- Vishal Bhardwaj, CEO, Dalmia Bharat Foundation
What are the activities you are involved under CSR commitment and how the government mandate is prescribing various benchmarks?
We work closely with communities around our manufacturing locations and our CSR is sharply focused on livelihoods, climate action and building social infrastructure. Under our livelihoods vertical, we work both in the farm and non-farm sectors. We impart skill training to youth, making them employable and that's our flagship program. Currently, we can train 5,000 youth every year at 11 centres of Dalmia Institute of Knowledge and Skill Harnessing (DIKSHA), spread across the countryand also run three Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). We assist farmers by helping them increase their income through improved agricultural practices as well as by helping them develop the social and natural capital.
Under Climate Action, our major focus is on water harvesting and water conservation with rough various projects including Integrated Watershed Development. In the last five years, we have created the harvesting potential of more than 17 million cubic metres of water annually. We also help tribal households enhance their income through horticulture plantations. Furthermore, we promote access to solar energy for domestic and agricultural purposes as well asthat to cleaner fuels like biogas and LPG for cooking.
Working mainly in remote rural areas, we also assist the local administrations and communities to fill the existing infrastructural gaps. This improves the quality of life of communities adjacent to our Plants.
At Dalmia, we have been fulfilling our social responsibility for over eight decades now. We have always believed in giving back to the society that has created an opportunity for us to run our business. We consider that the growth and development of all stakeholders-most importantly the communities around us-has to be an essential by-product of our business. That is why we engage with them in a very structured manner to bring about a positive and material change in their lives. To achieve that, we do not restrict ourselves to the mandate given to us under the law but go way beyond that to fulfil our objectives.
How are the actual and prescribed budgets for the last three years? Please give details of allocations for various activities. How long it will take for you to complete the mission you have undertaken in that particular region?
Having set the mid to long-term CSR goals, there's a clear roadmap with a predetermined clutch of targets to be achieved by 2020 and another by 2030. Meanwhile, each project we pick has a unique start and close dates and we plan adequate exit protocols to ensure the long-term sustainability of our initiatives.
What has been the impact of various CSR activities in various geographies? What is the criterion adopted in choosing the target group or community for CSR initiatives?
There have been encouraging outcomes and impacts of our program in various geographies. For example, there is a significant rise in the water table in our watershed development project areas that we have noticed. Increased irrigation opportunities and moisture retention in the soil results in to higher income for farmers. In the last couple of years, there has been an average of 20 per cent increase in farmers' income through these projects.
This helps the communities cultivate fallow lands while the availability of water allows them to grow more remunerative cash crops such as vegetables. Similarly, through the skill training initiatives, we help more than 5,000 youth get jobs each year at an average starting salary of Rs 10,000 per month. Thousands of members of the Self-help Groups and Farmer-Producers' Companies promoted by us gain access to institutional finance. All this has ensured sustainable human development in these regions.
Generally, we choose to work with neighbourhood communities near our manufacturing locations.
Can you give us the best case study that has yielded highest/ best results?
One of our best cases is a public-private-people s partnership project for water harvesting in the drought-prone Mylavaram Tehsil in District Kadapa of Andhra Pradesh to mitigate the impact of drought on livelihoods.
In the past few years, District Kadapa has been declared drought-hit twice. In these uncertain times, the vagaries of water availability create a crisis for agriculture as well as for humans and cattle. With groundwater out of reach for most villagers, agriculture is primarily rain-fed. Cattle rearing is also challenging, including their survival, which impacts milk yield and productivity.
To address such challenges, we explored opportunities for creating large number of farm-ponds to harvest rainwater for effective use in agriculture, to meet drinking water needs of milch animals and for recharging the groundwater table. To accelerate work in this sphere, we sought partnerships. Therefore, we met local Government and District Officials and developed a plan for creating the farm-ponds leveraging MNREGA programme.
The major outputs of the project that was executed in a participatory form were:
Consequently, we have achieved the following outcomes:
What are the crushing challenges the country is facing in the socio-economic sphere and what CSR activities can contribute towards fulfilling these needs?
While we were facing several socio-economic challenges like many other developing economies, I think the scenario is likely to change because of Covid. While we already had employment as a big challenge, the lockdowns and reverse migration is likely to aggravate that. Reskilling and up-skilling will need to get the attention in the current situation. That's where companies through their CSR could play an important role.
Disruption in supply chain is likely to affect the sowing in the ensuing Kharif season as well as post-harvest services of the just concluded Rabi season. That is likely to affect the Government's effort to double the farmers' income. CSR's can address this issue by facilitating backward and forward linkages. Helping build e-platforms and institutions like the Farmers-producers' companies is what is expected of the Companies at this point in time.
Sectoral and spatial gaps in the healthcare and education system continue to bother us. And now we see different kind of challenges in these two sectors amidst Covid. Digital access to healthcare and education is the need of the hour and that's also where the CSR interventions could be very effective.
Overall, what is very important for the Companies to do at this point in time is to work in close coordination with the Government and build strong partnerships in order to collectively meet whatever challenges exist.
What are the CSR activities you have undertaken on outbreak of Covid-19 and what are the challenges you faced?
Besides adhering to all regulatory guidelines and precautionary norms against Covid-19, we ensured a pan-India workplace compliance audit. Firstly, we contributed Rs 25 crore to PM Cares Fund to fight the pandemic. Apart from that, employee contributions (Rs 1.65 crore) and contributions from Dalmia Cement Bharat (totalling Rs 5 crore) to various state relief funds for combating the pandemic were undertaken as well.
We also partnered with International Association for Human Values and the Art of Living, distributing cooked food packets, essential groceries and supplies to immigrant workers, slum dwellers and villagers in and around Delhi-NCR. In Odisha, our teams distributed 2,250 relief packets to periphery tribal hamlets as well as around 16,000 face masks, 3,000 nose masks and sanitisers to local villagers.
Similar activities were undertaken in numerous places where we have a presence, benefitting local communities. Likewise, contributions were made by our sugar business to the #PMCARESFund as well as NGOs, Trusts and Gurudwaras implementing relief work. Furthermore, there were other measures too numerous to outline here.
The only challenge was to ensure the safety of every stakeholder of our activities, the communities that we were assisting and our volunteers. However, with very robust sops that we had put in place, we were able to reach out to the underserved communities timely and safely.
How do you think the CSR scenario will pan out in general in the next two to three years, in the wake of Covid-19 impact on business revenues and profitability?
I think we will have to wait for the situation to emerge. There are estimates that there would be about 30 to 35 reduction in the CSR spent this year because of the expenditure that has been incurred on Covid related activities. Besides, as Covid is expected to make an impact on the bottom-line of businesses, the mandate based on 2 per cent of the profits is likely to see a downward movement. We should, however, wait for a while to know how the situation would emerge. At Dalmia, for instance, our Board has resolved to keep our CSR commitments unaffected by Covid. Like I mentioned, our contribution for Covid has been more than the 2 per cent mandate. With more companies following suit, there could actually be a lesser impact than what is being widely expected.