NEW DELHI, 23.01.22-Ahead of Union Budget 2022-23, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has urged state governments to lift restrictions on economic activity, given that the occupancy rate of hospital beds due to the Omicron variant of Covid is well within the manageable level. The Budget, coming during the third wave of the pandemic, is expected to focus on measures for strengthening economic recovery.

CII requested that the Government should encourage industry to deploy CSR funding towards providing precautionary shots to the community. Further, industry is ready to contribute an additional 1% under the CSR norms to the national vaccination mission, apart from the mandated 2%, and this can be part of the Budget for a period of 12 months only, suggested CII.

“Hospitalization rates in the present wave stand at manageable levels and therefore, industry feels that Covid-related restrictions can be removed to enable the robust recovery process to continue. Our earlier recommendations in this regard found favour with the Government of India and we are thankful to the Hon’ble Prime Minister for it. In line with the Prime Minister’s guidance to state governments to undertake restrictions where required at a localized level, CII has written to state Chief Ministers to consider curbs at micro containment zones only when hospitalization rates are over 75%. With a lower level of hospitalizations seen in the Omicron variant, it is possible to maintain normal economic activities and protect lives and livelihoods,” said Mr T V Narendran, President, CII.

He added, “Industry is keen to contribute to the world’s most ambitious vaccination mission which has now been rolled out to senior citizens in precautionary dose and age-group of 15-18. CII suggests that 1% of mandated CSR funds be earmarked for vaccination. We also recommend that an additional 1% be added to CSR requirements in the Budget, for a specified period of 12 months, so that boosters can be made available to all age-groups. In fact, our recommendation has been that if companies spend on vaccines for their employees, their families and members of the community, then that expense can be set off against this additional CSR spend. Besides the government provided boosters, the market mechanism should also be made to work for people, who can afford to pay for their booster shots. We have to understand that vaccines are the best stimulus that the government can make available for preserving livelihoods.”

With regard to investment revival, the CII President stated, “The investments under National Infrastructure Pipeline and Gati Shakti program must be fast-tracked and it is expected that the Budget would provide for this. These activities will be dampened if curbs on economic activity were to continue.”

CII has written to state Chief Ministers with suggestions regarding the level of curbs on markets and factories.

One, social and economic activities need to be considered separately. Social activities, in particular mass gatherings for any social, sports, entertainment, recreation, etc. purposes, should be restricted in general to curtail spread of the Omicron variant.

Two, CII has suggested a containment strategy based on micro containment zones. These are small, clearly marked geographical areas identified and demarcated by district administrations, such as mohallas, neighbourhoods, villages, talukas, urban bodies, pin-codes, etc. to monitor and manage the outbreak.

Three, a key recommendation is to use a combination of vaccination rate, hospitalization incidence and sero-prevalence, if available, to determine the level of restrictions in the micro containment zones. According to CII, containment at micro zones should be considered only when available hospital beds are 75% occupied. Normal economic activities should continue until this level is breached in a micro zone and anyway should be permitted in the rest of the district.

Four, even in micro containment zones, all factories may be allowed to function under certain conditions of hygiene and safety. There should be no distinction between essential and non-essential goods and services. All shops may be permitted to open without restrictions on timing to avoid crowding at certain times. However, crowd control is essential to enable social distancing, stressed CII.

CII has also requested for fast-tracking of imports of all international approved mRNA and protein based vaccines at a price to be determined by the Government. This would open up booster shots to all sections of society.

“With bounceback in demand, the economy is expected to achieve 9.2% growth rate over 2021-22. However, this pace must continue for full recovery and faster growth in the medium term and to ensure that workers and small enterprises do not suffer. While vaccinations have helped in dampening the impact of Omicron on the lives of people, the present conditions are conducive to opening up the economy completely while keeping large social gatherings to a minimum,” noted Mr Narendran.