Recently, during a post-Budget discussion with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Wipro founder Azim Premji proposed that the private sector be allowed to supplement the efforts of the central government in the Covid-19 vaccination drive. In his words, “If the government were to engage the private industry quickly, we can be sure of achieving coverage of 500 million people within 60 days. That’s a practicality. I think it is very important the government considers this as a major supplementation to the effort.” Similar views have been expressed by other major industrial honchos like Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group, T.V. Narendran, MD of Tata Steel, and Uday Kotak, MD and CEO of Kotak Mahindra Bank.
Typically, it would not be surprising if loudmouths from India’s quintessential Left-liberal brigade (or anarchists) suddenly jump the gun and claim that major corporate houses are trying to make profit from the vaccine drive. In fact, that’s how they are programmed to perceive any innovative idea. However, when something is said by Azim Premji, the valuation of whose donation to Azim Premji Foundation stands at $21 billion, including 67 per cent stake in the IT arm of Wipro, then it has to be deliberated with a lot of intent.
In the first place, Premji’s contribution in the fight against Covid-19 has a revered legacy. In May 2020, as the Covid-19 crisis was peaking, Azim Premji Foundation had collaborated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences and the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine for capacity building of the testing infrastructure.
Why Premji’s Suggestion is Valid, Laudable
In fact, the moot point that has been propagated by some of the top minds in the Indian industry is that while the efforts of the Government of India, both in terms of managing the pandemic crisis as well as the vaccination drive, are extremely laudable, there is a pertinent need to involve the private sector for expanding the vaccination drive to address the entire mass of vulnerable population, which, if were to be done by the government alone, may take time a lot of time, and given the propensity that the Covid-19 virus has shown to mutate and emerge in newer avatars as more contagious, the possibility of resurgence of exposure-led susceptibility of the masses at large, in spite of general resilience, remains profound. From an economic perspective, revival of the economy, which is already on the track of recovery after the pandemic-led setbacks, depends a lot on the productive contribution of key stakeholders, including the factory foot-soldiers, service professionals, as well as consumers, all of whom need to be protected, soon enough, from the virus.
The concern that industry is showing for India’s Covid-19 recovery is worth appreciating and is not rooted in ulterior motives. During the peak of the pandemic, Indian industry made genuine efforts in increasing the domestic production of key products necessary to confront a pandemic as contagious as the one triggered by the coronavirus. A case in point is the Indian industry’s effort to make India, earlier a net importer, the second-largest producer of PPE kits in the world. Similar has been India’s journey in the realm of manufacturing hand sanitizers, face masks, Covid testing kits and of course vaccines. Also, the pricing architecture that has been proposed Premji is extremely feasible and would be affordable for most.
Fear-Mongering About Private Sector’s Intent Must Stop
In fact, a typical narrative that has been pushed since the times of the socialist era is that the private industry cannot think beyond self-serving profit-making. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, how much harm such a destructive anti-industry mindset can do is evident in Bengal, where the closure of 58,000 factories and the migration of industry,…