What CSR money should fund

Azim Premji once rightly said, “Philanthropy has to be spontaneous, it cannot be forced”. In contrast, however, the Union government introduced the Company Act 2013, which enforced companies having a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more; or turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more; or net profit of Rs 5 crore or more to give away 2% of their net profit for social work or charity.

This was indeed a constructive move by the government leading to development of the economy, along with the educational and healthcare sectors. However, it was also a myopic decision as far as business houses were concerned. Over 60% of CSR funded projects target either the healthcare or the educational sector, basically resulting in the clustering of CSR funds in these two areas only, leaving other equally or more crucial areas either barely touched or untouched.

While these two areas are unquestionably important for the development and sustainability of a country, other areas like slum development, control-abolition and rehabilitation of drug addicts, human trafficking and environmental sustainability are hardly given any proportion of the total funds.

According to NGOBOX and CSRBOX, maximum CSR funds in FY 14-15 to FY 18-19 were spent in Maharashtra, which was about 15.59% i.e. Rs 7,473 crore. So why does Maharashtra still have one of the world’s largest slum, Dharavi? Because the dominant focus on the healthcare and education sector has left the area of “slum development” undeveloped.

According to a 2017 report by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is costing our nation, exacting more than $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.

An issue of this scale cannot be solved by a few ‘drug-free’ campaigns and drug prohibition actions. It requires the State’s intervention, which is where business houses can offer support the government with their CSR funds.

The government had constituted the National Fund for Control of Drug Abuse to meet the expenditure incurred in connection with combating illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, rehabilitating addicts, and educating the public against drug abuse etc. The corporate can come forward to invest their CSR funds in these established areas to help the government in tackling these extremely critical social evils which lead to a surmounting loss of human productivity.

A 2018 study disclosed that the number of human trafficking victims brought illegally into India from Nepal went up by 500% between 2013 and 2017.

An average of 12,000 girls and women are trafficked from Nepal into India every year, according to Maiti Nepal, an NGO fighting human trafficking. These are the numbers for just a single country, and it already sounds like hell. Wonder what the total number of victims being trafficked to India from all over the world could be!

Based on a report published by the Government of India, there are approximately 10 million sex workers in India out of which 1,00,000 belong to Mumbai alone, which is Asia’s largest sex industry centre. CSR funds can be spent on establishing many more Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), anti-trafficking NGOs and other methods of tackling this problem once and for all rather than just diverting most of the funds into the healthcare and education sector.

Toxic air

Taking into consideration India’s depleting and threatening environmental conditions, it has 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities in the world (Gurugram tops the list) and accounts for 7 of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution. What’s the point of improving the healthcare sector when all you’ll have is a toxic environment around you?

The World Bank has estimated that air pollution costs India the equivalent of 8.5% of GDP, a huge drain of resources which can be compensated with the help of CSR funds, if used the right way. Levels of PM2.5 — measuring the particularly poisonous particulate matter of 2.5 micrometres in diameter — are considered too high to be healthy.

Regularly measured at over 100, the US considers a safe limit to be 35 — the level of PM2.5 sometimes is measured as being in the hundreds here. Twice, we’ve seen the levels hit 999, the highest recordable number, meaning the actual level could be far higher.

Even though the environment sustainability sector did get a considerable amount of CSR funds, compared to the 60% that was given to the education and healthcare sector, it’s quite trivial.

These four major areas of slum development, control-abolition and rehabilitation of drug addicts, human trafficking and environmental sustainability are where the future of CSR funds should be concentrated.

These four social issues must be given an equal footing with the predominant education and healthcare sector in the coming future for the Indian economy to grow rapidly.

(The writer is a student of Class XI (Commerce with Mathematics) at Scottish High International School (SHIS), Gurgaon (HR), and is associated with Indian Academy of Entrepreneurship (IAE)™ as a Coachee/Prodigy)

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