Since its outbreak in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only shaken the bedrock of the global healthcare system but has also caused unprecedented loss to human lives and livelihoods. This once-in-a-century crisis tested the resilience of the human race as the world came together to navigate these trying times.
Early on in 2020, we began to prepare ourselves for the pandemic in India. Leveraging our robust risk framework and early insights from our footprint in Europe, where the virus had struck earlier, we responded to the evolving situation with agility and prepared our ecosystem including employees and the community to embrace the new normal.
We set up a senior management committee which met daily to review the safety and health of our employees, their families, the community and operations at our plant and mining locations. When the lockdown was first declared, we had the permission to keep our steel plants operational under the Essential Services Act.
The foremost challenge was to ensure safety of employees reporting to work at plant and mine sites. We introduced various protocols for office and plant employees, social distancing, wearing masks, no physical meetings while effecting regular communication with all stakeholders. COVID-19 testing facilities were set up and quarantine protocols strictly followed. An innovative workforce modularisation concept – `POD’ was implemented at all our plants to minimise exposure to virus and contain the spread.
Manufacturing steel that we could not sell would have built inventories and blocked working capital. As such, the domestic industry had come to a near standstill in the first quarter of FY21. Fortunately, China recovered much faster than we expected, and this gave us an opportunity to export higher quantities of steel. Enabled by our agile supply chain, we seamlessly shifted to exporting approximately 50 per cent of our production while also ensuring our plants were receiving its supplies of raw materials and critical consumables.
The crisis brought out the best in everyone – employees, suppliers, customers, dealers, distributors, etc. Everyone rose to the occasion, showed team spirit and rallied together as we ended Q1 of FY21 being cash positive despite all the challenges.
Since Q2 of FY21, the focus shifted back to domestic market with favourable policies, increased government spending and relaxation in logistics and we delivered a strong performance in India, with broad-based, market-leading volume growth supported by our agile business model. We recommenced work on the 5 million tonnes expansion project at Kalinganagar, expected to be completed by FY24. In FY21, we aggressively pursued our enterprise strategy of strengthening our balance sheet and pared down our net debt by 28 per cent year-on-year.
Tata Steel’s digital journey was well underway when COVID struck. It helped reinforce our vision of how businesses of the future would function and has strengthened our belief in the strategy we were pursuing. Tata Steel’s investments in strengthening the foundational IT infrastructure layer, analytics and digital interventions proved to be a lifesaver as the pandemic set in by enabling continuous operations at plants and mines with a skeletal workforce, leveraging `Anytime, Anywhere, Secure Computing’.
Several HR policies, including agile working models, Work from Home and modified leave policies, were introduced to empower employees, keep them motivated, increase their productivity and enrich their working experience at Tata Steel.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Tata Steel Foundation has collaborated with the community to implement #CombatCovid19 programme reaching over one million beneficiaries, providing medical and sustenance supplies, treatment, counselling and livelihood support. During the first phase of the pandemic, all COVID patients at our hospitals were treated free of charge till November 30, 2020.
While the first wave impacted the economy severely, the second wave has taken away precious human lives. We in Tata Steel have also lost our colleagues due to the pandemic. To mitigate the impact on the affected families, we have announced that the family of those employees who succumbed to COVID-19 will receive the last drawn salary till the retirement age of 60 years along with housing and medical benefits.
Through the year, we remained focussed on new ways of learning, living and working and never let our guards down. While on one hand, we adapted ourselves to the new dimensions of transformation happening around us, we continued to invest in our future and accelerated our efforts in scaling our adjacent businesses including Services and Solutions and New Materials Business while remaining committed to the long-term sustainability of the enterprise.
Tata Steel has also responded to the national urgency and supplied 61,000+ tonnes of Liquid Medical Oxygen (till June 12, 2021) to various Indian States and hospitals. The Company has also been assisting the States we operate in with testing & isolation kits, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, dry ration, etc.
Over the last 100 plus years, Tata Steel has witnessed two pandemics and several business down-cycles. Each time, the Company’s legacy and resilience has enabled it to transform adversity into opportunity. The Company has worked towards nation building and improving the quality of lives of people for over a hundred years and will continue to do so in the years to come.