The National Cooperative Union of India released a statement on the role of cooperatives and the apex union in responding to the COVID-19 related challenges. The first initiative of Indian cooperators from across the country is to support the Prime Minister’s clarion call to observe a self-imposed ‘Janata (public) curfew’ on Sunday 22nd March and restrict their movement to very essential activities. Many cooperatives across the country extended their help to the needy people by offering food, money and other means of support including essentials groceries like food grains, rice, lentils in order to support the Government to fight against the corona virus. Big and small cooperatives are doing their share to fight the pandemic, with several consumer cooperatives playing an important role in providing the essential items to the public at their doorstep in rural and urban areas at a reasonable price.
Cooperatives across the country are spreading awareness about the pandemic through the distribution of pamphlets, providing food to needy people in rural areas through community kitchens, and also distributing masks, hand sanitizers and other protective gear to hospital staff and health workers who are facing shortages. As a protective measure, some cooperative banks and factories have installed a “disinfection tunnel” to protect employees and customers.
To lower the risk of a milk shortage, plants outside Gujarat state were purchased to process the surplus milk procured from dairy cooperative farmers to ensure security of livelihood of these farmers as well as continuous supply of milk and other dairy products. During the pandemic lockdown period, some cooperative banks are offering door to door cash service through mobile ATM vans to their members.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has been entrusted by the Government of India to provide 100 million households I kg of pulses each for three months throughout the country. Thousands of fertilizer cooperative workers have been working tirelessly to ensure farmers don’t face shortages. IFFCO and KRIBHCO have been delivering fertilizer to farmers at their doorstep.
The National Level cooperatives including IFFCO, KRIBHCO, Nafed and several cooperative organisations including Cooperative Banks have contributed generously to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) - a national fund dedicated to providing relief in emergency situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cooperative employees have also voluntarily contributed one day’s salary to the fund. Cooperative organisations have contributed about 45 Crores Indian Rupees (USD$6 million) to the fund.
Cooperatives at the Kerala State have also actively participated and extended support to State government’s initiative in combating the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized the Kerala States’ handling the outbreak as a ‘success story’ and such model may be adopted to fight against the COVID-19.
Government support to cooperatives
The Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare is using CROP software to issue farmers with Registration Certificates required to use pesticides and other crop protection chemicals. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare recently launched the “Kisan Rath” (Farmers’ Chariot) App to help farmers and traders identify the best way to transport farm produce.
The Government is also providing concessional crop loans to farmers through banks with low interest rates. The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has decided to offer 150 billion rupees for various business entities presently facing financial difficulties and will provide loans to the micro, small and medium enterprises including cooperative societies through banks, non-banking finance companies and microfinance institutions. In a major decision, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)– the country’s central bank - has asked all banks including cooperative banks and Urban Co-operative Banks to hold the payment of dividends for the year 2019-20 until further instructions so that the banks conserve capital to retain their capacity to support the economy and absorb losses. The Cooperative Banks have given three-month moratorium to borrowers who have taken loans from the bank.