A clutch of top Indian startups, including online food delivery companies Swiggy, Zomato and Rebel Foods, are reaching out to multiple state governments, offering to deliver essential goods, including groceries and medicines, and donating free meals to migrant and gig workers, even as the country undergoes a lockdown to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other leading startups, such as SoftBank-backed digital payments platform Paytm said it plans to donate Rs 500 crore to the government’s PM-CARES Fund. The company said it will also contribute up to Rs 10 for every payment transaction using the Paytm app, and also give Rs 5 crore for innovators who are developing medical instruments or medicines to combat the virus. Its rival PhonePe committed Rs 100 crore for the same.
Bengaluru-based mobility startup Bounce is offering its bikes to the Hyderabad police.
India, which has the world’s second-largest population—1.3 billion—has been in lockdown since March 25, as it looks to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, which according to official estimates, has recorded close 1,000 cases, and a death toll of 25, as of Sunday.
While Zomato is working with the Punjab state government to ensure doorstep delivery of essential items, including medicines and grocery, Swiggy is collaborating with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and other state governments.
Both companies, which have a cumulative delivery workforce of about 500,000, are looking to leverage the same, as well as other ecosystem partnerships, to ensure free food service for migrant workers and medical personnel in particular.
“We are working with multiple state governments and eligible food providers to deliver safe and hygienic meals in bulk to migrant workers and medical workers, among others,” Sriharsha Majety, chief executive of Swiggy, told ET.
This comes even as hospitality chain Oyo has offered hotels on its platform to multiple state governments, including Delhi, to be used as self-quarantine or isolation facilities, while Rebel Foods, which owns private label brands, such as Faasos, Behrouz Biryani and Oven Story Pizza, is putting together a web-based platform to donate food.
“Yesterday (Saturday), we came to know about 1,000-odd people who were stranded in Delhi, and couldn’t go back home. They were without food, and hungry for the second straight day. We coordinated with the Delhi Police and supplied (food) packets at 2 AM to these people,” Kallol Banerjee, co-founder of Rebel Foods, told ET.
Additionally, in a bid to protect their gig workers, ride-hailing major Ola and services marketplace Urban Company have also created specialised relief funds and campaigns for their gig workers on their respective platforms.
Ola, under its foundation, has launched the Drive the Driver Fund to support auto-rickshaw, cabs and ‘kaali-peeli’ taxi drivers across India amid the ongoing 21-day lockdown’ It has received monetary support from the Ola group, its investors and via a crowdfunding platform for citizens and other institutions. The ride-hailing major has an estimated 2 million drivers on its platform.
Urban Company, which owns and operates home services platform UrbanClap, has also put together loans and a relief fund for the 30,000 contract workers it works with.
“We have extended interest-free loans to partners, which we are doing from our balance sheet, with very delayed moratoriums, and which has to hit their accounts now. It can’t be in one week, or 10 days, or wait for a government stimulus. They need that money now. Therefore, the only way to do it is from our balance sheet,” Abhiraj Bhal, chief executive of Urban Company, told ET.
“We are also putting together a relief fund. Thankfully, we have been able to get commitments of Rs 1.5 crore, and we are trying to see if we can take that up to Rs 5-6 crore,” he added.
India’s burgeoning gig economy workers have been amongst the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, given they aren’t recognised as full-time employees on the payrolls of the companies they work for, but are largely designated as contractors.
Their income is largely dependent on the calls they get for the services they provide, along with additional incentives. However, for companies such as UrbanClap and Ola, demand for their services have dropped by as much as 85% to almost zero over the last two weeks.
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