Modi Sarkar must junk UPA’s flawed approach
Narendra Modi’s government has sensibly extended the extremely restrictive scope of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) guidelines prescribed earlier by the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA). As with most decisions of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the ‘mandatory’ CSR rules were structured to drive a torrent of private corporate funds to a few narrow areas and entities selected by the government.
Although the UPA government stopped short of introducing penalties for failure to comply with the CSR rules, these would, undoubtedly, have come in an UPA3. After all, the structure for a perpetual and an expensive bureaucracy had already been put in place in through the National Foundation for CSR (NFCSR) under the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA).
The NFCSR is a government-promoted NGO which will raise funds and spend them for capacity building and awards like any other industry body. The UPA found nothing incongruous in its establishment, or that of IICA, which is a separate and needless body that could as well do what the NFCSR plans to do.
Under UPA, IICA would probably have morphed into a regulator to prod and punish corporate India to spend a gigantic Rs30,000 crore of private sector profits for ‘socially responsible activities’.
Will Modi Sarkar put a stop to this ridiculous waste? Or is it too soon for an about turn, especially since lakhs of NGOs and thousands of consultants have their eye on the CSR gravy train? Although there is a crowd of vested interests eyeing this pool of funds, we believe that the government needs to pause and review rather than push forward with hasty implementation of mandatory CSR. I say this even though we have a sister entity called Moneylife Foundation that urgently needs to raise funds for its activities.
First, we need to step away from the UPA philosophy, where the government itself behaved like a large NGO which spread its benevolence in select areas and through select organisations. Second, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) report, as well as other data on the NGO sector, suggests that there is need for a massive clean-up before pumping valuable, post-tax money belonging to investors, into CSR.
According to a 2009 study commissioned by the government, India has a staggering 3.3 million active not-for-profit organisations. This translates to one NGO per 400 Indians—a multiple of the number of primary health centres or primary schools. Of these, an elite set of NGOs receives substantial foreign donations and, as the IB report suggests, some of these are being used for anti-national activities.
The government also is a big donor of land and money to NGOs. The Planning Commission has set aside Rs18,000 crore for the social sector in the XI Plan; in addition, NGOs receive funds from state governments and Union ministries. Further, various regulators, such as the Reserve Bank of India (Depositors Education & Awareness Fund), MCA (Investor Education & Protection Fund) and the capital market regulator have appropriated a few thousand crore rupees of unclaimed money belonging to investors and depositors.
It is common knowledge that a large chunk of this money is either mis-utilised or siphoned away. Isn’t it correct that we demand some transparency, disclosures and weeding out of a few million dubious, or defunct, NGOs before allowing the government to direct private sector funds to them?
More importantly, CSR ought to be defined by the core competency of the corporate donor, rather than funnel funds to areas selected by the government. On 18th June, MCA, in a welcome move, expanded the list of areas eligible for CSR funding. But this is patchwork. Domain knowledge ought to have a role in deciding what a company should consider ‘socially responsible’ work for itself. Here is what we mean.
What would CSR be for an advertising agency? Campaigns to spread awareness about road safety, or cancer, done free of cost for an NGO. Similarly, for an IT company, email or hosting services provided free, or the development of a socially useful app, is appropriate CSR.
Companies ought to have the freedom to direct CSR to the right causes, based on their expertise or area of operation.
Also, so long as an NGO is transparent about its activity and accounts, and meets the income-tax department’s criteria for tax exemptions, why should MCA decide whether or not it will be eligible for corporate funds under CSR? Hopefully a forward thinking Modi Sarkar will realise that CSR by coercion and fiat will only lead to leakage and diversion of funds and defeat its basic objective. What is worse, it will choke funding to many deserving activities and entities especially small and earnest start-ups in the not-for-profit sector.
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