India is battling an unprecedented crisis which has led to a lockdown across the country. And everything has moved so soon that it is hard to gauge the trajectory.
With great hopes for 2020, investors and entrepreneurs had earlier spoken about hot sectors and revolutionary products. Cut to three months later, the companies have shifted to remote work, entrepreneurs are planning for survival and investors are tight-lipped about the next disruption, while advising startups to plan for contingency and cut costs.
However, in the midst of the crisis, it is to be noted that this is the first lockdown where the internet has become a resort of survival, solution and a coping mechanism too. This was also further emphasised by the fact that the government identified ecommerce as an essential service which includes delivery of food, grocery, medicines etc. As social media memes say, we are the lucky ones who have called to go to war from the comfort of our couches with our smartphones.
Startups Leading The Way
But the fear of the unknown is a driving force. Over 600 Indian startup ecosystem stakeholders are working together to leverage technology and combine it with the speed of scaling up to drive solutions. On a global scale as well, the Coronavirus Innovation Map set up as a global directory by StartupBlink shows hundreds of innovations and solutions that help people cope and adapt to life amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and to connect innovators.
The Startups vs Covid-19 group is building quarantine app, heat map etc. A pilot application for heat map and for citizens to report symptoms will go live in partnership with the Karnataka government on March 26. Healthtech startup Innovaccer developed a mobile application with the Goa government to help the citizens to carry out a self-assessment test for Covid-19.
At the same time, Ethereal Machines is building a 3D printable products which healthcare providers need and has already collated designs so that they can be printed as per requirement.
Government Steps In To Ease Burden
However, not everything has been smooth-sailing on Day 1 of the lockdown. But let’s begin with revisiting what government has done to allow the ecosystem to breathe a little easy:
- In respect of the MCA 21 registry, there is a moratorium issued from April 1 till September 30, 2020 to ease the compliance burden on companies.
- The government has increased the threshold for default from existing INR 1 Lakh to INR 1 Cr
- No late fee will be charged from companies with a turnover less than INR 5 Cr for filing GST returns for March, April, and May 2020 until June 30, 2020
- The government has reduced the bank charges imposed on digital trade transactions for three months
- Under the finance minister, the government has decided to form a Covid-19 economic response task force
- The government has also extended Aadhaar-PAN linking date to June 30, 2020
- The central government is likely to launch an INR 2.3 Tn ($20 Bn) relief fund by the end of the week for the poor sections of the population and businesses
- The government has advised public/private establishments not to terminate their employees, especially casual or contractual workers, or reduce their wages
Mobility Startups Hamstrung By Lockdown
As a community, the Indian startup ecosystem has come together to do its part to help during this time. There are several efforts going on at once. There are startups which have been forced to narrow down their operations then there are entrepreneurs taking salary cuts to businesses which are offering loans and support to their employees, and delivery and driver-partners etc.
- Ola and Uber had to shut down their pool service earlier last week, but since the complete lockdown was announced, Uber has suspended operations in all 32 cities it’s present in, while Ola is operating only for essential requirements
- Office transport provider Shuttl also suspended its operations till the lockdown is in place as companies had shifted employees to remote work for the last few weeks.
Startups Bring Essentials To Citizens Lockdown
As most stores and retails have downed their shutters, Indians had to turn to delivery apps and platforms to get their essentials.
- Ecommerce giants— Amazon and Flipkart— braved item shortages, but had to suspend operations for a while due to lack of coordination between Centre orders and police on the ground which was harassing delivery executives on the ground and calling for shuttering down of warehouses
- A similar grievance came up for grocery and logistics companies like Grofers, BigBasket, Ninjacart, Delhivery and others. The companies had to delay and cancel thousands of orders due to the issues with the police. However, on Wednesday, several states’ police clarified on the operability of these and other ecommerce companies.
- Delhi state government has now issued an electronic curfew pass (e-pass) for the 21-day lockdown period to delivery partners within Delhi and in neighbouring Noida, Gurugram, Ghaziabad and Faridabad
- Grocery delivery company BigBasket has limited the access to its website for customers. Further, the company said it is not operational in Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Pune and Vizag and isn’t sure when it will be able to operate. In some cities it is operational already and hopes to be operational in other few cities.
- Big Bazaar’s online grocery delivery is now available in Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru and more, but heavy demands may cause delayed service
Besides companies bringing essentials to locked-down citizens, hospitality unicorn OYO and hostel provider Zostel are offering their spaces as quarantine centres while housing rental company NestAway and Stanza Living have stepped up to offer their co-living spaces to stranded people.
Financial Support For Impacted Workers
Then there are Zomato, Grofers, Swiggy, Shopify, Uber, Ola, Flipkart or BigBasket, or companies of this like, which have also pledged to financially support their delivery partners/driver-partners and other employees, who was sick during the coronavirus pandemic.
Further, cab aggregator Ola has fully waived lease rentals, akin to an EMI, for driver-partners who operate vehicles of Ola Fleet Technologies. The company also said that driver-partners who are currently in distress due to the temporary lockdowns will stand to benefit.
Then we have philanthropists and entrepreneurs who have set up dedicated funds for ideas to solve for Coronavirus crisis. Also, while users create Covid-19 quarantine special playlists, global music streaming app Spotify launched the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief project, which recommends verified organizations that offer financial relief to those in the music community most in need around the world.