construction will also need immediate attention. To pump up the consumption and demand, there is a need to put cash in the hands of people. It is essential to provide income support to those who have lost jobs and also provide working capital support to those businesses who have lost income due to no demand. Measures like credit guarantee for the MSMEs, interest subventions, tax relief measures, moratoriums on repayments etc have been declared by the Govt. PM’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat will go a long way in reviving the economy and bringing back the economy on track.

  1. How can citizens contribute to the mitigation of this crisis?  

It is clearly established that lockdown reduced the infection rate in India and that has been because of the active understanding of the citizens of the country to follow the lockdown guidelines diligently. As the nation enters into the Unlock phase, it is important that citizens follow the physical distancing norms and take due precautions as it’s the only way to contain the spread of infection. We have to work with the same discipline and resilience as we have during the lockdown. It is important that we take due care in order to minimize the strain on already stretched healthcare resources at this critical hour. As citizens, we also have a role in quelling any kind of misinformation on social media which may cause the spread of false information and cause panic. We have to learn to stay with the virus for some time until there is a vaccine for the same. Till then, we have to exercise maximum self-discipline in terms of our interactions and communications with others in person or on social media platforms.

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