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CSR funds may be used for COVID-19 relief, clarifies MCA

Team Vinod Kothari & Company | corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Updated on 29th March, 2020

Like all other public agencies, MCA has been taking a series of steps in the wake of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 and issued clarification[1] on spending of CSR funds for COVID 19 stating that the amount spent on COVID-19 by companies will count towards CSR spending. The activities falling under item nos. (i) & (xii) of Schedule VII of Companies Act, 2013 undertaken due to COVID 19 shall qualify as CSR activity which covers the following:

  • Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition, promoting health care including preventive health care and sanitation including contribution to the Swach Bharat Kosh set-up by the Central Government for the promotion of sanitation and making available safe drinking water.
  • Disaster management, including relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.

Subsequently, the Ministry on 28th March, 2020 has also clarified by way of an office memorandum, that companies contributing towards recently formed Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (‘PM CARES Fund’) shall also qualify as CSR expenditure under item (viii) of Schedule VII of Companies Act, 2013.

Hence, this is the right occasion, and unarguably, one of the noblest causes, to use CSR funds in whatever way, one may think of for the welfare of society.

Notably, substantial CSR money remains unspent, very often for want of appropriate CSR projects. Many companies have to explain the same by finding some reason or the other. Currently the country is passing through an epidemic that has affected the whole world. Hence, companies may come forward and spend their unspent CSR budgets. Indeed companies are also welcome to over-spend this year’s budget pursuant to a proposal in the Companies Amendment Bill which permits carry forward of excess spending as well.

Questions are often being asked – can the company include the expenditure incurred for COVID-19 preparedness for its own employees and workmen – say, giving of masks, sanitizers, or similar expense, as a part of its CSR spending?

Our answer to this question is the same as what we have continuously answered as a part of our FAQs[2] on CSR that CSR is spending on a social cause. An employer spending for the well being, safety or welfare of employees is performing the employer’s legal or moral obligation. That cannot be regarded as CSR. However, if the company spends on COVID-19 preparedness, either by itself or through implementing agencies, for a wider section of public, and its employees or their families are also the beneficiaries of such an exercise, there is no denial as to eligibility of the same as CSR spending.

Our detailed write ups on CSR may be viewed here:

Proposed changes in CSR Rules

Draft CSR Rules Make CSR More Prescriptive

CAB, 2020: Bunch of Proposals for revamping CSR Framework

[1]http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/Covid_23032020.pdf

[2]http://vinodkothari.com/2019/11/faqs-on-corporate-social-responsibility/

Injeti Srinivas’s Committee: Changes recommended in provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility