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Plan CSR for a Safer Planet

I have always loved bright sunlight over cold gloomy days. Even today, bright sunshine lifts my spirits. Driving down for work with Sun God smiling at you promises a cheerful day. Diwali happens to be my favorite festival because of this reason. It’s bright even after the sun has set.

As a child, I was fascinated by lights and sparkles. Except for the deafening noise of firecrackers for a few hours in the evening followed by heavy smog for a few days, everything else about Diwali is amazing. For the former, apart from spreading awareness, is there much I can do? Some of us feel good about contributing some more sulphur nitrate and nitrogen dioxide to the most polluted city in the world.

Pollution soured to hazardous levels in Delhi this Diwali night, reaching 40 times the limit recommended by WHO, as per a BBC report. Scary, isn’t it?

Last May, WHO announced Delhi’s air as twice more toxic than Beijing. Even the wealthiest of us cannot NOT inhale if we were to live. There is no escape. Our lungs perhaps look like tar. I have heard more bronchitis and asthma cases in the last 2 years than I have done in the last few decades of my life.

But this post is not about pessimism. It is about trying to make a difference.

To change we all need to take small steps. Imagine a well planned drive by the Indian private sector as part of corporate social responsibility to address this social issue. A whole year of sensitizing employees and their families about the health hazards through anti fire cracker campaigns can go a long way in bringing change in some of us.

For most companies, Corporate Social Responsibility is just namesake and lip service. A sudden blood donation drive or an annual donation drive for an NGO is what sums up Corporate Social Responsibility for them. There is no plan, no objective, no goal, little or no inclination to contribute monetarily or non- monetarily etc. While a one off drive to feed the underprivileged is a noble initiative in a country of starving millions, one such drive in a year really benefits no one.

Corporate Social Responsibility approach has to be in line with a company’s approach towards their mainstream business. Can a IT company building applications as mainstream business not build an application for such awareness that can be included as a free application by all mobile phone manufacturers in their new handsets? CSR, for a lot of companies, is just a way of building PR to increase goodwill and reputation. Most do not even do anything. They expect employees to donate generously towards causes and forward that to NGOs as Corporate Social Responsibility. India with a population of 1.2 billion is home to an estimated 3 million NGOs. And then there are some who wait till all employees have contributed and give x times of that amount as CSR! It’s really a sham.

Under the Companies Act, 2013, any company having a net worth of INR 500 Cr or more or a turnover of INR 1,000 Cr or more or a net profit of INR 5 Cr or more should mandatorily spend at least 2% of last 3 years average net profits on CSR activities. The rule came into effect from 1 April 2014. India is the first country to have a CSR law and perhaps a country that requires it the most too. While the entire landscape of CSR in India has taken a radical flight ever since, it is important to check if funds are not being brought back to companies from the NGOs through other routes. Maybe the government should have a new law on raising standards of corporate behaviour to ensure that.

The concept of CSR is about give and take. Companies take resources such as human resources etc. from the society. CSR is their way of giving it back to the society. At the same time, if we were to address social issues like air pollution, the government also needed to amend some laws.

Firecrackers in India are a 1,000 crore turnover industry and provide direct employment to over 3 lac people and indirect employment to 10 lacs. It cannot be banned just like that. The livelihoods of these people need to be ensured before such a ban is imposed. CSR has to be done as a public private partnership. While Diwali crackers are not the only source of air pollution and that the government’s pollution tax on trucks passing through Delhi are all small steps towards a larger cause, let us all pool in and do our little bit for this planet to make it a safer place for generations to come.

Barsha Chakraborty is an entrepreneur & an HR strategist, based in Delhi. She currently runs Pietos Solutions, an HR Outsourcing company. Connect with Barsha on twitter @barshach

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