Given the Covid-19 situation across the world, and India, the SMEs are going through tough times. As they have been taking the hardest hit due to the Covid-19 lockdown, some are closing down. In other cases, this has pushed SMEs to the verge of insolvency.
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DQ: How are SMEs using the Aarogya Setu app to manage Covid-19?
Amit Aggarwal: We strongly commend this initiative from the GoI and have circulated information about the app within our organization. We have requested them to install the app – though as a voluntary option. The app is helpful in the sense that it serves authentic information, which helps us curb the rumors that are spreading over Internet, currently.
The app also provides a Chat-bot-based initial screening of a person to measure the risk profile of the person, which is really helpful.
With the lockdown coming at an end on April 14, people will likely move outside. Even now, people need to come out at least once a week to buy groceries. This app can be really helpful as it can track if one has crossed paths (even unknowingly), with someone identified as COVID-19 positive. So, if enough people install and use it, the more effective it will become in putting an end to the pandemic.
DQ: What data will be collected, how long will it be stored and what uses it will be put to, for SMEs especially?
Amit Aggarwal: While registering, the app requires basic information to be filled in after installation. For example, the phone number, the full name and gender of the user, etc. What is interesting to note that the app requests permission to keep the Bluetooth and location sharing as “always on”, which means that the government will be collecting both – the location of the user and the presence of other users that are in proximity.
The former will be achieved by GPS, WiFi and mobile-based location, which is pretty standard in today’s apps. But, the later seems to be something unique to this app, i.e., the Bluetooth handshake between other phones that are proximate to determine who all came in close proximity with the particular user.
The duration for which this data will be stored on GoI servers is difficult to say. Most likely, till the time India has completely eradicated the COVID-19 infection.
But, this app is definitely helpful for our employees in self-monitoring, and helping them assess the risk of infection for themselves on a regular basis, so we encourage its usage.
DQ: How will the government use data, if the data gets shared with the government of India?
Amit Aggarwal: The app has the capability to trace both – the location of a user and the identity of the people around the user. This will help the GoI, especially the health department, to effectively and accurately track the people who came in contact with a person who was infected with the COVID-19 infection. This will be same as the process, which seems to be currently followed by the GoI, i.e. contacts tracing, only that, it will be much more effective when compared to the current process, as its backed by the technology, rather than the current process, which is pretty much manual.
The only catch is, enough number of people have to install the app for it to produce the desired results, otherwise it will be a waste of resources. In an ideal situation, everyone who has an access to a smartphone should install the app, if so happens, the app can work wonders in preventing a community spread of the disease by ensuring the traceability of the source of infection.
DQ: How have SMEs been impacted by Covid-19?
Amit Aggarwal: As we are in the middle of a nation-wide lock-down and none of the SMEs have confronted this situation before, there is no groundwork for the chaos. As large swathes of the country are now at a stand-still and at the same time, so many millions have been displaced and their livelihoods shattered.
Small businesses are quickly closing nationwide as they have been taking the hardest hit due to Covid-19 lockdown. The supply chain has been disrupted, fall in consumer demand in domestic economy, and markets are bearish. The SME segment has perhaps witnessed biggest negative pressure to the outbreak.
The country was already facing distress due to the banking sector on account of defaults and Non-Performing Assets and the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic made it worse. On top of this catastrophe, many businesses are exercising government force to get out of contracts, and some are giving work from home as an excuse to not being able to pay vendors.
All of this creates tremendous pressure on SME and start-ups, as many of them function with monthly cash flow. To make the condition worse, several district magistrates have started issuing orders of mandating businesses to pay daily wages of factory workers and shop workers that are unable to come to work due to the lockdown orders. This has further pushed SMEs to the verge of insolvency.
DQ: What are the remedial steps taken by GoI? What more relaxations are they looking for?
Amit Aggarwal: Labour-intensive SMEs need immediate fiscal relief and credit flow to keep their work force and essential plant and machinery running. The GoI is pro-actively working on implementing relief measures to come up with an assistance package to keep the SME segment afloat.
The GoI is investing heavily in healthcare for diagnostic tests and intensive care, as well as preventive tools to suppress the virus. Moreover, the GoI and RBI are working closely to bring financial stability and improve the situation. GoIis taking steps to provide grace period to tax payers. They are working with banks to extend the dates for installments and interest payouts.
GST being a relatively new regime, the GoI has extended relaxations in filing requirements, waiver of penalties, late fees, GST rate reductions, speedy refunds and some other indirect tax measures. The government has also suspended IBC for six months. This will be a relief booster shot for small businesses as now they can focus on stabilizing the commercials creating a positivity for all concerned and giving each stakeholder enough time to coup and strategize.
The GoI is still working on this to balance the act for lenders and to ensure there is no abuse of the largess.