Companies loosened their purse strings
Companies loosened their purse strings

Companies loosened their purse strings

Cement companies have pitched in with donations to PM and CM funds, besides directly helping the poor with health and hygiene, and relief materials.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has altered lives and livelihoods drastically across the board, has hit its peak in August 2020, with the daily additions to positive cases registered over 75,000-mark, which is the highest single day infections in any country. In its wake, cement companies, which are part of several mandated CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives already, were in the forefront in loosening their purse strings in a big way.

After the first case of COVID-19 came to light in India on January 30, 2020, the Centre has imposed a nationwide social and economic lockdown beginning March 25 to check spread of virus, bringing manufacturing activity in the country to a halt, except for essential commodities, which has not been lifted in full even by August-end.

The COVID-19 turned explosive by infecting nearly two million people in a single month, taking the total number of infected cases to over 3.6 million by August-end. Of these, 2.83 million have recovered, while there are nearly 0.79 million active cases in the country. India's number of active cases is second only to the United States, where the count stands at 2.56 million. The virus has taken a toll of 65,373 lives in India, the third highest in the world.

To start with, cement companies have taken measures to ensure highest degree of safety and health to the Company's employees, by asking them to work from home since lockdown. Some companies like Dalmia Cement Bharat have instituted a pan-India workplace compliance audit too.

Commitment
Going much beyond the call of mandated CSR budgets, cement companies have committed funds to the Prime Minister and chief ministers' relief funds, besides directly investing in isolation wards and their equipment, awareness campaigns, supply of safety materials, food and other essential supplies for the poor and labour without work, all in the vicinity of their offices/factories in the wake of lockdown.

"Firstly, we contributed Rs 25 crore to PM-CARES Fund to fight the pandemic. Apart from that, employee contributions (Rs 1.65 crore) and contributions from Dalmia Cement Bharat (totalling Rs 5 crore) to various state relief funds were made for combating the pandemic," says Vishal Bhardwaj, CEO, Dalmia Bharat Foundation.

Meanwhile, The Ramco Cements had contributed over Rs 11 crore for COVID-19 by way of donations to relief funds and direct provision of relief materials and activities.

Giving details of the contribution, AV Dharmakrishnan, CEO, Ramco Cements says that the company had contributed Rs 2.50 crore to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund, Rs 2.50 crore to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund and donation of Rs 3.42 crore worth of relief materials comprising of oxygen concentrators, thermal scanners, private protective equipment (PPE) kits, masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc., to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha governments. The remaining funds were spent on providing amenities and relief material in areas located near their factories.

HeidelbergCement employees contributed a day's salary, with an equal contribution from the company it was given into the PM-CARES and to state relief funds. "No sooner the lockdown was called off," Jamshed Naval Cooper, Managing Director, HeidelbergCement India says, "HeidelbergCement decided to contribute Re one for every bag of cement sold by it. The proceeds of which would fuel its initiative ôannamö under which food supplies would be provided to the under privileged section of the society." The lockdown was partially lifted from June 1, 2020.

JK Lakshmi Cement (JKLC) and Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) have diverted a part of their CSR resources to the urgent relief works in the wake of pandemic. Besides, ACF has also shifted their skill development programme and community meetings online immediately after lifting of COVID-19 related lockdown.

Health & hygiene
The cement industry responded to this unprecedented crisis by spreading awareness on the precautions to be taken to check the virus spread. ACF has launched interventions as per the WHO guidelines and the Ministry of Healthcare and provided temperature measuring meters at each block level health care centre for screening the suspected cases, in the initial phase of lockdown.

"Due to poor public health system especially in our geographies (plant and mining locations) there was a need to focus on educating and creating awareness amongst our beneficiaries. We had to ensure behavioural changes like social distancing, wearing mask, hand washing, etc., practised in our communities to curb the virus," says Pearl Tiwari, Director and CEO, ACF.

"A large number of food kits, sanitizers, cotton masks and hand wash were distributed to the needy families as well as sessions and meetings were organised to create awareness on COVID-19," says Vinita Singhania, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, JKLC. The company has also taken up several initiatives for local communities and migrant" workers in collaboration with local panchayats and district administration across its plant locations.

Ramco had also provided the required infrastructure to set up "isolation centres" for treating the patients infected with COVID-19 at Kadukur and Thamaraikulam in Tamil Nadu and near the company's plant at Haridaspur in Odisha. The Company had also donated electrical accessories, steel cots, bed, pillows, awareness posters, flex boards etc., to government run isolation centres in Ariyalur and Viruthunagar districts in Tamil Nadu.

"As part of Covid-19 prevention activities, spraying of disinfectants has been done in and around our operational villages of Jaggayyapet Mandal, Jaggayyapet municipality area and Macherla towns in Andhre Pradesh, since March 28, 2020. Provisions (groceries) distributed to all residents of Muktyala village in April & May 2020,"says V Madhusudana Rao, Vice President - Operations (Cement Unit -II), The KCP.

Challenges
Due to movement restrictions in the wake of COVID-19, CSR activities were affected in several geographies. "The COVID-19 fear has put restrictions on our community level CSR workers mobility in and out of the villages/areas. COVID-19 has resulted into "economic worsening" of, particularly of, poor and marginalised families who were living either below or marginally above the poverty line," says Singhania. This has also resulted in pushing up cost of CSR activities of companies.

- BS SRINIVASALU REDDY

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