Lavasa Focuses on Protecting and Conserving the Environment, Says Upendra Sontakke

IndiaCSR News Network/ By Rusen Kumar

PUNE: Upendra Sontakke is heading community development (Corporate Social Responsibility) at  Lavasa Corporation. He shared his company’s vision and works towards Corporate Social Responsibility. Rusen Kumar talked with Upendra Sontakke. Here is the edited excerpts of the interview:

Tell us about Lavasa Journey and its business philosophy?

Lavasa is India’s first planned hill city. Being developed by HCC, the city is one fourth the size of Mumbai. Based on the principles of New Urbanism, it brings together all the components essential to daily life in a more organized manner thus creating spaces within walking distance from each other.

Upendra-sontakke-Lavasa1It has many firsts to its credit – technology leadership, e-Governance, the first Indian city developed using Geographical Information System (GIS), use of Bio-mimicry as a science in town planning and use of innovative techniques like hydro seeding in environment management.

The city will have a wide range of residences, to fit any budget across socio-economic classes. Aimed to be a ‘365- day economy’ , a complement of global leaders in the fields of Hospitality, Health and Wellness, Education, Tourism are setting up their institutions at Lavasa.

The city offers diverse work possibilities designed to appeal to the IT and biotech industry, KPOs and R&D companies, as well as the world of art, fashion and animation. Lavasa is planned for a permanent population of 3 lakh residents and a tourist inflow that is envisaged to be 20 lakh per annum. With all urban advantages in a natural setting, Lavasa is envisioned to be a more livable city of the future where residents can live, work, learn and play in harmony with nature.

Can you discuss your company’s CSR journey?

Lavasa Corporation Ltd (LCL) has always been conscious of its responsibility towards the local villagers and low income group as the important stakeholders in the Project. The community development initiative (CSR) for the upliftment of these groups include health, education, drinking water supply, housing, employment, providing basic infrastructure and gaothan development.

Lavasa has a number of development initiatives in place to nourish and nurture the society we live in. During the course of this project, a close rapport with the community has been established, for its betterment and well-being. The CSR initiatives of Lavasa aim to protect the interests of individuals present in these communities and the community as a whole, as well. The philosophy of the various CSR measures is to make local villagers and contract workers self-reliant through self-help, rather than have them dependent on Lavasa always. It seeks to enhance their quality of life.

Do you have a CSR policy?

Yes, we have a well-defined CSR policy in line with the Company Act 2013

What is the implementing method of CSR?

CSR programs are planned as per the need of the community, villagers are involved in planning process as they are one of the main stakeholders. Implementation of the project is done through reputed organizations like Apollo Hospital, Tara Mobile Creche, WOTR [Watershed Organization Trust], etc. CSR team is monitoring project progress on day to day basis and provides required inputs to the implementing organizations. Any issues arising during the implementation of any project is taken up with villagers who extend support in resolving it. The progress and outcome of these projects are shared with community to develop their understanding of it.

Do you have a CSR director as per CSR Law?

Yes, we have CSR committee which includes His Highness Gaj Singh (Chairman) as the independent director along with Mr. Ajit Gulabchand and Ms. Shalaka Gulabchand Dhawan.

What is your CSR team strength?

A team of four professional staff is leading the CSR agenda of the company under the guidance of Lavasa Management.

What are the Environment friendly measures being adopted at Lavasa?

Lavasa lays great stress on protecting and conserving the environment. Its two fold objectives are:

a. Protecting the existing natural habitat
b. Further enhancing the habitat

This is accomplished through several measures, like mass Plantation of over 7 lacs indigenous trees saplings. Ecologically important areas are conserved. Fire lines are laid all across to prevent forest fires. Tree transplantation and conservation of top soil is regularly done. All major environmental parameters such as air, water, soil are monitored regularly and are well within the prescribed pollution limits.

We focus on reducing existing barren areas and increasing vegetative cover, improve and enhance the overall natural ambience, visual impact, vegetation and ecology. Segregation of waste at source is compulsory. Biodegradable waste is converted to manure and re-used for landscaping and plantation.

What is Christel House project at Lavasa?

Ensuring quality education for the economically disadvantaged sections of society is the need of the hour. This is where Lavasa city with its underlying social commitment has set an example and will hopefully become a role model for other education hubs to emulate. Instead of providing financial assistance, the guiding philosophy behind the organization called Christel House International that has opened its doors at Lavasa is to enrich children’s lives by imparting quality education.

By doing this Christel House empowers them to improve their quality of life in a sustained manner thus enabling their capacity of gaining secure employment. Learning is an important tool to inculcate self sufficiency in these young children and make them part of the mainstream, as contributing members of their societies.

With monthly family incomes being below Rs. 3,500, the future seemed bleak for these children until Lavasa Christel School stepped in. There are 445 (2015-16) children enrolled across age groups spanning right from kindergarten up to Grade VII at the Lavasa centre’s campus.

Obviously this process requires active participation from both the Parents and the community at large. In order to facilitate this, the school has come up with a unique initiative whereby parents are made a part of the school programs.

School addresses the gap between the aspirations and existence of children from families that belong to the economically weaker class. Lavasa Christel School provides these students with an undifferentiated environment along with the best of Educational and extracurricular activities completely free of cost. By including children right from their formative years itself, School provides them with mainstream education imparted by excellent, well trained Faculty. They also enjoy the privileges of their financially better off counterparts like pick-ups and drops, uniforms, nutrition and health care, community involvement and many more.

What are the key objectives of carrying such projects?

The CSR initiatives of Lavasa aim to protect the rights and interests of individuals in project areas; To meet their basic needs; To ensure health, Education, livelihood and drinking water for needy people within their reach and improve their socio-economic status

What are the communication strategies to inform stakeholders at Lavasa?

Transparency is one of the core values practiced by Lavasa. We have monthly meeting with villagers’ committee which has representatives from 18 villages of project area. CSR program updates are shared and suggestions are taken for further improvement or inclusion.

Our annual report reflects the CSR program. We also share the updates through notice board at Lavasa; progress reports are circulated through mail to all stakeholders. A half yearly report is submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Govt of India where a detailed report on CSR activities including environment initiatives are updated.

What is your annual CSR budget?

We plan required projects to meet our objective of serving community in need and accommodate our budget accordingly. There is always a scope for incorporating new initiatives if found appropriate and necessary even in between the financial year. Our average annual budget for CSR works out to approximately Rs. 7 Crores per year.