Government may engage India Inc expertise under CSR

The government is looking at ways of making corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments more relevant. For instance, a company like Hindustan UnileverBSE 0.78 % could assign some of its brightest marketing minds to a women’s self-help group or Larsen & Toubro could send engineers to help with a village water conservation project.

Skilled technicians, water experts, marketing managers and engineers will support government schemes as part of companies’ CSR commitment to address the shortage of skills in many flagship public programmes.

The rural development ministry has sent a proposal along these lines to the corporate affairs ministry, the nodal ministry for CSR, for its consideration. The monetised value of the manpower provided by a company will be considered toward its CSR contribution of 2% of profit as mandated under the Companies Act.

“We have adequate programme funds. We do not want that. We want good professionals,” rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha told ET.

The ministry wants to engage private sector professionals in four key areas — value chain development; marketing; water conservaextion, solid, liquid waste management; and the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.

Sinha cited the example of women maize growers in Khagariya, Bihar, who got together to trade their produce on the NCDEX with some expert help. That led to a 20% increase in the income, he said.

The government wants rural selfhelp groups to be helped with setting up value chains and marketing of products. This can help them gain access to emerging market segments such as organic products or widen their reach in existing ones such as handicraft items.

Once the programme is firmed up, the rural development ministry will float tenders to get the private sector involved.

“We have built a lot of social capital in villages and now to use it to create economic activity, we want to get companies, retailers to partner us,” Sinha said.

Under CSR norms, companies with a net worth of more than Rs 500 crore or revenue of over Rs1,000 crore or a net profit of over Rs5 crore need to spend 2% of their three-year average annual net profit on CSR activities in each financial year. The government is also looking for know how in building watershed and water conservation facilities in villages based on specific needs and limitations of soil and weather among other factors.

The waste management programme, which gets funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, would benefit from skilled professionals. Experts said the corporate sector needs to be incentivized to take part in skilling activities in rural areas.

“There is a lack of good mentoring in rural areas not talent,” said Ashok Pamidi, senior director, Nasscom. “Companies should be extended CSR benefits for sponsoring incubation centres, for instance… If such projects have to scale up, industry has to be involved.” Companies could “pitch in with human element” in villages covered by the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, Sinha said.

Under the scheme, members of parliament are responsible for developing the socio-economic and physical infrastructure of one Adarsh Gram (model village) by 2016, two more by 2019 and one in each of the following five years.

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